A couple of weeks ago, I managed to clear my calendar for a few days for a little getaway, so Marcy and I could celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. It was just a short trip to lake country, overlooking the water on a weekend that was decidedly not beach weather. The Arctic blast that hit us square in our faces when we ventured onto the sand made clear it wasn't even going to be a walk along the water kind of break.

Instead, we went for a long drive, and Marcy spotted a sign for a Native American casino. It was just a short detour, so we went and spent an hour scouting out penny slots. That's what we do when we play together, finding adjacent machines and stopping to watch each other's bonus events. When I'm on my own, I head for blackjack, video poker, craps ... and wager a little more than pennies.

After about a half-hour, Marcy spotted a bank of Aruze Gaming's Paradise Fishing machines. She'd never seen them before, but I'd tested them at Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas and written about them in several publications. There's a community fishing contest, in which all active players at the bank of machines drop in their lines and try to hook fish as they swim by on the giant plasma screens overhead.

What's really cool about Paradise Fishing is the "Reel Feel" technology on the joystick-like game controller. It's designed to look and feel like the handle on a fishing rod, and you use it to raise and lower your animated worm on a hook. When you get a nibble, you can feel the tugs and pulls as the virtual fish tries to get away. Bigger fish bring bigger bonus credits, but sometimes they get away.

During the community event, everyone earns bonus credits for the fish they land, and at the end of the round the top three scorers get an extra prize, topping out at 500 credits times your line bet for first prize.

About 10 minutes into our stay at Paradise, the community event launched. There was no watching each other's bonuses now. Marcy and I had to focus on our own angling. I quickly landed a moderate-sized fish for 500 credits, then short time later a little fellow for another 50. As I scanned down the row, I saw I was in first place, with Marcy only at about 300, a woman farther to the left in second place at 450 and another at 400. All were within striking distance.

Overhead, the screen went into countdown mode .... 10 seconds left in the round ... 9 ...

And then it happened. A whopper hit my bait. I felt a nudge, a tug, a long pull. Could I reel him in before the countdown ended? Would he get away?

Just before the final tone, I made it. The whopper was in my boat. THREE THOUSAND credits were on my screen.

Marcy hadn't seen anything happening, and when she looked over, she was shocked. "How did you get up to $56?"

I explained that last fish was worth $30, I got $5.50 for the earlier two fish and $5 for my first-place bonus. That'll push the credit meter up from $16 and change to $56 and more change in a hurry.

We left shortly afterward. There were places to go, things to see, shops to sample. I was ahead by $40, she was down $30, and we both had fun. I'll take that deal any time.

Gambling author and columnist John Grochowski's weekly newspaper column began at the Chicago Sun-Times and is now syndicated nationally. He also regularly makes TV and radio appearances about gambling. His column appears weekly.