It was chilly, but not intolerable. He had
fished in worse. Oh, the ride in the boat was
a little bit more frigid, but then, it was only
about fifteen minutes. He could stand that,
dressed as he was in fleece socks, a tee shirt
under a flannel long-sleeve and a heavy jacket.
The gloves on his hands kept his fingers warm as
he held the steering wheel. Only his cheeks were
a bit flushed from the cold.
Just after dawn, and he was working the edge of
round, flat-topped lilies, beads of water on their
dish-sized faces like smooth gems. He slowly,
painfully slowly, dropped a small beadhead around
the base of the lily. He felt like he was moving
so slowly he was frozen in place. The lake stretched
out behind him, just as the sun peeked over the
horizon like a great orange eye.
He cocked his head, thinking he heard something
just on the peripheral. A tinkling, of sorts. But
then it was gone. He worked the little nymph
carefully, waiting for the tell-tale twitch of
his floating line, anticipating the slight tug
under his finger, but his quarry was cold and it
would take incredible patience to get him to bite.
There. Again, a slight tinkling, but from the other
side of the lake now. A jingling sound, like chimes.
Then it was gone. He imagined his ears were so cold
they were playing tricks on him, his eardrums
But then he heard it: A distinct ringing of bells,
a whoosh! through air, and he spun around just in
time to see the most incredible of all imagined
The sleigh came in at a bevel; one skid hit the
surface of the lake, slid sideways and, still
cantered, piled forward like a runaway barge,
pushing a great swell of water ahead of it. The
eight beasts of burden scrambled at the water,
splashing each other in the faces, trying to get
The angler leaped out of his pedestal seat and
nearly threw his rod overboard. He thought at
first he had frozen his brain on the ride to the
lake, but no, there it was, a sleigh, coming down
across the lake surface in a giant spray and fantail,
reindeer struggling frantically to regain control,
and the red-suited, red-faced and bearded man within
holding the reins was shouting, "Whoa! Whoa! I said,
It came straight at him, this vision of lunacy,
approaching sideways and quickly. He fell on the
deck and hit the trolling motor foot control with
his fist, but the boat only lurched toward the
At the last moment, the reindeer gained control.
The sleigh righted itself, both skids touched
water, the old man in the seat tumbled backwards
into an empty cargo carriage, and the deer - feet
forward, braced for impact - managed to stop the
calamity in the nick of time. Still, a gush of
water leaped at the boat, drenching him. He stood
there, dripping and trembling, mouth agape.
The sleigh sat there, miraculously floating, and
the reindeer even more amazingly standing on the
water's surface, panting heavily and looking as
if they were in desperate need of egg nog.
While the angler stood there, staring in dismay,
the old codger popped up from behind the seat of
the sleigh, all red and white, his face now more
flushed than before. He eyed the reindeer in disgust.
"Do we understand that 'whoa' means 'stop everything
and don't move'?" he asked the reindeer in a tone
reeking of frustration. The reindeer just shrugged,
as if they were used to being so chastised.
The driver eyed the angler and sighed. "Venison,"
he muttered. "Great on the grill, worthless when
it comes to navigation."
"I..." said the fisherman. "Who...?" He swallowed.
"And you!" said the old man, his fat tummy rolling
in giant tremors with the exclamation. "You! You're
the cause of all this!"
"Muh-muh-me?" He wondered if he still had that flask
of scotch in his pack.
"Yes, you," said the old elf. "Don't act surprised.
I've been circling around looking for your house
for hours. It's daylight, man! I am vulnerable! I
am exposed! Lucky thing Blitzer here spotted you,
or we'd probably still be circling this lake and
causing quite a media circus."
The angler opened his mouth, then snapped it shut.
He figured the flask was empty. It had to be,
because he was surely dead drunk.
"Well?" asked the curmudgeon in the sleigh. "What,
no cookies and milk for old Santa?"
"Cookies?" the fisherman blurted. "Milk?"
"What's wrong, abominable snowman got your tongue?
Jeesh. Four hours of circling, almost barreled
into a cell phone tower" - at this he glowered
menacingly at the lead reindeer, the one with
the red nose - "and all I get is 'Cookies? Milk?'
I coulda got electrocuted."
The angler sat down. He shook his head. "You're
not real," he said at last.
Santa guffawed loudly. "Philistine," he said.
He rummaged around in the back of the sleigh,
picking up package after brightly-wrapped package,
muttering. "Jamaica. Moved, no forwarding address.
The White House. Couldn't get through security.
Toledo, alarm system tripped. Beijing. Surely a
practical joke." Finally he found a long box wrapped
in red. "Ah-ha! Here, catch."
The package flew toward the angler, and he caught
it but barely, nearly fell overboard into the chill
water in the process. "Way to go, Ace," Santa said.
"By the way, your handwriting is atrocious. I've
gotten pre-kindergarten letters easier to read."
He eyed the fisherman with interest. "So, what the
blazes possesses a man to go fishing on Christmas
"Uhm," sputtered the fisherman. "Well...that is to say...
"Wisdom," growled Nick. "From the mouths of babes.
Not married? No kids?"
"Married," the angler admitted. "Three kids. They'll
be up in a few minutes. It's still only 6 a.m. I'll
make it home in time, really. Just a couple more
casts and..." He trailed off helplessly.
Santa snorted. "I'm not surprised. I've known lots
of fishermen, chased them all over God's blue waters
on Christmas morning. Never understood it. One time,
I had to deliver a gift in the middle of Chesapeake
Bay. Can you believe that? Nearly zero degrees,
and this guy is fishing in the middle of Chesapeake Bay!"
"Why don't you just leave them under the tree like
you do for everybody else?" the fisherman wondered.
He suddenly heard himself speaking to the hallucination
and shook his head. "Madness," he whispered.
"Because," Santa explained, rolling his eyes as
if speaking to a simpleton, "If I leave your
precious new fly rod, or your Orvis waders, or
your stinking woolly buggers under the tree and
the cat rips up your waders, the kids break your
rod, or the dog eats your woolly buggers, who
are you going to blame? Me! I'm the culprit,
I'm the bad guy!" He glanced around at the lake,
the pond lilies and cypress trees. "Say, you ever
catch anything here?"
The fisherman shrugged. "Sometimes. You gotta
work at it in the winter."
"I bet." He eyed the rod. "Nice. Five-weight?
Fishing beadheads, real slow, I'll bet."
"Uh, well, yes." Madness, he thought again.
Who would pay the therapy bills?
"So slow it makes you feel like time stops,"
Santa noted, his eyes glazing over.
"It's like that, you're right."
"But," Santa went on, gazing dreamily at the
rod, "when that line twitches, or you feel
that barely noticeable tug, lookout! It's the
lunker of a lifetime! The catch of the day!"
He laughed, jolly and wholesome.
"Wait a minute," said the fisherman. "I know.
You don't leave the presents under the tree
because you'll get blamed if they get messed
up. You leave them there because you want to
fish!" The revelation stunned him.
"Me?" The old elf laughed again. "Yeah, right.
It's a boring, pathetic sport that keeps you
away from home on Christmas morning. Besides,
you ever tried to fish through ice five hundred
"That's it," he said. "You're dying to go fishing!"
The satisfaction overwhelmed the angler.
"Bah," Santa spat. "At the cost of out-of-state
fishing licenses? You're kidding me. To sit in
the bleak cold, waiting for a pea-brained creature
to bite a bead-headed nymph, then you gotta reach
into that cold water to get him, and all for what?
You're going to put it back in the water. Just
to say you caught a fish? A moron with a spear
could catch a fish. All that casting, those open
loops and double-hauls…" Now his eyes began to
glaze over again. "Those roll casts. That clicking
drag. Oh, that sweet, sweet smell of floatant!"
The angler said, "I have an extra rod."
Santa recoiled as if he had been struck a blow.
"Madness!" he agreed. "Out here in the broad
daylight? Why, I might as well march right down
Broadway and get it over with."
"It's a sweet little Winston," the angler prodded.
Shaking his head vigorously, like a gambler
trying to make it out of Vegas alive, Santa
waved his hands in protest. "No, no, no. I gotta
get back to the Pole. You need to get back to
your family, you reprobate. Fishing on Christmas
morning! The nerve! The gall! The...oh, just hand
me a rod, quick."
So they fished, the angler in his boat, Santa in
his sleigh. While the fisherman guided the boat
along the lily patch with the trolling motor, the
old elf whispered instructions to the reindeer: "Not
so fast. Come out a little, you beasts, I can't even
load the tip this close. Slow down!"
In all, they managed a few large bream and Santa
hooked into a great largemouth that broke the tippet
right at the skid of the sleigh. He was so furious
he howled, kicking Dancer in the tail.
Then it was over and Santa handed the rod back.
"Thanks," he said, grinning. "That was fun. It's
been a long time since I had a 'one that got away'
story to tell. Now, you need to get home. The kids
are stirring in their blankets. They'll be rushing
out to the tree by the time you pull up the driveway!"
"You know that?"
Santa grinned more widely. "There's still some
magic left in this old elf!" he said. He picked
up the reins. The reindeer shuffled anxiously,
ready to be off. "Next year," he warned, "put
up a signal light to home in on."
With a wave and a hearty laugh, he twitched the
reins and the reindeer leaped skyward, carrying
the sleigh with them. They swung out in a wide
arc over the lake, feet pumping at air, and
narrowly missed the top of a huge cypress at
the last moment. "Watchit!" he heard Santa raging.
"Watchit, watchit WATCHIT!" Then they were gone,
jingling, fading into memory.
The angler sat there for a few moments, wondering
if he would ever tell anyone what happened that
Christmas morning. Probably not. He packed his
gear and sat behind the wheel of the boat. The
long package leaned at his side. He picked it
up and tore through the wrapping, opening the
end of the box. Peeking inside, his face turned
from grin to grimace.
Looking up at the brightening sky in the direction
Santa and his sleigh had gone, he yelled, "Cane ROD!
I said, cane ROD!"
As he started the boat and pointed the bow toward
home, he figured he could at least save the walking
cane in the package until his old age. It had, after
all, come from Santa Claus himself! ~ Roger