Fish tales are usually … well, fishy. Mostly, every time a fisherman tells a fish story the “big one” grows a couple inches each time the story is told. That, I suppose, is almost as much fun as catching the fish in the first place.
Fishing itself, though, is more than just catching supper from the river or lake. It’s about tying families together and making memories that last lifetimes. Very few activities in life can claim that credit.
My own fishing memories started as far back as I can remember. My Dad worked second shift in a paper mill as well as farmed. He took his vacation every spring and fall to get the crops in and to get the crops out. However, he always saved a special week in the summer just for fishing and spending time with us kids.
I remember spending many a lazy day with Dad and my Uncle Harold floating down the St. Joseph River near Colon, Michigan. There were always favorite spots where they always knew the fish would bite. OK, still not revealing the spots, sorry!
For the longest time, though, I thought that I was the star fisherman because, whether the fish were hungry or not, I always seemed to catch more than my Dad or uncle did. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered the truth: one of them would distract me while the other one took a fish off my hook and then put it right back on the same hook. Needless to say, my ego was sorely deflated when I found out I had caught the same fish over and over. Of course, the poor fish probably felt worse than I did!
Being a girl, I also learned what a die-hard fisherman my Dad was. Inevitably, every time we would get out in the boat, that is when I had to go to the bathroom. The answer was always the same, “Dad doesn’t get to fish very often, can’t you hold it a little longer?” Really? I soon learned that modesty has no place when fishing.
My fishing education also included the art of cleaning fish the old-fashioned way, before filleting was popular. The rule was, “if you catch, you clean.” It was my job to use a spoon and rake the scales off before Dad finished them. Even though there always seems to be a rib bone that is missed, the taste is way superior when fish are fried with the bone in and the skin left on.
I can honestly say that catching them and eating them pretty much tied. We saved the cleaned fish all week long and then on Saturday afternoon my grandmother and Mom would start to fry the fish. Tables were set up out by the barn and the whole family ate until they could eat no more. The party never stopped until late into the night with all of us kids catching fireflies while the “older folks” played cards. It was so much more than just catching fish.
Two years ago when Wyatt was 13 he had the “Huckleberry Finn” fishing trip of his life. We went up to Pole Creek Lake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s a quiet lake with no speed boats on it. Our daughter and son-in-law have a hunting/fishing camp there. Wyatt spent hours catching minnows by the shore to use as bait. Then, he, his Dad, Uncle Arnie and Grandpa Jim would fish the lake.
I will never forget the excitement on his face when he caught a 25-1/2 inch Pike. One night he took the boat out by himself right before dusk. We all watched from the confines of the shore as a fishing experience transformed a boy into a man on the waters of Pole Creek Lake.
I also watched as he cast his line from shore at twilight while talking to his father and grandfather. It doesn’t matter what they talked about, what matters is that they talked. If they had been home, there would have been something to do, somewhere to go or someone to talk to on the cell phone. Fishing is about more than just fishing. This is a fish tale that he will never forget and one that just might have helped shape the rest of his life.
This past week I again had a chance to see how fishing brings families together. Ron brought his grandson Riley up to fish the St. Joe River at the Riley Dam. Ron’s grandparents started making the trek up here from Economy, Indiana, some 180 miles south of here, in the 1940’s. He remembers coming up as a kid and spending weekends in a camper on the back of a pickup truck, eating bologna sandwiches and fishing with his Dad and “Grampy.” This trip makes Riley the fifth generation of the family to come up fishing the dam. I think we’d be safe to say that it has become a family tradition. Who knows how far it will go.
Many people reading this are thinking back to their own childhood and the memories they made fishing. For some, it is going to Canada or another state. For some, it is fishing in a pond in their own backyard. It doesn’t matter where you go or if you catch anything at all. It’s about being together, sitting around the fire at night, watching the sunset over the water from the boat and talking to your Dad about … anything. That’s what fishing is really all about, bringing generations together. Now, that’s the best fish tale ever.