When we took my youngest granddaughter out for her birthday recently, I learned that my grandson had “lost” his last fishing pole. His mother acted like she thought there might be a little more to the story, and she’s probably right, he IS 13 after all. I told him that I remembered being 13; I just didn’t remember it very well, anymore. I think he’s basically a good kid; he’s just like most 13 year-olds. He’s searching for who he is in the greater scheme of things, and learning to think of himself as an independent person, rather than just some other person’s child. It can be a confusing journey for some, but I think he’ll turn out okay.
I remembered that I had a fishing pole in the basement that was my dad’s, and that got me to remembering. My dad worked from before sun-up ‘til after dark many a day on the farm and at his sawmill. It was a good life, but it wasn’t an easy one. Time to spend with his family during daylight hours was hard to come by. Still, when I was five or six, I remember him picking up a couple fishing poles at the local hardware store—a five foot kid’s rod for me and a better grade six-footer for himself. I don’t remember if the bait-casting reels came with them, or separately. He also bought some line, hooks, sinkers and plastic bobbers.
It was probably a Sunday afternoon, when he took me and my mother to the creek in the valley below our home. Just before going, he showed me how to find bait by turning over dried cow-pies in the pasture field. Nearly every one had at least one plump worm or night-crawler beneath it. At the creek, he showed me how to thread a worm on my hook so the fish wouldn’t rip it off with the first bite. Then, he showed me how to cast my line out in the water and to watch the bobber for a bite.
The fish weren’t very active that day, and it was a quite a while before either of us got a bite. Dad was the first to catch a fish—a tiny sunfish. He carefully removed the hook and threw it back. He caught a couple more and a small bluegill before I ever got my first bite. Dad told me to lift the pole and swing it up on the shore like he did, so I did. It was a little bass about six inches long. I was impressed, but Dad told me it was little and needed to grow more, just like the ones he’d been throwing back. He must have seen the disappointment in my eyes, for he said that I could keep it if I really wanted, and Mom would fry it up for me. Saying words that conflicted with some of my feelings, I replied that if it needed to grow more, that I’d throw it back, like he did with his. (I was apparently obsessed with food, even as a scrawny little kid!) Even the little fish soon quit biting, and we caught no more, so Dad suggested that we call it a day.
He only took me fishing a handful of times after that, then I had to con my great aunt, or my aunt who sometimes visited from D.C., into going along, since I wasn’t yet allowed to go by myself. I’ll always remember the day that my prim and proper aunt (my dad’s sister) sat in the grass along the creek with me, as our legs dangled over the bank. She was “dressed up” to my country eyes and smelled of the “eau de toilette” that so many older ladies used to wear. Yet, when the helicopter flew over checking the big gas main that crossed the valley, she waved along with me to the man beside the pilot and he waved back. I remember her laughing.
Time moved on and I began fishing by myself, or with friends. I had a lot of fun and interesting times along the old creek. From its flowing waters, my family and I had many a meal of fish over the years, but like my dad, I threw a lot of them back, too. For a while, I wondered why he’d always swung the fish to shore like some joyful kid, instead of just reeling them in. As we talked more over the years, though, I learned that he’d never had a boughten rod and reel before. He grew up during the depression using a tree limb, a string or strong thread, a cork for a bobber and, if he had no store-bought hooks, a bent safety pin served the purpose. With no barb on a safety-pin hook, you kept pressure on the line and swung the fish ashore before they could get away. Subconsciously, I’m sure he was still that little boy with his tree-limb pole.
The smaller rod that I first used is gone—given either to my stepson or one of my grandkids. I came across my dad’s pole in the basement the other day when I was sorting through some things. It was the one that I actually used the most over the years, but it’s sat unused in my basement for 30 years now—what I jokingly (but accurately) call “a victim of marriage.” It’s over 50 years old now. It holds a lot of pleasant memories for me, but I’ll have those memories with or without the pole. I think I’ll give it to my grandson. Hopefully, he won’t break it switching a snake or throw it in the river in disgust after losing “the big one.” If he does, it will be his loss more than mine, I suppose.
Maybe I’ll fish again someday, or maybe I won’t. If I do, though, it will either be with trotlines or a limb and a string. One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that simplicity is a good thing. © 2014