By Shannon Farlow
We thought we had everything planned. I was to lay out of work at the boating magazine last Friday and my son was going to play hooky from school. We were going fishing, just he and I – not even telling his mama. But our well-laid, albeit surreptitious, plan backfired because I ended up having to work that day. So we let his mama in on our little scheme and that evening all three of us went fishing.
It’s not like I’m trying to set a bad example for the boy, giving him the option of skipping school and all. I guess I should say daycare, even though he calls it “school.” You see, Madison is only 19 months old and this was his first fishing trip.
I can’t remember the first time I went fishing, but I definitely remember the first fish I ever caught. It was a largemouth bass from my Grandpa Joe’s pond that, judging from the old photo, must have weighed around four pounds or so. Playing along the edge of the water with a shiny new Rebel broken-back minnow, I definitely wasn’t thinking about catching anything when this fish decides to hang himself. At four years old, I’m certain I had nothing to do with it. Somehow I did have enough sense to reel him in. I will never forget the smile on my father’s face.
My grandfather eventually bought a small aluminum john boat on which he would take my father and I fishing. It was one of the narrow kinds where you sit in the middle of the boat facing forward. Every time grandpa would lean over the side to spit his tobacco juice – without warning – my father and I would dash to the other side to keep from capsizing. We started out at Lake Tillery where we caught everything from decent-size catfish to gruesome-looking gars and ended up taking the boat to the coast.
In the sounds and inlets surrounding Carolina Beach and Fort Fisher, we angled for blues, drum and flounder while more often than not catching our share of croakers, blowfish and pinfish. Once we caught a mess of nice blues while drifting into some pretty larger breakers, though not by design but a stubborn engine that wouldn’t crank. Then there was the time we got caught in a thunderstorm on the Cape Fear River or the time we were almost swamped by a large yacht speeding to Florida for the winter. Every trip held some kind of adventure. Whether or not we caught anything, we always returned with some interesting tales. Those are still some of my fondest memories of Grandpa Joe and daddy.
When I was a teenager, my father purchased a large john boat and my mother began to join us on our fishing ventures. We spent many fun-filled weekends and summer vacations anchored up in Snows Cut or drifting Carolina Beach Inlet. After Brook and I started dating, it wasn’t long before she made it a fishing foursome in the little john boat.
Brook grew up fishing with her mother and father and grandparents, so she was no stranger to a rod and reel. Matter of fact, she has out-fished me on more occasions than I care to remember. After we moved up to offshore fishing, she still holds the record for the biggest fish caught on my father’s boat. I tell her it doesn’t count because it was a shark.
Since my father died last year, I have only been fishing a couple of times. It’s just not the same. We had always fished together. I have even thought about hanging up the rod and reels for good. But I want to pass on the family fishing tradition to Madison. So there we were last Friday, with dusty old rods and tackle that hadn’t been used in years, heading to Lake Tillery.
Donning his Daffy Duck life vest, Madison walked hand in hand with his mother and I to the end of the pier. We took his little Zebco Snoopy fishing rod and I cast it out a couple of times with a fake plug on the end just to show him what to do. He grinned and immediately took interest. From there it was pretty much just a lesson on how to hold the rod and wind the reel – which he quickly picked up on. After a while, he grew restless and tried to stick the end of the rod in the water, making it splash. If my father was still alive, he would grin recalling my younger days and say, “Like father, like son.”
In all, it was a pretty good first fishing trip with Madison. My wife snapped some photos for posterity. We never even took my rod and reel off the truck or used any bait. Madison didn’t mind; he had fun. Besides, I didn’t want to spoil him on the first trip out by letting him catch a fish. Then he would expect to catch something every time we go.
I could philosophize about all the reasons why parents should take their children fishing – to learn patience, to gain respect for the environment – but the best reason I can think of is just to spend time together, making memories that will last a lifetime.