That time my daughter found Nemo — then ate him

image To say you could catch a fish from the kiddie pool at our local Outdoor Festival several years ago is like saying you could turn a few heads if you backed your SUV into a Harley during the Sturgis Rally.

My oldest daughter had just turned seven, and the pool was literally brimming with farm-raised trout that would’ve just as quickly latched onto a Milkdud as Powerbait. Given a window of 15 minutes of fishing for every dollar, most kids old enough to hold their own poles were standing gawk-eyed with a fish in their sack after less than five minutes. So, when my daughter landed her seven-incher, I asked if she wanted to keep it or throw it back in — hoping against hope that she would opt for the throw-back.

I think my exact words were something along the lines of, “Sweetie, do you want to keep the baby trout until he runs out of air, or put him back in the water with his family?”

“I want to keep him,” she said firmly, then turned to her mother and asked for another dollar.

At this point, as a parent, you come to that critical moment where you must decide between the following:

1) Forgo the obvious teachable-moment opportunity and just settle for another hot dog.
2) Exert your “Dad” authority and forbid the action completely (after asking your wife, of course).
Or 3) Clearly state the consequences to your child and be prepared to follow through with the consequences and valuable life lesson.

Taking a breath, I chose number three and explained to my daughter that whatever fish she caught she would also have to carry, clean and — most importantly — eat.

“OK, Dad.”

And with that, she dipped her pole and reeled in what proved to be a crucial lesson.

* * * * *

“They’re not moving anymore, Dad.”

Driving back home, I looked at my daughter in the rear-view mirror as she peeked into both sacks.

I could build on this.

“That’s right, dear. If you take them out of the water, they can’t live.”

She met my eye, then checked the sacks again. “Oh.”

I remained silent, letting her process this unsettling development on her own as I prepared myself for her response, which would probably involve some tears.

She’s a very sensitive child.

After a few minutes, she looked up and found me in the mirror.



Her expression was clearly troubled as she leaned forward and asked, “How do you cook ‘em?”

* * * * * *

The guts would get her.

Wrapping an apron around my daughter, I had her stand next to me on a stepstool as I made a long, dramatic incision down the belly of her first fish. As I did, glossy, multicolored things spilled out onto the cutting board and settled into a runny heap. I sliced through the head and tail, and added them to the mix before starting on fish number two.

“Go ahead and scoop that stuff up and put it in this,” I said, and handed her a clear, plastic sack.

She did so without hesitation, except for the heads, which were staring slack-jawed at the both of us.

“What about those?” I asked.

“I don’t want to.”

Ah-HA! I nearly exclaimed, but managed to control myself. Finally, the lesson was about to be learned. A bit smugly, I asked, “You told me you’d help clean these fish.”

She twisted the sack-o-entrails nervously. “I know.”

“Well, then pick these up and throw them away,” I said, brushing the heads toward her with the back of my knife.

“I don’t want to.”

It was time.

The speech was ready, prepared slowly over the last hour in anticipation of this moment; a parent’s sweet victory. “You know, if you’re going to catch fish, you have to take responsibility for… ”

“Can I keep the heads, Dad?”

“… making the choice to — WHAT?

She looked up at me, smiling. “Can I keep them?” she asked, then slipped them onto her fingers like olives at Thanksgiving. “I don’t want to throw them away.”

* * * * * *

When she helped season and broil the three-ounce fillets, then sat down to eat it, I knew I was beaten. My lesson — so carefully manipulated and contrived — was now being dipped in tarter sauce.

“How’s the fish?” I asked flatly.


I offered a cursory head nod and nibbled at a burger, which I was no longer hungry for. I shoved it aside and swirled my milk glass.

“Dad, where do hamburgers come from?”

“Cows,” I answered, watching as she forked another bite of trout into her mouth.

She then placed her fork on the table and crossed her arms, staring at me with no small amount of displeasure in her eyes.

“What’s with you?” I asked.

She reached over and slid my half-eaten burger back in front of me.

After a long pause, I picked up my burger and began finishing it, realizing that the important lesson I had been trying to teach about respecting and valuing life — especially when it lands on your plate — had actually been learned.

Mostly by me.

Disturbing photo courtesy of my friends at The Grimm Report
Disturbing photo courtesy of my friends at The Grimm Report

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

242 thoughts on “That time my daughter found Nemo — then ate him”

  1. I’m a new follower! This is fantastic and exactly what I enjoy reading! I have 2 boys and my eldest has just discovered insects :-/ Well actually, he has just discovered his mother doesn’t LIKE insects. The fish heads seem all so familiar!

    1. Ahhh, Kristine — the fun has just begun. For your boys, I mean 😉

      Thanks so much for reading, and following. Looking forward to doing my best to give you a laugh or two, with or without fish heads.

  2. Hahaha! Oh Ned – congrats on being Freshly Pressed. I love this story! It is an important lesson to teach kids about where food really comes from and it sounds like your daughter has a fair bit of sass 🙂

  3. Thanks for the laughs. Just spent all day yesterday fishing with my 9 and 12yr old daughters. My 3 sons are in their twenties and hearing my girls choose the prettiest colored powerbait and comparing tying a lure knot to using a rainbow loom showed me a new approach to angling.. Peace

  4. Oh! I so needed this one today, Ned. You have a wonderfully bright daughter. I too liked a spot of fishing and yes, gutted many a fish when I was a child (don’t let me get into the chickens and bunnies 😉 )

    1. Haha! Funny thing is, she has actually turned out to be the most sensitive of my four kids. Although it might just be PTSD from seeing all that carnage…

  5. What a great story! So many things to learn on fishing. And it’s always truly memorable when a child teaches the parent. Thanks for this piece – it actually inspired one of my latest blog posts.

    1. Thanks, Don. I read your piece, by the way, and it was so very true. I think it’s getting harder and harder for kids — and people in general — to decompress and just “be” without being tethered to some kind of electronic device. Although I’m not a big fisherman myself, I’m for anything that helps people be “in the moment” as much as possible and without all the distractions we’ve come to incorporate into our lives.

  6. This type of story reminds me of being a kid…but my dad was all for catching and eating the first (wild salmon in Alaska…yum.) I don’t have kids yet, but hopefully I’ll remember that sometimes those little minds can surprise you. Cute story. 🙂

  7. Hahahaha – I love this! Anna has zero compassion for animals on her plate also. The more blood there is the happier she is. That makes her sound like a sociopath huh? Let me clarify that she loves animals that are alive, and she’s very kind to them : )

        1. Hannibal, the Walking Dead and Hell’s Kitchen are the only shows I watch regularly. I think I see a pattern.

          Which gives me an idea for a kids’ cartoon: Hannibal Barbara!

  8. 1. Hilarious story!
    2. Reminds me of when we were kids and we would tell our mum a funny story and that story became a lesson. -_-.
    3. I think I shall follow! Thumbs up!

  9. I have a had a taste of reality check myself and am wishing & dreaming that they will do the right thing, at the right time. Good luck to parents like us, cheers. Meensi.

          1. Mine are not the concern but my general observation of the other kids in general. I think with my Indian heritage it’s easy to mould myself into a stern but loving parent.

            1. Hey, stern but loving isn’t a bad thing. My kids think I’m strict, but they also know I love them. That’s the best you can hope for as a parent. And maybe having the kids keep their rooms clean.

              1. It works, trust me. My daughter is 18 & my son is 11 & my niece and my nephews ( one is 11 & the youngest one is 3) adore my style of rules and say that I am the cool mum compared to my own sisters 😆

                1. It’s an Indian thing, being the eldest I can get away with saying things and doing things, but they are facing challenges to keep both our Indian culture & our Aussie culture together. As I moved here in my 20s, I grew up culturally along with my child( when there were no Indians, the racism, the ridicule)

                2. That’s quite a balancing act. Kudos to you for doing all you can to strike it with your kids. You’re teaching them some important lessons that go beyond culture.

                3. And with that my friend, I say to you Namaste. Thanks for taking time to learn a bit of being a parent, down under and not completely down with it 😆😆😆

  10. Oh my god, so funny and true! Kids and parenting to a tee. My daughter once found a worm. She cut it in half because in her words “it was lonely and needed a friend”….ugh… 😉

  11. I stopped by MamaMick’s and was pleasantly surprised to see you there!

    I love when our children surprise us… what a great story.

    I was the child dumping out the worms and ticking off all those fishing but if it meant one worm life saved it was worth the verbal beating.

    My daughter, on the other hand, told me she wanted to be a hunter and maybe someday she’d kill Bambi ‘s mom (fact: she’s not real and if she were, she’s already dead). After my shock filled face she calmly stated, “mom… deer are food. .. people need food.”

    Indeed, but I’ll get my food from the store thanks!

    1. My dad decided to be a mountain man once and rasied a rabbit for eating. When It came time to “do the deed,” he disappeared into the shed and was gone for about an hour. When he came back, he brought KFC.

      1. Oh my goodness…. I LOVE IT!!

        My husband talks about “living off the grid” but he can’t even kill a dove. We would surly die… unless our daughter is with us. She could provide the deer meat 😉

  12. Thank you for letting me steal your words today, Ned!

    My husby came out of the bathroo…er, office laughing and wiggling his fingers in the air. He said the only things missing were the fish heads.

  13. It’s a sad day in America when little boys can’t creep out little girls with severed fish heads anymore. But as a dad of three girls who are like this too, God Bless America.

    Well done – liked and followed, friend.

    1. Lol! Cheers to that, Eli, and to your continued survival as a father of three daughters 😉

      My best wishes to you and your family for th holidays and always, my friend.

  14. Thrilled to have gotten in my hearty laugh for the day, Ned.

    Glad to have “met” you.
    Thanks, Michelle 🙂

    With thanksgiving,

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