As I cranked on the handle of my Johnson Century closed-face fishing reel, the rod tip bent and started vibrating all over the place.
My excitement grew as I played a nice little 10-inch rainbow to the side of the boat. Laughing, my father leaned over the gunnel of our beat-up old Viking aluminum 12-footer, cupped his hand gently under the belly of the fish and held it on the surface of the water for a moment so I could admire my catch. At nine or 10 years old, you tend to be pretty much proud of any fish you catch.
Glancing up at me, he smiled, removed the hook and released it back into the lake.
Earlier in the morning, my father caught and released a couple of real nice ones. Throughout the day I had a number of hits but continued loosing them.
“You gotta be more patient when you set the hook” he’d always tell me.
I will always remember that particular day on the water. There were a number of small lakes about an hour’s drive from our house back then. Not really the kind of lakes that would attract too many other anglers. I mean, you could spend the whole day on one of them without seeing more than one or two other boats – the kind of lakes that seemed to suit my father just fine.
“This is a good boat we got here,” I remember him saying to me out of the blue. “It’s heavy. That’s what you need, a good heavy boat that sits well in the water… that doesn’t rock around when you’re trying to bring a fish in.”
Then he would just sit there silent for a while, contemplative like. My father tended to talk in spurts and then sort of drift off somewhere else, to something else that was on his mind.
“Nope, getting old isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” he said after a while. That was the first time my father ever looked old to me – something in his eyes, something in the way he sat there, deep in his own thoughts. I remember wondering what he was thinking. As the years go by, I find myself doing the same thing. Except my dog doesn’t really care whether I talk or not.
I remember even as a kid I was always impressed with how much my old man knew about fishing. He just seemed to have a knack for knowing where the fish would be, when they’d be there, what they’d be feeding on, what insect hatches would be coming off, what size of hook to use and what shade of green. He just seemed to know so much. He seemed to know, almost instinctively, when to set the hook and, more importantly, when to wait just half a second more.
I used to like watching him cast his old Orvis Battenkill cane rod. He could cast that old thing better than I’ll ever be able to cast any of my new high modulus graphite Sages.
Looking back now, I think he caught fish for no other reason than because he knew how to be patient.
He certainly did have patience: patience to wait a fish out, patience to sit back and enjoy just being out on the water, patience to wait for the sun to burn the morning mist off the surface of a lake, and enough patience to take a kid like me fishing. Even a kid who was as impatient as me. I’m still trying to learn how to be patient. The problem is that I have a long way to go and I seem to be growing old in the process, too.