My First Fishing Trip - Updated
There are precious few experiences that take place throughout our lives, some so memorable that each and every detail is forever etched in our minds.
UPDATE: My father passed away at age 89 on February 6th, 2011. I am pleased that he got to read this story prior to his passing. When visiting home I looked through some old photos and I discovered a picture of him in his red and black buffalo plaid wool pants that I referenced in this story. I have included those photos here.
When I was very young growing up in Pennsylvania I remember my father returning from fishing trips on Lake Erie with coolers full of fresh caught yellow perch, bluegill and bass packed in ice. After the family adequately complimented the fisherman on his catch, I would stand on a chair next to the sink and watch my father scale the fish and then move them onto newspapers to filet them. He was very careful to remove all of the bones and yield a nice white-fleshed filet. He would wrap the heads and guts in the newspaper and turn the fresh filets over to my mother. She would then dredge the filets in egg and flour and fry them for our family. We almost always ate the fish the day they were caught. She would prepare a big salad with fresh lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers grown in our garden and dressed with olive oil, cider vinegar and lots of garlic. We always had a loaf of fresh Italian bread from a local wood-fired oven from the “Little Italy” section of our town. Even if it required a special trip to the grocery store, fresh lemon wedges were a must with this meal.
Before each fishing trip I would beg my father to take me with him and finally, when I was about 5 years old, he took me on my first trip. To this day I can remember every detail of that day. It was a cold and cloudy day with rain threatening. He wore a pair of red and black wool buffalo plaid pants and insulated red and black rubber boots. He carried me on his back across a giant puddle to get to one of his fishing spots in an area called “The Lagoons”. We fished with a bobber and worms and also tried live minnows but didn’t get any bites at that first spot. Determined for me to catch my first fish, he loaded me on his back and shuttled me back across the puddle, loaded up the car and we drove to a private yacht club across the bay where he had a friend who was the harbormaster and would let us fish from one of the Piers at the marina.
Being later in the day, it was a little warmer, and the threatening rain subsided. This time using no bobber, he had me lower the bait down the side of the pier into the water. As soon as the sinker hit bottom the line slacked up. He instructed me to reel the line in a few inches until the line was taut. Almost immediately I got a bite...and another…and another! I caught my first fish, and the second, and the third and…. As we caught “keepers”, we put them on a stringer that resembled a chain made of giant safety pins. It wasn’t long before we had at least a dozen fish on the stringer and it was time to go. When we got home my mother and sisters made a big deal over the catch and my father and I cleaned the fish. Mom was waiting with the hot oil and lemon wedges. I can remember clearly how good it felt to be a provider for our family - catching our own food, cleaning it and turning it over to Mom to cook. And then there is the taste. Fresh caught fried fish with a lemon wedge squeezed over the crunchy filet and dipped in ketchup is a real treat. It isn’t difficult to develop a craving for that flavor.
My first fishing experience at age 5 that combined the fun of fishing with the satisfaction of being a family food provider has never left me. As I grew older ANY small pond within a couple miles was fair game to try my luck. I put many miles on my bicycle riding long distances to ponds or lakes to fish - many times returning home with a stringer full. One time I was fishing a stream for trout and every time I put my line in the water I caught a smallmouth bass. I returned home with a huge catch of smallmouth bass. My mother was so impressed she wanted to take a picture and send it to the newspaper - which I thought was a wonderful idea. Unfortunately, when my father returned from work he informed us that I had caught more than the limit and they were out of season to boot! As I admit my guilt here, hopefully after 30 years the statute of limitations has now run out protecting me from any charges.
When I was old enough to drive, my friend and I would store our wading boots and fishing poles in the trunk so we could leave school and go right to the area streams to catch trout and salmon with our fly rods. We were very good fishermen and frequently harvested fish. There is a tremendous amount of satisfaction in being a 16 year old boy returning home from an after school fishing trip with three 32” salmon in tow that you caught on a fly rod. This is especially true if your fishing buddy only caught one!
Continuing through college and surviving a move to Texas, the passion for fishing and being in the outdoors remains. When I return to Pennsylvania to visit my family each year I still try to visit the old fishing spots from my youth and relive those memories. I have since taken my own sons to those spots and many of them are exactly as they were decades ago. My father is now 89 years old and my mother still fries fresh fish at age 88 and prepares the meal with salad, Italian bread and lemons as she has for over 60 years. Last time I was in my parent’s house I noticed that my father’s insulated red and black rubber boots were still there in the basement.
I love fishing and have ever since that first trip at age 5 with my father. Fishing’s formula for success is a cycle of skill, timing, luck and patience that translates into an ultimate payoff with the bounty of the catch or “getting skunked”. Whether in my media executive roles, ranching operations or family life, this same cycle of skill combined with timing and luck has ultimately led to my successes and failures. Sometimes it takes failing so that you can fine tune your skills and appreciate the times when they’re “biting” and you can enjoy life’s “crispy filets” with a squeeze of lemon.