If you have followed my articles for any length of time, you will recall I am constantly stating that making memories is very important, especially when it comes to enjoying your time spent outdoors.
These memories can be made with family, friends, and even people you might have just met. I will confess that sometimes I might have what my wife refers to as “selective memory.” I have difficulty remembering birthdays, anniversaries, and even things my wife asks me to do. But, I can remember hunting and fishing dates, hunting and fishing rules and regulations, and dates of hunting and fishing shows.
I guess that is because some things are more important than others. For the most part, my memory, even at this aging period of my life, is rather good.
I was talking with a group of people recently, and I was asked, “Can you remember the first fish you ever caught?” I believe some of the people were amazed when I quickly replied, “Most certainly,” and I started relaying the event as if it were just yesterday.
I was just 5 years old, and I was fishing with my father. He was actually a millwright at Chrysler, but he was also a really good carpenter. He was helping my uncle, Dick Randolph, remodel his kitchen. Uncle Dick gave my father and me permission to fish their farm pond and also along the stretch of creek by their farm. My dad just needed a couple of hours to complete the job, and he promised to take me fishing if I “remained a good boy” and stayed with my aunt Nellie and helped with a few chores, which was basically “staying out the way.”
After a few hours of listening to my aunt talk about how much I had grown, etc., my father walked out and got our fishing poles that were tied to the door handles along the side of the car, and he handed me a Campbell soup can of worms. He said, “let's go fishing!”
We walked down a grown-over wagon trail that Uncle Dick always called a “two track.” I remember I followed behind my father because I was afraid of snakes, and I was hoping he would scare them away. We came to an opening along the creek, and we sat down on a couple of big rocks. Dad baited our hooks, and he whirled the cane pole around over his head. I heard the bobber plop on the surface of the water. He handed me the pole, and he baited his hook and repeated the process of placing his bobber shortly away from mine. Dad did his best to keep my attention focused on the bobber, but he could tell my attention span was not as fine-tuned as his. I kept looking at the bobber, and dad would say, “If a fish bites, it will take that bobber underwater. That is when you want to set the hook.”
I can remember watching the bobber and asking him, “When will it go under?” and then I started looking around. I remember dad started talking to me about the different trees along the bank and pointing out the different birds and pointing out a squirrel just to help me keep my mind occupied. I already had eaten both candy bars and the apple Aunt Nellie gave me, and I was just starting to get the peanut butter and jelly sandwich when my dad excitedly said, “You got a bite! Set the hook!”
I grabbed that cane pole out of the fork dad had made from a tree branch, and I jerked the fishing pole back and actually fell flat on my tail-end. You have to remember that this was back in the late-1940s, and cane poles did not have reels. They merely had string tied around the tip, so you could not reel the line in.
I was so excited. I had that little sunfish swinging around in circles, and by the time I actually “landed the fish,” it probably suffered from vertigo and “air sickness.” I was so excited that I thought Uncle Dick and Aunt Nellie could hear me at the farmhouse.
That little sunfish was a monster to me. It was barely what my father referred to as “hand-size,” but I was so excited and so proud of it. Dad put the fish on the stringer, and after a short time, we had added enough to take home and clean.
Another thing I remembered about my first fish was I remembered my father was just as excited as me. I noticed he had a tear in his eye, and it sort of ran down his cheek. I asked him if he was hurt, and he said, “No, I’m just proud of you!” I thought maybe he was mad at me because I caught the first fish of the day. Funny thing about it was I never forgot that tear, and I thought maybe he was just ashamed to admit he got hurt or he wanted to catch the first fish. But now I can understand perfectly why he had that tear on his cheek.
Little did I realize at that time that someday I would lose my dad, and I would also get older and become a father myself. When our daughter and son were born, I naturally got them fishing poles, and we “brought them up” camping and fishing. I remember having our daughter, Staci, in the boat, and we were fishing for crappie. She caught her first fish, and I was so proud of her. I remember our son, Scott, catching his first fish, and I was also so proud of him. As a matter of fact, I also had a tear coming down my cheek, and I reflected on my father shedding the tears. I completely understood the exact feeling of pride he had years ago.
Well, as time rapidly passed, my daughter and son grew up, and now they are both married and have families of their own. I managed to instill the love and enjoyment of fishing to my grandchildren, and I can remember the first fish they caught. I still had those tears as I reflect back many years ago when I fished with my father and caught my first fish. Now, I am looking forward to actually fishing with my great-grandchildren, and I can assure you, there will more than likely be a few more tears of joy and pride. I can thank my father and my mother for bringing me up in an outdoor environment of river living and fishing.
Many of my fishing partners have noticed as I am competing in a bass tournament that the first fish I catch of the event, whether it is a “keeper” or not, I will briefly stop fishing, remove my cap, look up toward heaven, and say, “Thanks, dad, for taking me fishing." There is also a tear on my cheek for admiration and respect to the best father a boy could have. He taught me how, and he took me fishing!
So folks, memories are important. That was the first fish I ever caught, and it was not the last fish I ever caught. I intend to continue fishing, making memories with my family and friends, and trust me, I have several hundred photos of fish caught, deer harvested, and memories enjoyed that can be enjoyed by myself and later by my family after I pass.
As Bob Hope said in his famous song, “Thanks for the memories!”