It was incredibly hot outside, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He stood outside at the backdoor, his tacklebox in one hand and an old Martin fly rod in the other, screaming “Come on Dad! Let’s go fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiishing!” After fifteen minutes of begging and yelling about summer being made for fishing, “Dad” couldn’t take it any more. He turned off the television, grabbed his keys and headed toward the back door.
“Alright, go get in the truck – but I don’t know where we’re gonna go, son.”
The kid didn’t care. The kid just wanted to fish. He’d give up anything to go fishing and later in life that “anything” would include friends, parties, and even….girls. At least for a while.
That kid was me, and I remember my first bass on a popper like it was yesterday. Maybe because it was so hot outside and I hated being hot – but not as much as I hated sitting inside a house, which is something I hate to this day. I’ve made sure my wife knows that if there’s any way possible, when it’s my time to go – I want to be outside.
We turned out of the driveway onto Cherokee Drive, then right onto Parkwood, then a left onto Watson Boulevard. I always thought that was a funny word – boulevard. Once we got to the end of Watson and turned south, I stopped paying attention to where we were going. I was fiddling with my tacklebox.
“Dad, is this a good lure?” I’d say as I held up a small yellow and red popper, it’s rubber legs dangling. Dad would usually look at me, smile and keep driving. No sense answering the question when he knew 1000 more were coming. The white Chevy truck we called “Light’ning” barreled along and I dug through the old tacklebox a bit more. I had all the hand-me-downs from Dad’s box. Things he didn’t want, things he didn’t use and a few hooks, bobbers and lures that were new or nearly new. I remember a plastic circular box with a clear plastic lid that would spin around and let you get to different sized sinkers. Maybe you’ve seen something like that? Sinkers still come that way sometimes.
“We’re here, Jeff. Get your rod…”
I opened the camper shell’s glass door and reached over to get the rod. I had to climb over the tail-gate and into the truck – the rod slid up to the front during the trip. It must have been 110 degrees in the back of that truck. I was sweating before I could get the old fly rod and get back out.
The lake – wherever we were – was choked with lily pads and weeds and crooked black logs. I hated water like that because there was so much to get hung on. This place was more swamp than lake, and the lost soldiers of angler’s past hung from high branches above where we stood. There were lots of old corks and thick line, a few spinners, and one Rebel Minnow. Dad tried to get the Rebel lure down using his spinning rod but it was too short. I reached for it with the tip of my fly rod…
“No, no. Don’t use the fly rod. It’ll break the tip off if you get it hooked up there.”
He pointed out a spot for me to stand – a small clearing of red clay and rocks. It looked like a great place for a snake to me, but then – what didn’t out there? Later, I learned this wasn’t a lake or pond at all – but a river. We were fishing a backwater oxbow that had formed a small pond when the water level went down. The water was stained and still. Nothing moved but a few turtles here and there.
I wasn’t very good with the fly rod. I wasn’t very good with any rod, actually. But Dad came over and stood beside me. He roll cast that red and yellow popper out for me. It landed by a log that was half submerged under the murky water.
“Now, give it a tug and make it pop.”
“Yeah, just like that. If there’s a fish…”
The battle wasn’t long. Maybe thirty seconds – and I didn’t even land it. It jumped three times and on the third jump it threw the hook. But I didn’t care – I’d caught it in my mind. After some whining on my part, Dad agreed we could count it. He promised not to tell Mom that it got away. We agreed to tell her that it was just too little to keep, which – had I caught it – would have been the Gospel truth. It couldn’t have been more than a half-pound or so.
But it hit that popper and it hit it hard. And that…..well, I’ve never forgotten the way that felt.