“Dad, teach me to use a bait caster.” So began school upon the water yesterday. My family loves spring. For my wife, she loves the warmth of the sun and the long days of light. And I love to see her skin turn bronze and leave winter’s white behind. Our daughter loves spring, too. Like her mom, she tans easily; her skin and hair respond to the sun quickly, and her youth reflects the energy of spring and sun. As a child, she was often bronze for more than six months each year, always long-legged, thin, and lithe– usually not far removed from a soccer ball. For our son, however, he treasures spring for fishing. He’s eight for only one more month and, I thought until yesterday, too young to use a bait caster reel. So I thought. “Dad, teach me to use a bait caster,” he repeated from the front of the Jon boat. In efforts to delay him, I used the list of parental excuses. “Son, a bait caster’s not like an open-face reel; it’s easier to get backlashes. What’s more, bait casters are more complicated. You have to be mindful of your lure and the wind. You have to focus on the vibrations in your line.” (I thought that was sure to dissuade him.) Alas, he’s like his mother: persistent. But he remained undeterred. After several minutes, I relented. “Okay,” I said, “here you go. You try it.”
There are few things I relish as much as fishing. Almost all of my fondest memories involve being near water. My formative years as a child and adolescent were in middle GA, and on my family’s property were/are three ponds. Two are stocked with bream, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and crappie. The third and smallest pond served as my grandfather’s pond, and it consisted mostly of channel and speckled catfish. I remember his driving his 1967 Ford short-bed pickup truck down to the water’s edge in the evenings with his buckets of floating catfish food in the bed. He’d pull down to the pond, and even before he got out of his truck, the fish churned the water in anticipation. The whiskers of the catfish slashed the top of the water and their shiny gray-green sleekness thrilled us grandchildren as we watched Granddaddy feed his fish. He was not a man given to shows of affection, and he’d not comment upon how we watched him and the fish, and made memories, but those times shaped me, as water shapes stone. I was a tender boy, and I knew those times were special, but now those memories buoy my soul.
I’m in my forties now, and my son was in the front of our little boat yesterday, and he asked me to teach him how to fish with one of my bait casters. And I did. And I continue to learn and relearn how depths of meaning emerge from simple things. As I watched him, the sun’s gold lit our little time upon the water, and he squinted each time I let the prow swing too far west and the evening sun caused him to say, “Come on, Dad; I can’t see. Can you turn the boat around?” The blue herons on the pond’s edge eyed us and the white egrets stood statuesque until they snapped fish up from below. The day’s last moorhens and red-winged blackbirds sang of dusk’s approach.
I do not remember how old I was when I made a small effort to show my stepfather how important he was/is to me–especially for all the times he took me fishing; for all those times I got my bait caster tangled up, or when I cast too far, and he had to retrieve my lure from a branch overhanging the pond’s edge. But I remember purchasing a small book for him once titled The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton. I didn’t fully understand or appreciate that book then, but as I learn and relearn how depths of meaning emerge from simple things, I see how time angles for us all, and how so much depends upon our tackle. I am thankful.