I’m standing ankle-deep in mud along the shore of the Conodoguinet Creek. A young angler is standing next to me, about to cast his line into the water.
When I say I am ankle-deep in mud, I’m not kidding. Mere seconds ago, as I stepped into the water to untangle a line, the muddy creek bottom sucked my bright-green Croc right off my foot; the river then scooped it up and carried it away on a journey eastward toward the Susquehanna River and beyond.
My apologies to the bass and egrets. I had no intention of littering your habitat with ugly footwear.
The young angler is my 10-year-old son. It’s Easter morning, and along with the chocolates and marshmallow chicks, the Easter Bunny brought him a child-sized fishing rod. The fishing rod came with a small kit of line, hooks, sinkers, swivels and bobbers, so he was ready to hit the water.
Which we did. Immediately. As in “HOLD ON, I need a cup of coffee and a pair of pants before we run out the door to menace nature.”
I hadn’t been fishing in a long time. Decades, in fact. Not since my father and uncles would fearlessly endeavor take a group of us cousins out to terrorize the waters on the first day of trout season.
For my dad and uncles, it went something like this: pile a bunch of kids into the back of a pickup truck at dawn; drive through the cold (and often drizzle) to a local lake; help tired and already-hungry children put worms onto hooks; extract hooks from fingers and spend the rest of the morning yelling at kids to stop hitting each other with rods and falling in the water.
In all my years of fishing with my father, I hadn’t retained much know-how beyond having a serviceable cast and a basic proficiency for stabbing worms.
So, when my son begged (and begged, and begged, and begged) to be taken fishing, I didn’t rush out to get my license. And my husband, being the soccer-hockey parent, didn’t want to co-opt my status as the hiking-camping-outside-with-bugs parent; he was in no hurry to learn how to remove hooks from fish or fingers, either.
My son patiently withstood our lukewarm promises to take him, someday, for sure. But a few weeks before Easter, with a punch to the heart (and a bit below the belt, if you ask me):
Son: If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, who would you want to meet?
Me: Oh, I don’t know. Maybe John Lennon. Or Mother Teresa.
Son: Well, I’d want to meet my grandfather. Your dad.
Me: I know. I’m sorry that you never got to meet him. He would have had such a good time with you.
Son: He loved to fish.
Me: He did.
Son: I bet he would have taken me fishing.
Me: OK, I got it.
Son: Since no one else will take me fishing.
Me: Yeah, OK, I got it.
My dad did love to fish. One of my favorite photos is of him standing in a creek in upstate New York, a giant salmon on his line and a huge smile on my dad’s face.
“I want to fish for salmon in New York, too,” my son said after he saw the photo.
“Well, let’s start small,” I suggested. “We should probably start with fish that aren’t twice your body weight.”
When I finally bought the fishing rod for his Easter basket, I went cheap. This wouldn’t last, I figured. Give it a half hour of casting into the creek with no bites, and he’ll give up and go back to whacking hockey pucks in the garage.
Easter morning fishing was, in fact, a bust. As far as I could tell, the fish didn’t even glance at my son’s hook. He tried corn. He tried bread. He tried rubber worms. He tried marshmallow chicks.
“That’s the way it goes with fishing,” I consoled, secretly hoping this would be my last early-morning, shoe-losing adventure. “You can try again another time.”
“When?” my son asked. “This afternoon? Can I go fishing before school? When can we go to New York for salmon?”
Like a vision from the great beyond, I saw my dad turn and smile from his spot on the shoreline. (Were those the ethereal banks of the Munster Blackwater in Ireland? Or the otherworldly rapids of New England’s Upper Androscoggin River? I knew my Dad would be out fishing some heavenly streams in the 18 years since I last saw him.)
Maybe fishing DNA skips a generation.
Because my son was not falling into the water – at least, not as much as I used to (and still was). He wasn’t goofing off or whacking anyone with his fishing rod. He wasn’t impatiently complaining about fish not biting. He wasn’t whining to go home.
The kid was fishing. And I’d have to dig deep and get in touch with my inner angler.
I bought my own rod. I got a Pennsylvania fishing license, with a trout stamp, thank you very much. I searched out other anglers along the banks of streams, asking, “What bait should we be using?” and “Is this hook too big or too small?”
Did you know there are hundreds of instructional how-to-fish videos on YouTube? My son forwards them to me. All of them.
This Sunday, we’ll be up again, bright and early. Look out fish. We’re still not sure what we’re doing. But that hasn’t stopped us yet.
Josette Plank is the assistant editor at Central Penn Parent. You can follow her blog, Suburban Resistance, at CentralPennParent.com.