Gone fishin’: Young fisherman learns a lesson about unrequited affection

When it comes to fish, save your love. Fish are not like Labrador retrievers.

Triggerfish sport a good set of teeth and are not afraid to use them. — British Marine Life Society

Grady Keefe of Chilmark and Colorado loves to fish. Most days the 9-year-old can be found with a fishing rod in his hand. Most recently he could also be found with a Band-Aid on his nose.

Young Grady learned that just because he loves fish, the fish don’t necessarily love him; and more important, before he decides to kiss a fish, it would be a very good idea to identify the species — some fish are like Labs and others are like pit bulls. 

Grady, his brother Quinn, 15, and sister Allie, 11, arrive every summer with their dad and mom, Craig, a professional captain, and Lori Keefe. Over the years the boys have become well-known members of the Menemsha fishing community.

In a phone call, Lori told me that Grady and a pal had gone with John Keene. Lori said, “He has his story down pretty good” — one attribute of a good fisherman — and handed the phone to Grady.

Interviewing 9-year-olds can sometimes be problematic. Grady was good. I asked him what he had been doing with his time, you know, just to put him at ease.

“Getting bit by fish and stuff,” he said and launched into his story.

“So, it started out, we went fluke fishing, and my friend and me were like, let’s stop fishing and go pull lobster pots. And John said yes. So he drove the boat to the lobster pots.

“We pulled up three lobster pots, nothing in them, and on the last we were like, after this one let’s go back to Menemsha. And so we pulled up the pot and there was a fish in it, flopping around. And I was like, I catch those in Miami a lot.”

The kids put the fish in a bucket to play with while John continued to pull pots.

“So I was like, I haven’t kissed one before, let’s try and kiss it. So I went to kiss it, and it jumped out of my hand and latched onto my nose — I was shaking my head around and the fish’s tail was wiggling and I had to get it off and I got it off and it was in my hand and I was like, ‘Why does this fish have to be so mean,’ and then it bit my hand, and that really hurt too, and I was just laughing so hard.”

His friends, Luke Spellman and Lathrop Keene, John’s son, were laughing pretty hard too. John Keene was in the wheelhouse piloting the boat and making sure the kids were not near any of the lobster gear, unaware of the fish mayhem taking place.

According to National Geographic, there are 40 species of triggerfish scattered throughout the world’s seas; they are familiar to divers and aquarium aficionados. Largest of all is the stone triggerfish, which reaches up to 3.3 feet long, found in the Eastern Pacific from Mexico to Chile.

Here’s a bit of information I found on the National Geographic website Grady might have liked to know before he decided to lay on a smooch: “Triggerfish are infamous for their nasty attitude, and this behavior is especially evident around nests, where intruders, from other fish to human divers, are likely to be charged or bitten.” 

I asked Grady why he thought it was a good idea to kiss the fish. “Because every new fish I see, I like to kiss,” he said, “for good luck and so that fish will always remember me — and it might be the only girl I will get to kiss.”

Give it a few years, Grady. I suspect you will have no trouble with those kisses, and may even find out that the triggerfish didn’t hurt as much as you thought.