Every time I go fishing, the parallels between lessons of real life and the fishing experience are revealed. Late this summer, my son, Nate, and I took my granddaughter, Izzy, to Sharon Woods Park for a late afternoon fishing outing. Our first lesson was learned because we used a good old-fashioned cane pole.
The cane pole we fish with now is not exactly like the 8 foot one piece bamboo pole my Grandpa Hessey used to teach me to catch crappies and bluegills. I remember vividly how he stuck the butt of the bamboo pole on the floorboard of the front seat of his blue and white 1957 Chevy with those really cool fins. The pole extended past the front seat where I was sitting with the tip running through an open back seat window. “Stevie, don’t let that pole fly out the window in the wind,” Grandpa would warn as he drove the car down the road.
I carried his cane pole tradition forward with my children and now, my grandchildren. However, I upgraded the equipment slightly some 30 years ago by purchasing an 8 foot extending cane pole.
After my kids “outgrew” the cane pole, I stuck the pole in the corner of the garage. The long neglected pole experienced a Lazarus like resurrection once grandkids old enough to fish were on the scene! The utility of the cane pole when fishing with kids demonstrates one of the life/fishing parallels: simple works!
After parking the car in a crowded parking lot, Nate, Izzy and I shared a long walk to the fishing dock loaded down with fishing gear, water, snacks, and of course, bait. Izzy walked while longingly looking at the playground nearby. We pushed ahead!
For well over 40 years, I have shared one my Grandpa Hessey’s fishing mantras with anyone who offered the opinion that perhaps I did not need quite as much bait as I brought to the shore or boat. Grandpa said: “You can never have too much bait”. Earlier in the day, Oompah (that is me as far as Izzy is concerned) made a run to the R&R bait store and purchased a box of bait containing 100 pieces of fish catching magic – the simplest of baits, wax worms.
The fishing dock was crowded with several families who were enjoying the afternoon. As any angler would, I checked out the fishing action as I walked towards the dock. There was no catching going on even though all the families were fishing with rods and reels much fancier than our simple cane pole.
The left side of the dock was open. We set our gear down near the water. Izzy immediately headed towards the edge of the dock and stuck her head across its margin peering intently into the water. I graciously allowed Nate to take care of the safety talk. He repeated the warning a number of times that afternoon.
At the very end of the fishing dock near where we were setting up was a tree which had fallen into the water. It’s now dead branches extended below the surface of the beautiful fishing pond. I took the cane pole which was already rigged with line, put on a small hook, a little split shot about 12 inches above the hook and attached a wax worm. After affixing a small red and white round bobber 2 feet above the bait, I underhanded the cane pole in such a way that the wax worm settled down next to the drowned tree branches barely visibly in the murky green water. “Izzy, come here and stand with me. When the bobber goes down, I want you to pull up on the pole and bring in the fish.”
After a brief wait, the tiny bobber began to bounce, then wiggle, and suddenly it eased steadily below the surface as the rig was pulled towards the underwater branches. “Pull, Izzy!” Pull she did. After the bluegill was bounced against the wooden dock a couple of times, she had the fish flopping on shore. I removed the bluegill from the hook and showed it to Izzy. She gave it a brief kiss, as is her custom, held the slimy wiggling pan fish in her tiny hand and threw it back. People on the dock were watching.
The whole scene repeated itself. This time Izzy caught a nice crappie. People on the dock were watching. Izzy, Nate and Oompah were excited.
The scene repeated itself a third time. This time a bluegill was landed even bigger than the prior two fish. After Izzy returned the third fish to the water, a young girl left her side of the dock and walked quickly towards us.
She was not shy. “Mistah, what ya usin for bait?” “Wax worms,” I said. She quickly wheeled around and headed toward her mother. “Mama, do we have any wax worms?”
By now, Izzy was hanging on to the pole waiting for the tiny red and white bobber to disappear under the gentle ripples of the pond surface. It did. Fish number four was on the dock in no time. Here came our new friend to teach us the second fishing/life parallel of the day, namely, it never hurts to ask.
“Mistah, can I borrow some of those wax worms?” “No, but you sure can have some,” I replied. She opened her little hand and I placed five or six wriggling wax worms covered in sawdust in her palm. Her fingers gently closed.
We watched her walk quickly back to her family. In a couple of minutes, a happy raucous ruckus arose at their end of the dock as our tow headed little friend landed a feisty bluegill.
While all of this fishing and sharing was going on, we had noticed a little boy and his father fishing in the middle of the dock. The third life/fishing parallel began to unfold, I want what you have.
With every fish we caught, the little boy would scoot a little closer to our fishing spot By the time we landed our fourth fish and our new friend at the other end of the dock caught her first bluegill, the little boy and his father were standing within a couple of feet of our “honey hole”. The little boy was watching us fish. His father was busy trying to catch a fish with a huge bobber and large night crawler which none of the fish which had been caught could ever pull under the water.
“What’s your name?” I asked the little boy.
“Billy, have you ever caught a fish?”
“Nope,” he replied softly. I looked at his father and asked him if he minded if I helped Billy. “Sure”, he said as a look of relief and hope crossed his face.
Billy and I settled in to catch his first fish. “Now, Billy, here’s what we’re going to do. See these wax worms? I’m going to put one on this hook and then I’m going to swing this wax worm and hook right next to that tree. You see that bobber?” He nodded. “It that bobber goes that way, you pull this way. If that bobber goes this way, you pull that way.” He nodded. “You ready?” He nodded. The wax worm drifted through the air and gently dropped in the water and sank towards the underwater tree branches. I pulled Billy in front of me and handed him the cane pole which he held stiffly in front of him as he stared at the water. His father was watching.
“Now, Billy, look at the bobber!” We were both excited about the possibilities. Shortly, the bobber began to wiggle. “Billy, watch close!” Slowly, the bobber drifted downward and to the left. Billy instinctively pulled to the right. He yanked the cane pole so hard that I thought the bluegill would fly up and over our heads. The pole bent sharply at the end but no fish surfaced. Billy struggled for a few minutes to get the feel of it and slowly lifted a 12 inch catfish onto the dock.
Billy dropped the pole and ran to the writhing catfish. He took a close look and began to jump up-and-down like he was on a pogo stick. “Daddy, daddy, I caught one, I caught one!” Billy had caught his first fish. Izzy watched while holding her Daddy’s hand. I smiled. Together, we appreciated the final parallel of the day, giving is more fun than getting!