October 6th, 2008

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

Me an' Dad
By Nate Gubbins

In most American homes, the Fourth of July signifies parties, fireworks, beer, and raucous laughter with beloved friends and family. There is no better place for a big bash than on a lakeshore, and this is where I characteristically spend my Fourth—up at Grandma and Grandpa's cabin.

Now, what you must know is that I couldn't give less about fireworks, parties, beloved friends, or beer—I'm on a lake known for fishing well, and the last few times that I've been able to fish on the Fourth have all been memorable. The first year Dad and I were out wasting time one windy afternoon, what with Jet Skis and skiers and a twenty-five mile-an-hour wind tearing up the water around us while we threw 5 weight rods and #10 Clouser minnows looking for crappies as the bluegills had long been over with and we hadn't done anything with any luck at all since then. A few hours into the trip had brought nothing, and instead of dealing with the relatives back at the cabin, the 15-year-old-and -47-year-old team of us took to our task of finding fish like a couple of old curmudgeons insistent on doing things "the right way." We decided to try that notorious one last spot, and the wind howled over stinging sunburn as I hocked out a sinktip over a rotten-looking weedline. Suddenly my streamer stopped, and I felt the familiar dragging thud of a decent crappie.

Five fish later—"Nate, howinell are you catching these fish?"

"Try throwing a sinktip!"

…"I don't wanna, this is just my five weight!"

"Okay."

Another half dozen fish later—"Sure it's not some special fly?"

"Nope."

I don't think I'll ever forget the pained look of realization on his face when I told him that.

After pulling a couple foot long crappies out of the water, over the wind I heard a mutter from the front of the boat—" Gaddangit…"

The crappie fishing was phenomenal that year and we limited out that day on eight to twelve inch crappies. We did again the next year too, only then we took numbers of 'gills along with the crappies and had a hoot doing it while there was no wind and no challenge other than the game warden, curious to see what we were using to catch all these fish. He soon enough left us on our way and laughed to himself as he drove off, wondering what in the world two flyrodders were doing out on the lake that was otherwise devoid of fishermen all missing the fantastic crappie bite. Dad and I just looked at each other and giggled.

Until this year, that was the last we were able to fish together, because getting a job and leading a more grown-up life precluded such childish things as getting to fish on the Fourth of July and spend the holiday with my family. In the absence, other things filled its place—buying a 1 weight fly rod to enjoy the bluegill fishing whenever it became possible, getting the occasional summer-fling girlfriend, hanging out with a group of friends at the local park while the fireworks display fired off… you know, those 'other' things, the things that are at the time more important than some stupid fishing trip with your dad.

Whatever. Now I know that times are getting short as the number of trips I am able to make with Dad are growing to be counted on one hand every summer, fewer and fewer as each year passes.

While time grew short in those few years, experience with college life went on, as it always did, and I finally figured out what I think will be the last time I change my major—polymer chemistry. Changes were brought forth that I didn't exactly plan for— quitting the job that I'd called home for the last handful of years, the need to study my books a lot more, ignoring and becoming intolerant to the daily drama of roommates and girls, and looking into a research position doing work for the Navy.

The Navy is nothing if not patriotic when it comes to celebrating national holidays, and as such, I found I had the Fourth of July off again for the first time in about 4 years. (Hey, I know what you're thinking—"Gee that's nothing like when I was separated from my sushi bar for the 38 years I was married to my second wife"—but 4 years is a long time to a 19 year old kid.) Finally I was able to head back up to The Lake and spend time with my family and the place I grew up. That one Friday night, I made it back.

Having spent every summer between the ages of 5 and 18 there, I'd grown accustomed to how things worked, when and how change came about, what was where and where it went, and all the other details one unknowingly masters while growing roots in an area. What you really see from that is the change that goes on. You don't know you knew it until it's too late and things are no longer as they were. I knew where the lily pads were growing and what stands were new, I recognized with an odd sense of nostalgia the cigarette burn on the chair that Granddad bought at an auction last summer… no, wait, it was really five years ago now, and I found I missed hearing the dog bark at my arrival—only the dog had died three years earlier and we'd all grown used to not having her around anymore. The "new neighbors" next door had completely torn down and rebuilt the cabin they'd bought last summer… no, wait, that was five years ago now too.

And the lake was different. Now it was all weeded in where there were no weeds before. Much of the open water was slop to the top and piles of stringy vegetation blanketed the surface; birds walked on it safe from bass as no fish was getting through that mess.

The morning after I arrived, Dad was sipping on a cup of coffee when I dragged myself out of bed. He was happy to see me up, as was everyone else, but instead of eager to sit and talk with me about what was going on with my chem lab and school, he was eager to get out on the water. He wanted to go bass fishin'.

Now, as an aside, I must warn you that one does not go "bass fishing" in the Midwest on the farm country lakes that grow bass as large as some of the less-fertile Florida lakes. In the lands of Boomhauer and Li'l Cletus, you go "bass fishin'." Whether you sling grubs on a 6 foot pool cue kind of rod with 30 pound SpiderWire, or a 6 weight and #4 poppers on 2X tippets, you go "bass fishin' ."

Turned out the bass fishin' sucked that morning. Dad was crabby as all-get-out because the bass weren't cooperating, but meanwhile the bluegills were finishing their spawn and I knew it; I could see the nests. I was optimistic about the day's prospects as I had no expectations for my first trip back on The Lake in a few years and my first glimpses looked promising so I pulled out my sunny flies and leaders on my 5 weight. Dad had other plans. The boat dialogue sounded something like this:

"Dad, there's bluegills waiting."

"I'm bass fishin'."

"Well, yea, duh… but there's bluegills waiting."

… "I'm bass fishin'. We'll do that later this afternoon sometime, after we get a few bass."

"I'm going to entertain myself until then with a few sunnies. Okay?"

"Gaddangit Nate, I'm tryin' to bass-fish here. Can't you do that some other time when I'm not bass fishin'?"

"Uh, it's no big deal, you know how I work and I'll be more than happy to fish around however you want to do it. Don't worry about me."

Later, the bass fishing was indeed proven a bust, and lightweight rods won the heart of the day. Tossing foam spiders to swarms of decent sized bluegills, we each saw numerous bass up to several pounds and Dad managed to sight-fish to a couple. The first took him by surprise, as a twelve inch bass on 4X and a 2 weight SPL was a pleasant battle in the lily pads for him. The second that day was fully 3 pounds—he was still using that two weight fairy wand when he spotted the fish, tossed a foam spider-type thing in front of it, and it ate it. He giggled like a little kid who'd been given stock in Fanny Farmer Candies.

We still don't know why he was crabby that day.

I woke with a start, as the door to the bedroom had been opened and suddenly I'd become aware of it. No matter, it was just the fan blowing out in the main room of the cabin. And then I heard the familiar sound that I knew would keep me from sleeping further: percolating coffee. The Boys (Dad and Granddad) were talking about Granddad's garden at his brother's farm and some recent auction events while The Girls (Mom and Grandma) were making breakfast. Once out there I found Dad indeed had plans for fishing that day, but to my surprise none of them included bass or pike. He wanted more sunfish, this time on his 1 weight SPL.

After a good stint out in the sun prior to our planned trip, I felt exhausted which combined with a run-in with some allergen to leave me feeling very lousy and eager to take a nap in the middle of the afternoon. Dad was disappointed, but he cares more for my comfort than my company so he left to take a relaxing bluegill trip in the late afternoon sun by himself.

Fast forward a couple of hours: I get dragged out of bed by Dad, who is just giddy and all smiles and won't shut up, talking something about how "it's one of two I spooked" and how "it took me damn near into my backing" which he'd "never seen anything run so fast and so hard in my life" and so on and on. You know how these fishermen are.

"It's the size of a big trout Nate, and I got 'em on my ONE WEIGHT!"

"Uh, whaddizzit..?" I was still pretty groggy. He wasn't.

"Hee hee, you're never going to believe this! It took me almost into my backing andIhadtograbmyreelwhenitfelloffmyrodanditwhackedmeintheknucklesafewtimesand …"

"Dad, chill... Just what is it?"

That big dumb grin again. "Look in the live well for yourself."

There, in the live well, sat the fattest largemouth I'd seen in a long, long time. It was probably the fattest bass I'd ever seen. And it was definitely the longest. At over 22 inches and well over six pounds, I was in awe. Looking up, I congratulated him.

And there was that big dumb grin again.

Seeing him smile like that reminded me that sometimes the kid you once knew in yourself never really does leave. It just takes a few quality moments with yourself and your loved ones to recall the moments that you thought you'd never get back— you may not get them in their entirety, and in that case they're likely gone forever, but the essence of them is always there. It doesn't matter whether you're 5, 55, or 105, when you're doing what made you love, time is irrelevant. It only hurts when you have to face a change that no amount of hope and nostalgia can bring back, when your dog isn't there to bark at you anymore and when the days of chasing bluegills just getting off their spawning beds is down to just you—when you realize that time does catch up with us all, despite the unerring timelessness of pastimes. That's when you sit back, all grown up, and think about the days now past when time was irrelevant, when big dumb grins on your fishing partner were commonplace, and now you catch yourself thinking:

The bluegills are on their beds. It's time to play. ~ Nate


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