Every spring my thoughts go to my Dad, at least once the snow has gone. My Dad grew up during the depression and joined the Navy when he was 17. He had a grade eight education but was one of the wisest men I have ever met. It would be years later, after he had died, that I realized all the lessons he had taught me while we were fishing.
Dad always had to work hard to provide for his family. After twenty years serving in the Navy and fighting in World War II, Dad decided he wanted to live by the sea on Cape Cod. So I grew up in the magical town of Provincetown. It was magical because it was one of the rare places in the world where you watch the sun rise in the east over water and set in the west over water, because of its sand and beaches sprinkled with lighthouses, and its timeless fishing boats. It is a place where different cultures came together in harmony and where its historic roots could be traced to the beginning of America.
The first lesson Dad taught me was patience. I was perhaps six years old when my Dad and my step-grandfather took me fishing in the bay. Now Grandfather had been a fisherman his entire life and after retiring he maintained a fishing dory which he and my Dad would go fishing every week during the summer. This day Dad invited me along and I was thrilled. Both my father and my grandfather told me how I had to be patient when fishing and as I dropped my hand line into the sea, I was determined that I could out wait any fish. Over the next hour both my Dad and Grandfather continued to pull in fish time and again, but my line continued to just sit there. After an hour or so my Dad suggested I pull up the line to check to see if the bait was still there. To my shock I soon discovered that perhaps the smallest flounder possible had swallowed my bait and was dangling from my line.
While my Dad and grandfather were trading humorous remarks about the ‘giant’ fish I had caught I didn’t care about their jokes as I knew that my patience had resulted in ME catching a fish. It’s size didn’t matter to a six year old.
A few years later after Dad had taught me to use a spinning rod we went fishing with a friend of Dad’s in one of the ponds around town. I was determined to out fish Dad that day and as he and his friend moved around to different spots around the pond I used my lesson of patience to remain in one spot and to make cast after cast. Finally just before the end of the day I hooked onto a ‘monster’ of a large mouth bass. This time it was a big fish weighing in at ten pounds and when my Dad and his friend showed up empty handed, I had bragging rights for the biggest and only fish caught that day. As we drove home Dad’s friend offered to take the fish home, but I would have nothing of it as I wanted to brag and show Mom my fish!
It was then I learned that though my Dad loved to catch fresh water fish, he and Mom didn’t like to eat them. The lesson taught that day is that success is temporary and though you can be proud of your accomplishments, you have to continue to work in order to maintain those successes. Well at least the cats had a good meal that evening.
Then there was the day that my Dad caught a huge pickerel and just as he was about to net it the fish threw the hook. That was the day I learned about frustration. But, that day I also learned how to deal with frustrations. After a few choice words, Dad re-baited his hook and on the very next cast he hooked up with an even bigger pickerel and landed it. That was the day I learned that if you wanted to be successful it is what you do after a failure that determines how successful you will be in life.
During the winter Dad and I would visit my uncle who had a cabin by a lake in New Hampshire to go ice fishing. Once again my lessons in patience were reaffirmed while enforcing my awe of Mother Nature. Ice fishing has an effect on expectations as often one can be surprised at what comes out of that hole in the ice. Expect a trout and it’s a pickerel or a bass.
Perhaps Dad’s greatest gift was the appreciation he gave me of nature and how you had to be prepared for the unexpected. Dad taught me the various knots needed to fish, how to clean fish, the right angle to release a line during a cast, and gave me the reasons for catch and release long before it became common practice.
Later after I began to teach my son and later my grandson how to fish, I discovered another gift that my Dad had given me. It was one I am sure he also received. That gift was the joy of passing down our knowledge to the next generation.
Like my Dad, I left home when I was 17 to seek my fortune and it would be many years before I was able to grab a fishing pole and head for a nearby lake. But, the lessons he taught me of being patient, overcoming frustrations, and to enjoy the moment stood me well as I traveled through my career as a teacher, basketball coach, and a school administer.
After I retired I discovered a renewed love for fishing. First in passing on my knowledge to a grandson and then discovering my wife had never caught a fish in her life! When her first fish was a 12-pound Bluefish she was literally hooked and we often spend an afternoon checking out local ponds for trout.
Then a few years ago my grandson was living near Lesser Slave Lake and on a visit he showed me how to catch my first Walleye. I remember thinking about how the cycle of life had been completed. I have been privileged to be able to watch my son teach his sons the joy of fishing and the lessons of life that accompany the art of fishing. I now realize that the link from my Dad to his son to his grandson has continued on to his great-grandchildren and hopefully beyond.
Spring is a time of renewal and for me it is also a time of remembering the things and times I had with my father and all he taught me about fishing and life.