When I was a kid we lived 33 steps from the Kickapoo River. The days leading up to the opener I was giddy with excitement for the pike/walleye opener. I would check my gear and test the rod/reel in the yard. I would tweak my drag at least 4-5 times in the days leading up to opener. I had learned my preparation rituals from my father. He always preached that the gear should never cause you to lose a big fish. He also told me the fish won sometimes. That is why it is called fishing not catching.

Things changed in 1967. My mother took on both roles as mother and father. My dad died while deer hunting. Fishing was quite foreign to her. She always made sure I had a good rod/reel for opener. She told me stories about all the big fish dad had brought home through the years. We always had a Friday night before opener tall tales session. She would run through my dad's greatest hits while fishing. It was a tradition that we did throughout my youth.

I remember being so fired up the evening before I couldn't sleep typically. I would be in my place at the dam in Gays Mils on the west side of the river way before light. I would stake my claim to my perceived special area way before the other anglers got there. My mom use to make sure I was out of bed way early. She one opening morning apologized to me for not going to the river with me. I just smiled at her told her not to worry about it. I had not ever expected her to go with me.

There was a thing we did each and every time after I was done opening day. Sometimes it happed sooner than others. I typically quit fishing when I caught a big one. I carried the fish and gear home immediately to show it to my mom. Mom always smiled so brightly and wowed at my fish. This happened for decades. One day about twenty years ago mom told me she thought I was a better angler than my dad. It was the best compliment I have ever had in my life. I was so proud. My mother smiled and got misty eyes when she told me.

I remember last year when I caught my huge walleye. I went to show her and she was not home. She was out and about with sister Deb. I missed her smile and wowing at the huge walleye. I had grown use to it through the years. The showing mom my catch had become part of the tradition through the years. I saved the photo on my phone and showed her the next time I was in town.

I drove to my hometown yesterday morning to see if there was any open places to fish. I was not early like years past. The banks were lined with folks. I sat in my car and watched people fish for a while and drove home.

This morning I was awake at 4am and could not go back to sleep. I jumped in the car and drove to Gays Mills and was in place on the river an hour before first light. It was too dark to fish so I sat there on the bench and reminisced. This morning it was quite different. Instead of being giddy like years past I was sad. Who was I going to show my big catch to? Who was going to wow at my fish and smile?

The morning light awakened me from my sadness and I cast in the same places I have for almost 60 years. I was reeling and smiling and running through all of my greatest hits from the decades past. I was there for almost 2 hours before I had a strike. It was right by shore and it was a big pike. It bull rushed me and straighten out my less than adequate small treble hooks on my fire tiger shad rap. I was angry at first then sadness came back again. Who was I going to show it too anyway? My mom passed away December 22nd. I decided to keep fishing. I kept pounding the water for another 2 hours and was about to quit when I had a big pike follow. It did not come back.

I loaded my gear and drove around my small hometown slowly. I went by where our house use to be. It now has a Lion's Club Shelter there. I visualized me in the front yard of my home and my mom taking my picture and smiling. I drove to the cemetery and talked to mom for a while. I told her I loved her and missed her. I decided that when I caught a big fish down at the dam in the future I would still take it to her at the cemetery and show her.