Fathers and Sons
by Dave Micus
his is the time of year when I hate weekends, when everyone who owns a boat and hasn't used it all summer feels compelled to get those last few days of striper fishing in. Don't misunderstand, I'm not greedy about the water. It's a big ocean with a lot of fish. What I do find irritating is the lack of expertise and etiquette, the speeding through blitzing fish and putting them down or the swamping of my kayak with three-foot wakes in a no-wake zone.
This Sunday morning is no different. It's my fault; I didn't launch until 7, which is usually when I'm leaving. The hours between 7 and 9 are the worst in late August-it seems to be the time that your desperate end-of-the-year fishermen consider 'early' and are out in great numbers. And so it is today. I haven't paddled the kayak a few hundred yards when I encounter an armada of $30,000 boats anchored and fishing 15 feet off shore. Some days this is amusing, watching fishermen in their expensive Gradys catching the same fish that I am in my $400 kayak, but not this day. I have a lot on my mind and seek only solitude, which is not something I am likely to get on a Sunday morning on Plum Island Sound in late August.
I paddle past one boat and hear a fisherman yell, "FISH ON!" Within seconds a younger man on the same boat yells "DOUBLE HOOK UP," announcing to the entire world that they have hooked two schoolies. The younger of the two yells, "This is a BIG fish!" and they continue to yell and cheer each other on until the fish are in the boat. One fish is in the high teens, the other about 24 inches. You would have thought that they had each hooked a tarpon.
As I am cursing them under my breath I notice that they are likely father and son and this changes everything. I discreetly paddle off to their port side and just observe. Today I need this more than fish.
Growing up, about the only thing my dad and I did together was fish. He worked as a plumber by day, for the New York Central railroad at night, so we didn't get to see each other very often. But during the summer he would launch his boat on the weekends and we would fish for perch and coho salmon in Lake Michigan, when we lived in Chicago, and, later, for weakfish and blues off of the Jersey coast. He should have charged me guide fees, because he would spend all of his time putting me onto fish while he, with the maneuvering of the boat and the tinkering with tackle and the fiddling with engines, had very little fishing time for himself. From him I learned a love of fishing, the ocean, the outdoors
With four children he had to forgo certain luxuries in his life, but once we were all married and out of the house he was able to buy his dream boat, a 21 foot Grady White with a cuddy cabin that he christened the Hooligan. He retired to Florida with his two dream boats, my mom and the Hooligan, so that he could fish year round.
But then he got old. You try not to notice when your parents get old because you don't want to; then something happens and you just can't deny it any longer. One day I called and he casually mentioned that he had sold the Hooligan. I would have been less surprised if he had divorced my mom. He hadn't been using the boat, and a shrewd neighbor, seeing the boat unmoved in the driveway, made him an offer. He sold it way below market value because we tend to sell our old dreams cheaply .
The last time we fished together was five years ago. He was up for a visit and I took him to Pavilion beach to fish for striped bass. While the fishing spirit was willing, the fishing flesh was weak, but he stayed and watched me fish because that is what fathers do. The drama of the day was tangible, and the bass, major actors in this play, showed up on cue and I did quite well. He shouted encouragement from his shady spot on shore, and I was that kid playing high-school basketball again with his dad cheering from the stands, though, in those days, he just didn't have time to attend many of my games.
Last night I got a call from my mother to tell me that the cancer he had beaten seven years ago, the cancer that we thought was now just a bad memory, had returned, infecting both lungs. The prognosis wasn't good. So now I'm doing the only thing I know to do to put this in perspective, and the gods have been so kind as to let me stumble on this father and son.
"I'm on!" the father shouts, and begins furiously reeling in a fish. The bass is splashing on the surface. "Look at him, John!" he yells to his son, "Just look at him!" I paddle closer for a better view. The son, seeing me, holds up his hands about two feet apart to show me the size of the fish. The grin on his face is bigger than that.
Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after, observed Thoreau, but not these two, not fathers and sons. I give them the thumbs up and head for home, having taken my limit without throwing a cast.
Dave Micus lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts where he was an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer, instructor and "star" of an episode of the outdoor show, Fly Fishing America. In 2006 he made the move from sea level to the Rocky Mountains of Montana where he has taken up fly rodding for trout, hunting and enjoying life in the "Big Country."
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