I lost it. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point in my life I surrendered the ability to out-fish my son. What the heck happened? Did I teach him too well? Did he unearth a magic lantern containing a genie and make a wish? Did he slip into my bedroom late one night, and through the use of some magical endowment obtained by mysterious means, extract the pure essence of my angling abilities?
Whatever tactic the young usurper used to seize my skills, one stark fact remains–he is the reigning fishing king these days. Truth is, I’m thrilled. I mean, after a bit of consideration I concluded that by relinquishing my title (however involuntarily ) as top dog of the fishing crew, I now have more time for observation and… beverages. Let’s just call them beverages.
Upon arriving at our choice, secluded fishing spot he bounds from the passenger door of our Chevy Colorado, snags a fiberglass rod and nylon stringer in one deft movement, then plods away, leaving me in the wake of his unyielding confidence. I snuggle-up to a cooler. Icy beverages beckon and console me from within. As the young angler glides along the shoreline of the stock tank, he deftly negotiates the many pitfalls–wobbly rocks, hardened cow tracks, the deadly slippery-log-laying-in-wait-in-the-tall-grass (that one always gets me)–and I remain free to offer sage advice from the comfort of the pickup tailgate.
“Chunk it over there near that lil’ bunch of moss son!”
“Hey! Try one of those rubber worms. Hmmm, you ain’t twitching it right. Try this.” I stand up and air-fish in a futile attempt to demonstrate the correct technique.
He operates in silence, ignoring his animated father, but I’m almost positive that he is carefully considering every syllable I utter. Why wouldn’t he? After all, I’ve taught him everything he knows, but not all that I know…not yet. I’m satisfied that he hangs on every word.
He wears only Nikes and cargo shorts. His slender muscles flex and stretch as his lithe frame drifts through the knee-high vegetation that springs from the mud like horse hair from an earthen brush. The sun’s unrelenting rays spar with his young skin, but he wears the translucent armor of youth, and he only turns brown in response. I am similarly dressed, but without looking I can already detect a shade of red. Apparently the direct result of yet another one of my waning abilities.
I soon retreat to the soothing shade of a nearby oak and rest upon a gnarled, ancient root; a half-buried wooden knot, worn slick, and bristling with cow hair. It is odd, ugly and deformed, and bears evidence of some horrible genetic event encountered by the mighty oak. I find it irresistible. I use a battle-worn Reebok to brush away a loose pile of soil gathered around its base before sitting down. Now, bathed in dappled sunlight, I continue to cast fishing tips across the water. I dress each morsel in adjectives that sparkle like glints of sunlight and verbs that resonate like ripples in the space between us. Still, no reply. Alas, just as the rubber worm tied to the end of my young fisherman’s line falls shy of the ragged green fringe of the moss, my advice must tumble into the reeds just short of earshot. Suddenly, I spring from my tortured, oaken stool like Mario from a drain pipe and dance frantically about, waving wildly and spouting censor-worthy words and phrases. What’s this? An obscene indian fish dance designed to bring good luck? Nope, just a visit from the local chapter of FAAMD; Fire Ants Against Mound Destruction. I peel myself like a shrimp and frantically brush away dozens of dark, angry specks. They resist eviction, clinging stubbornly, scrunched and hunkered down like bitter drops of hate burning like hot slag into my flesh. Standing bare and vulnerable, surrounded by my wardrobe, I hear a faint chuckle drift across the pond. Finally, a response.
I dress, then carry my cooler into the peripheral shade, being careful to avoid the charismatic root that houses the retaliating fire ants. Now comfortable, as the lid to the igloo gradually succumbs to my weight, I surrender to my imagination and allow my son time to process the valuable fishing knowledge I have so graciously dispensed. I contemplate the possibilities of fire ant eradication on planet earth. I wonder if anyone has ever died from itching. I cradle my iPhone in my palm and resist the urge to tap the safari app. Google has no place in the sacred father/son fishing trip. Suddenly, a largemouth bass bursts through the surface of the water and shatters my thoughts. A bright purple rubber worm dances with his rigid lip. Leaping from the swayed-back cooler, I spring into action.
“You need to steer him over here, son! Not as much moss here!” I point at an area to his right…he moves left.
“You’re gonna lose him!”
He wades out into the tank, reaches below the water surface, and procures an impressive largemouth bass from the edge of the moss.
“Ok, so you got lucky that time.”
He appears to ignore me, but I know he pays close attention. Damn, he’s good.
He slogs back through the lush vegetation, then threads his latest catch on an impressive stringer of bass and bluegill perch. He then resumes his slow, deliberate path around the pond and continues to build on his stringer of fish while I continue with my helpful input derived from my vast understanding of the art of fishing. Arriving back at the stout oak where I sit, he proudly displays the days catch. Ah yes, the wonderful, and fruitful result of teamwork.
Now that I think about it, It’s not so much that I’ve lost anything, but rather that I’ve discovered another facet of a simple pleasure. Fishing is more complex and richer than I ever dreamed. In life, we learn, then do, then at some point teach. (And in middle age many of us try that “do” part again. You know who you are.) Even if no one listens to us, we teach, because even though they may not pay attention, they can’t help but hear us.
As long as we continue to try to learn, we remain young, if only at heart. At some point however, as parents we must learn how to pass the torch. Learning grants us the ability to try new things and to fail so that we can laugh at ourselves. And that’s important, because it keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. The tastiest aspect though, is what follows…the fish fry!