Growing up in the Land of 10,000 Lakes with loving grandparents who were avid fisher people has provided me with more fishing stories than I can count. When Owl Jones from Owljones.com asked contestants for the Rise Fly Rod and Allen Reel Giveaway to write about their most treasured fishing memory, I let out a heavy “ugh.” With so many good memories, how is one to choose?
I started riffling through my mental filing cabinet. The monstrous catfish caught on my Snoopy pole. Fishing in Canada and just HAMMERING the walleyes. My recent trip to the Big Horn with family and friends to catch superb browns and rainbows. So many good times.
After some significant thought, I decided on a memory.
Scene: It is mid-summer at Island Lake in the Detroit Lakes area of Minnesota.
Enter Stage Left: Two tanned, shaggy-haired, skinny boys. They are approximately 11 years old each, overflowing with energy and clearly at home in the mosquito infested, woodland lakes of Minnesota.
It was a weeklong summer vacation with my cousin Russell and some of his family. Though we only saw each other once or twice a year, Russell and I were inseparable when we were together. Roughly the same age, we were best friends and family, a perfect combination.
The trip alone is filled with so many great memories. Russ and me, playing and falling in the water. Netting dozens off swarming baby cat or dogfish. Not sure which. Catching loads of small frogs to use as bait while fishing. My cousin, Amanda, caught the most brilliantly colored sunfish with one of those frogs. (photo from a google search...)
But those aren’t the stories I wanted to discuss. The memory I want to share with you is a simple afternoon when Russ and I went fishing.
Russ and I decided to mount a trolling motor on the back of a yellow paddle boat. We fished all over the shoreline and into bays casting and trolling for bass and northern and even catching some now and then. I remember adults in standard sized, properly motored, fishing boats would slowly move past looking at us like we were crazy, but still offering the courtesy, “How’s the fishing?”
“Good. We caught a couple northerns back around the corner.” We’d proudly respond. Heads held high, because that simple question of “How’s the fishing?” meant we had been accepted into the club. We were fishermen.
That day, we ran the trolling motor until it died and then paddled home fishing the entire way. We didn’t catch any trophies, but it was a blast. It is a small memory, but it is, oh, so important.
To me, the fishing, running, playing, swimming and laughing with my cousin was as pure as it gets. Innocent, shiny, happiness. It’s like he movie Stand By Me, or the movie “The Sandlot.” Those are both stories about the adventure of being young, the endless possibilities and freedoms as a child. Just as much as those stories explored the innocence of childhood adventure, they also touched on the inevitability of growing up.
Bittersweet is the taste of nostalgia. My cousin and I are older. We are separated by geography and responsibilities. Though there will not be another trip like that for us, there is still the possibility of future outings that might even include our own children, providing them with the opportunity to explore their own summertime adventures.
So why is this tiny, brief, fishing memory so special? I mean, what is it that makes me long after that small moment in the paddle boat so much compared to my other great fishing times? We didn’t catch any record-breaking fish. We probably didn’t even catch that many. While writing this essay, I actually had to answer this question for myself because it wasn’t very clear at first.
I believe the memory is so strong, because it is the first time I remember being an independent fisherman. Russell and I, exploring the water. Tying on our own lures. Hooking our own bait. Taking off our own fish. Choosing how and where to fish. No adults. Every decision we made, was our own. After spending years, following instructions and learning the ways of those more experienced, we were able to take off the training wheels, and embark on our own fishing adventure, still basking in childlike innocence, unknowingly seeking our independence.