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No Place I'd Rather Be

This Father-Daughter Relationship Has Come a Long Way During 25 Years of Fishing
At 13 years old, the writer needed her father's help to land this 36-inch northern pike. 

At 13 years old, the writer needed her father's help to land this 36-inch northern pike. 

Fort Frances, Ontario, is unseasonably cold this year — even for the unforgiving belt along the Canada-Minnesota border. The rain pours, seeping into every seam of my gear. My dad and I are approaching our eighth straight hour in the boat. Bad weather is manageable, but only if the fish are biting. No whining, I remind myself. My numb fingers can hardly grasp the leader as I switch out my lure yet again. Maybe a spoon this time. My dad and I catch eyes through the torrents pelting Lake Manitou. Genuinely content, I offer him a big smile.

I’ve never been a girly-girl. Maybe that’s why I took so naturally to a canoe and a fishing rod when my father first brought me out on the lake. I must’ve been just 5 or 6 when I hoisted my inaugural smallmouth into the boat. There’s a photo in the family archives that captures the strain in my tiny forearms, my grimace of exertion in place of a smile. I suspect my dad has taken my photo with nearly every catch since — no fish too small to make him proud.

He used to take me to a fishing store in Northern Quebec and let me pick out one lure as a treat. I had no idea what I was doing, or what tackle to choose based on my desired fish. And he was green then, too. All of our knowledge would come later. I knew only that I loved the ritual, spending time with him and catching memories as much as fish.

Every year, we’d spend a week fishing those calm waters of western Quebec. I was a cheeky youngster. I would secretly throw stones off the boat and act surprised at the splash. I wanted him to think a lunker had jumped nearby. I did this over and over. (I wonder how many years he humored me, feigning shock to play along.) When I was 13, the strike of a northern pike caught me off guard while I was being silly. My hands slipped. My father’s brand-new rod was gone before I even realized what happened. He should’ve been angry. Instead, he went to our shed and unearthed an ancient snorkel, mask and flippers. The search was unsuccessful.

When I was 27, my relationship of seven years ended terribly, just a few weeks before a fishing trip with my father. Part of me dreaded what was coming: the two of us on the lake, trapped in a canoe, with no way to hide my pain. His own marriage had ended somewhat recently, as well. I was too young and self-involved to know how to comfort him.

“So, how are you doing, hon?” I vaguely remember him asking. I don’t know what I answered. I probably glossed over whatever was true. Certainly, I didn’t ask back. Perhaps the relative silence of fishing was a salve to us both. It was then that I realized our canoe was safe territory. There was nothing to fear.

Reid and her father continue to fish together. 

Reid and her father continue to fish together. 

Now our annual fishing trip is my point of pride. I love watching the faces of acquaintances when I mention I’m going fishing up north. They don’t expect me, a 31-year-old woman working in communications, to speak intelligently about tackle, line and techniques. During a shore lunch on the French River a couple of years ago, I stole a few moments to cast off the rocks. I felt the eyes of a fellow lodger as I tossed my line.

“Are you a guide?” he finally asked.

“No,” I admitted. “Just here fishing with my dad.”

The fellow nodded solemnly. “Great cast,” he said. I thanked him. My dad taught me, I thought. Both this and other things.

The wind whips Lake Manitou into a chop. My dad breaks the silence when he hooks a gorgeous northern pike. The strike was on a Mepps No. 5, the hot lure of the day. I unclasp my leader once more to make a change; patience has never really been my strong suit. Our guide finds a rag to towel off our seats, though it hardly matters. For a long moment, he looks at me across the bow. “I don’t think I know a single man who could’ve held out as long as you today,” he yells through the sheets of rain.

I wiggle my numb fingers, catch sight of my dad again. I toss out my Mepps, brace myself for a strike and shout back truthfully, “There’s not a single place I’d rather be.”  

Another hour on the water, I’m guessing. We’ve got plenty of time.

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Anglers Journal

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