You don’t get much fishing done when you take a child to the water’s edge. I don’t really remember my dad teaching me to fish. Oh, he took me fishing. But I was the youngest of three so he just handed me a pole – really a stick with a line and hook tied to it – and quietly went about his business of trying to catch dinner.
My dad might have been hoping to catch his limit that first day, but the three-year-old version of me had questions. Like, “Dad, what do I do with this trout dangling from the end of this string?”
You see, the stick, the fishing line, the hook, and the tiny pickled salmon eggs we used for bait were just supposed to keep me occupied. But I caught two keepers and a story that secured a place in family lore.
Three and a half decades later I was trying to teach my own young son the fine art of casting; the subtle timing of holding the line right up until your pole reaches full extension. “I got this, Dad,” he said, waving me off. He and his sister were both born with that skill.
For a long time, I didn’t even bother to bring my own fishing rod to the sea wall. Experience taught me that my kids would constantly need help with their bait, freeing their hook from trees, and untangling their line. I don’t remember my dad sacrificing his own serenity in order to serve as my assistant. An accountant with his own firm, he only took one week off per year to fish in the cool rushing streams of the Eastern Sierras. He taught me to fill my creel with a nest of long grasses to hold my catch while I fished for more. “Catch and release” had no meaning. You either caught a few fish or you had hot dogs for dinner.
Somewhere along the way, surely out of impatience, my offspring learned to put a shrimp on a hook without my help. And somewhere along the way, the act of fishing became the sport of catching. But they hadn’t truly learned to fish until they knew how to take the fish off their hook. This just happened up at the Chassahowitzka River where they were pulling pinfish and bass out of the water as fast as they could toss them back. Then, I could relax. My kids noticed that their old man didn’t have his own fishing pole anymore, so they gave me one for my birthday.
My dad probably still has his old fishing tackle stashed away in his garage, untouched in 30 years. I don’t think he’s ever dropped a line in the Suwannee River near his home. I remember the last time he took me fishing. I was 15 and we took one last trip to the icy streams below Mt. Whitney before moving to Florida. I don’t remember if we caught anything – that never really mattered – but I remember our trip getting cut short by a mama California black bear who had the nerve to keep her two cubs in the top of a pine tree right next to our tent. I woke to the sound of her breath as she assessed me through the sheet of nylon. We retreated to our car and watched her climb the massive tree to retrieve her babies. We decided to be gone when she came back.
I don’t really know much about fishing. I’m lucky if I can identify what my kids catch. But I do know that these times are sacred. If they are anything like me, my kids think their dad is a seasoned angler. I could write about theme parks, zoos, museums and ball games, but fishing trips – even if few and far between – carry an outsized weight in our memories.
Jon Kile is a stay-at-home dad, writer and amateur homeschool teacher in St. Pete. He and his wife Monica, a nonprofit consultant and marathoner, have a habit of loading their two kids into their RV and disappearing down the backroads of America. After he was diagnosed with a rare condition called Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Jon adjusted his lifestyle while finding inner peace and humor. Visit dontmakemeturnthisvanaround.com.