Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks

For over sixty years, friends, relatives and even strangers have tried to teach me how to fish. I have been taken out in countless boats only to be taken back to shore and dropped off for distracting them with my excessive pacing on their too small for that boat. I was simply too impatient with the process. Though my impatience has certainly been part of the issue, my general attitude was the greater problem. Why would I want to spend a good portion of my vacation throwing a line at fish who never showed much interest in biting what I was offering. There were so many other things I could do that seemed more productive. Even chasing a golf ball around the course seemed more entertaining and much more likely to offer the greater exercise.

Don’t get me wrong. Over the history of my near fishing career, I have managed to catch the occasional fish that others told me they could use as bait. I even managed to “suck” a fish out of my dad’s pond with a cane pole but telling that story will have to be a blog of its own. The bottom line is that I never came close to qualifying as a fisherman, let alone to own or deserve my own pole.

All that changed last year. My seven-year-old grandson, Jackson, wanted to fish. Unfortunately, I was the only one available to teach him. Reluctantly, I decided to try. I started by digging out my daughter’s old pole, she had lost interest almost as fast as I had with the only difference being that she at least made it to the owning a pole level. Next stop, the bait shop and a dozen Canadian Crawlers, hopeful this was the way to go. And then, poorly outfitted, I took him down to the end of our dock. What happened next was magic. He caught a fish on his second cast, and he was hooked. By the end of the summer, he was asking how he could catch the really big fish, you know, the kind you have to carry one of those heavy-duty nets and a baseball bat to defend yourself. I started to hear walleye, northern, and muskie being bandied about with regularity. I could only hope taking him to local sports bars to show him monster mounted muskies and northerns would dissuade him in his dangerous quest. It didn’t. Other seasoned fisherman would slide by in their boats and Jackson would engage them in fish conversations. “What have you caught?”, “I just caught a smallmouth bass, but I got a largemouth yesterday.” Until we started these lessons, I didn’t know mouth size was such a big deal. My wife asked him if he had caught a loudmouth bass and I didn’t even catch her faux pas. As the conversation between these fishermen carried on, I dreaded being asked my role for fear that I would have to admit I was only his bait caddy.

It is now year two of these so-called fishing lessons and the strangest thing is happening, I am finding myself liking this fishing gig. Not only has Jackson made me appreciate the art of fishing, but he has also hooked me on the sport, yes, I just called it a sport. He started me out small, a couple of crappies here, a bluegill there and then it happened, I caught a smallmouth bass. I was ready to have it mounted for display in one of those sportsman’s bars right next to the 52-inch Muskie, but I quickly came back down to earth as I heard Jackson casually say, “Nice job Opa, you caught a smallmouth.”

Today, Jackson and I spent an hour in a bait shop staring at the countless lures and fishing gear as if it were a candy store, and tonight, while everyone was finishing dinner, I caught myself wandering down to the dock and casting a line. To my sheer delight, I caught two nice smallmouth bass. I reveled in the fight and beamed with pride as I pulled each one to the surface. Later, as we all sat around the campfire, I found myself drawn once again back to the dock. As I cast my line out unto the lake’s surface, softly shadowed in the twilight glow of a northern Wisconsin evening, I came to the realization that I was in, hook, line, and sinker. I guess now I’ll have to buy myself a pole.

All I can say Jackson ….. you really did teach this old dog a new trick.