I spent the afternoon floating down the Cuyahoga River, and wasn’t home an hour before I noticed how nice an evening it was and wishing I was back on the water. I am obsessed with fishing and often think about where this comes from.
There are a lot of reasons I love to fish: The challenge, the unpredictability, the communing with nature, and even the hopefully irrational need to develop a skill that I can use to provide for my family in a worst-case scenario. I enjoy the puzzle-solving, mental aspect — accumulating the knowledge and experience to help me analyze the varying conditions and piecing together the bits of information that will lead me to the next bite. All of that aside, there is always the underlying and undeniable undercurrent of a bond forged with members of my family: Fishing is about the time spent with my father. That’s not to say I didn’t learn many important things from him: when traveling try the local food and drink, don’t trump your partners’ ace, never force it, and how to love and respect your wife. But my love for the piscatorial arts is one of the few things I actually shared with my father.
It’s rare to find a fisherman that didn’t fish with their parent as a child. Not a lot of people decide later in life to buy a pole and head out to the water. Of course, some kids hate when their dad gets them up early, and they have sit in the heat, with the bugs flying around, disgusted by the bait. But for generations of kids, sitting on the bank or in a boat, staring at a red and white bobber, anticipation building, and being the focus of your dad’s attention is experience to be treasured.
My dad raised seven boys on a government salary, so we didn’t have a surplus of money, and he had little time to himself. Most of his free time was taken up fixing things we broke. He never had time to go off and enjoy a hobby. But he made sure we had a chance to explore and develop our own interests by giving us the tools to do it: gear, tackle, and a place to do it- one of them being the Mattawomam Rod and Gun club; a collection of dingy ponds in the woods of southern Maryland filled with largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie and catfish, not to mention the occasional pickerel, snapping turtle or eel. He’d take us there at least once a month and we were set free to wander the woods and plumb the depths of those dark holes.
Funny thing is, I can’t even say that he’s a particularly good fisherman. Probably because he spent most of his time untangling lines and grilling chicken. Can’t say that I remember too many extremely productive outings (the only specific fish I remember him catching was a tiny sunfish he snagged on a back cast with his fly rod) or that he taught me much more than how to cast, and my friends still make fun of the way I do that. But the important thing is that I was provided the opportunity to fish, and in the canoe together was one of the rare times I got to be with him one on one.
One of the few birthday gifts from my childhood that stands out in my mind was a lure, the ‘Weed Wacker’ – a black spinnerbait with a Colorado blade and a black and white skirt. I loved it, because I knew he had picked it out. It was like the one, he told me, that he caught a bass on in the Everglades while in Florida for work. If it could catch a largemouth in that exotic location, filled with alligators and water moccasins, the bass of southern Maryland didn’t have a chance! It was the first lure I caught a bass on, and when I inevitably lost it to a snag, I was heartbroken.
Time and age have been hard on him and it’s been years since we’ve fished together, or him at all. Last time I visited him, I went down to the barn where he keeps his gear now and was looking in his old brown and white tackle box that he keeps his freshwater tackle in and there was a ‘Weed Wacker!’ Just like I remembered. Temptation got the best of me, and now I have a prized lure and a cherished memento back…
All of my brothers enjoy fishing, and some would consider it a passion. It is often a topic of conversation when we catch up, and often ostensively a reason to get together. Fishing is a thread in the fabric of the legacy handed down to us. And I imagine they can all point back to a time spent in a boat with dad.