Fresh Cut: Learning to fish with Dad
Unencumbered by trees and buildings, the air out on the lake feels fresher, as though you need less of it to fill your lungs, yet want more of it all the same. The scents the breeze carries ebb and flow with the rhythm of the waves, changing with the intensity of the sun and the proximity to shore.
Fishing brings its own smells mingled with the scent of the lake. Dampened boat carpet, a slight garlic aroma coupled with the rubber of the artificial worms and grubs and, if you're lucky, the smell of fish, noticeable when you bring your hands near your nose.
As I reflect on childhood fishing trips with my dad, the memory of those smells comes back sharply. But so do the feelings I associate with fishing: pride and excitement, sometimes frustration and boredom.
In my youngest fishing years, Dad hooked the bait and cast my line, helping me reel in any sunfish or perch that submerged the bobber. I learned to recognize the difference between a nibble, where the bobber bounced up and down wildly but remained mostly above water, and a full-on bite, characterized by the bobber's disappearing act.
Dad's own fishing interests evolved, and he began tracking down largemouth bass with a fervor, to which I followed suit. I ditched bobbers for lures with spinning tails and long, brightly colored worms. I learned to cast myself, which led to many slow approaches to docks and overhanging trees coupled with attempts to shake the tangled line free.
As I grew older, my responsibilities on the boat grew as well. One day, probably around age 11 or 12, I was allowed to help my dad with the launch. I stood on the dock, holding the line to keep the boat at bay, pleased as punch to be in charge of such an important possession.
While bass fishing is more fast-paced than walleye fishing, for instance, it's still an exercise in patience. I continually reeled too fast, not giving the bait enough time to sink to the bottom and entice the bass below. I gave up too quickly on each cast and grew frustrated, particularly when Dad brought in fish after fish on the other end of the boat.
No matter how impatient I became, Dad never lost his own patience with me. If I wasn't catching fish and wanted to quit, he let me take over netting the fish he caught.
Dad joined a local bass fishing club and began fishing weekly tournaments on Gull Lake. My mom, sister and I went to the weigh-ins, where I admired bass bigger than I'd ever seen.
Soon enough, I joined my dad as his part-time partner, fishing in the occasional tournament with him. I applied all of the fishing skills I'd acquired over his years of guidance: identifying habitat bass are attracted to, casting the proper distance, feeling for the bite and letting the fish take out some line before setting the hook, firmly, but not too firmly.
I could almost do everything by myself, even properly hooking the plastic worms to prevent snagging weeds.
At 27 years old, I can almost do everything by myself. I've signed leases, received a degree, successfully applied for jobs, been published, traveled outside the state, just last week bought a car from a dealership for the first time.
But sometimes, Dad still helps me untangle my line, even casts for me now and then. And he never loses his patience.
Happy Father's Day to a dad who doesn't hear, "Thank you," quite often enough, and who probably didn't receive quite as many homemade poems and cards as Mom did. Thanks for teaching me to fish, to go with the flow and, most importantly, the patience to wait for the right moment to set the hook.