Sunday is Father’s Day. Many of you know that I lost my father less than a month ago. If you continue to read this blog post, you will have to indulge me as I share some more memories and thoughts about my Dad.
At the end of our spring turkey season this year I shared a memory of Dad (Paradox). I am pretty sure that Dad and I killed our first spring turkeys together on the same day years ago, mine in the morning, his in the afternoon. As I recall, we also caught our first Master Angler fish together on the same day too–a couple of Merritt Reservoir smallmouth bass.
I love Master Angler awards. I will always tell you that a trophy is what you make of it, so please do not think that you have to have Master Angler awards hanging on the wall to prove that you have caught trophy fish. But, the awards have been a benchmark for big fish caught by my grandparents, my father, me, my kids. Those are special fish and the cheap certificates represent memories of special fish caught with special people. They do mean a lot to me.
I have the stack of Dad’s Nebraska Master Angler awards on my desk right now. There are 15 of them. The first is a 4-pound smallmouth bass caught from Merritt Reservoir on July 22, 1972.
I have written more than one blog post about fishing with bobbers, Kid’s System , Bobbers Ain’t Just for Kids . Floats or bobbers are great fishing tools for a variety of fishing situations, but let me give you a little idea of some of the passion and depth behind those blog posts–there is a lot more there than just using bobbers to catch fish.
In the last month Dad was with us, a cousin and I were swapping fishing stories. Andy remembered a trip with Dad just a year ago when Dad showed up with a bobber attached to his line, tossed it out in the current and began catching more fish than everyone else. They were fishing for white bass and THE bait everyone else was using was a jig. In the past few years, Dad was most likely to have a bobber attached to his line and he would use that to catch fish wherever he was, whatever he was fishing for. We could talk him into employing some other bait or presentation if that was working best, but Dad would just as soon watch that bobber dance on the surface and then pop under.
Is not that the essence of fishing? Did not we become “hooked” as kids by watching a bobber go under the water and wondering what huge creature might be on the end of the line? That is the way most of us started fishing and at some point I wonder if Dad just felt some comfort, some satisfaction, some connection with his youth by going back to the beginning, to the purity and simplicity of being a kid again and fishing a bobber with some kind of bait hanging under it?
Along with the thought about returning to bobbers and earlier, simpler times, returning to our youth, I have to share this, I have to put it down in writing. . . .
I went with Dad and Mom to the cancer center before he began his last round of radiation treatments. Mom and I waited for Dad as they took him back for another scan. When they wheeled him back into the examining room, I will never forget Dad looking from his wheelchair up at me. We did not say a word to each other, just looked at each other. What struck me at that moment was his eyes. I cannot explain it, cannot tell you what I saw, but as I looked into Dad’s eyes, I saw a little boy. No, I did not see fear, questioning, inability, nor uncertainty. I do not know what made me think that, but in that instant I had the feeling that I was looking into my Dad’s eyes and seeing a 5- or 6-year old boy. The thought ran through my head that I was looking into the same eyes that my Grandma and Grandpa had looked into a long, long time ago.
After he passed we were looking through a bunch of old photo albums. One of them had this picture taken when my Dad started to school.
Those are the eyes I saw.
Dad and I did not say a lot to each other the last couple of weeks he was with us. Dad could not say a lot; there were times when you could tell he wanted to say something, but he just could not. I did speak to him some and other family members and I spent a lot of time in his presence talking. I know he was listening and I know the conversations, and the laughing, were a comfort to him. When I did speak to him, I did not expect him to speak back and most of the time he did not. We just looked at each other. He did not have to say anything more.
Hamming It Up
I show a lot of pictures here on my blog; many of them “hero shots” of me or my hunting and fishing partners, often my kids, with some fish we have caught or game we have taken. Occasionally, I get tired of the same old poses and same old shots and “ham” it up for the photo. It is supposed to be fun!
Again while looking through old photo albums, I found this picture of my Dad, Grandpa and one of grandpa’s brothers, Uncle Orville.
I am told they used to load up the old farm trucks and drive to some sandhill lake to camp and fish. They would stretch tarps across the bed and sides of the truck and sleep back there; that was their “camper” before they had campers. That picture was taken on one of those trips. Aunt Mabel had a standing order for them to bring bullheads back for her. So, there they are, on that trip, on that day, and they probably fished hard and at the end of the day had a grand total of one, 1, O-N-E bullhead to show for it. But Grandpa and Uncle Orville loved to have fun, and I know that no matter how many fish they caught, they had a great time.
I imagine Dad and Grandpa and Uncle Orville and my other granddad, Gramps Roth, are together recalling some of those old fishing trips and laughing about it. I will bet I know who the biggest “hams” are!
A Phone Call
I talk to a lot of people about fish and fishing in Nebraska. That is my job. Some days I seem to get nothing done because the phone just keeps ringing. When I go home after a day like that I have to remind myself that talking to folks on the phone really is my job, that I really did accomplish a lot by answering the phone all day!
There is one call that I got earlier this week that I have to tell you about. It was a gentleman asking some questions about fishing a particular area, where they could fish, what they could fish for, and what he needed so he could get his dad a fishing permit and take him fishing for Father’s Day. He told me his siblings had the usual ideas for Father’s Day gifts, take him out to eat, give him a gift card, ties, shirts, etc. He said that he told them that he thought the perfect Father’s Day gift would be to take his dad fishing; his dad loved to fish and they had not done that together for a few years.
I ain’t making this story up, and I ain’t lying to you when I tell you my eyes teared up.
You know what I told that gentleman over the phone:
I will always be a fisherman. . .
It is not something I do, it is who I am. . .
Fishing is not an escape, it is where I belong, where I am supposed to be.
It is not a place, but a lifelong journey. . .
It is a passage my father showed me, and that I will show to others.
When you understand all of this, you will know me, and we will fish together.
THE FISHERMAN’S AFFIRMATION–author unknown