Video produced by John V. Turner
For three decades, I anticipated the arrival of an offspring who would enjoy chasing fish to the far horizons with his or her old man. We would be a pair of happy, moonstruck lunatics, fishing side by side from boat, beach and beyond.
I had three daughters and a son, and they all fished with me to varying degrees. Mostly, though, they just wanted to spend time with their father. Fishing came second.
Then came Ben, a precocious 6-year-old who can cast like a fiend and has learned more about fishing from YouTube than from spending time on the water. He’s my oldest grandson and my latest wingman. My job is to put a little salt in his socks and keep stoking the flames of his fishing desires.
Right now, they’re burning pretty brightly. “All he talks about is fishing, Dad,” says my oldest daughter, Alana, an administrator with a nonprofit organization. “He’s driving everybody crazy. It’s usually the first thing he asks when I pick him up at school. Not, ‘Hi, Mom’ or ‘How was your day?’ It’s, ‘Can we go fishing?’ ”
He’s after his father just as hard. “Every night when I get home from work, it’s, ‘Dad, can we go fishing?’ ” says Dan, who is an engineer. “He wants to challenge me to a three-hour fish-off to see who can catch the most fish.”
Ben also talked his father into downloading a photo-sharing and social networking fishing app. And when the two were shopping for football gear at a brick-and-mortar store recently, Ben wandered off. His father found him in the fishing section, where Ben convinced him he needed to buy a package of Ripple Shad PowerBait.
“He’s been begging me to buy a boat and a saltwater rod,” Dan says, amused and amazed. “I told him we can’t afford a boat. So he’s been asking Siri on my phone to search for the cheapest boat that’s for sale.”
Ben’s desire to fish seems to be completely self-generated. His father and I fished often before Ben was born. Dan is a good companion and a capable fisherman, but he didn’t initiate the outings. I took Ben to a local pond when he was 3 or 4 to catch sunfish. He liked it well enough, but there was nothing to suggest his recent transformation into a fish fiend.
Ben is bright, verbal and athletic. In addition to fishing, he plays golf, baseball, flag football and soccer. He has good hand-eye coordination, and he’s very competitive. “He wants to win everything,” his father says. “And he’ll bend the rules. He keeps score on fish. And he typically skews it in his favor.”
Sounds like a born fisherman.
The three of us fished together on Father’s Day this year. We caught a few largemouth. Ben sprayed casts around the pond and talked up a storm. He also may have heard some salty phraseology inadvertently slip out of my mouth when I missed a fish or two.
My slip of the tongue took me back to the first time I swore in front of my father. It was on a secluded pond in Rhode Island more than 50 years ago, with my friend Peter. We were casting floating balsa minnows for bass when I wrapped one around a branch. Forgetting for a moment who was there, I said, “Shit.”
My father just stared at me. Peter grinned at me from around my father’s back.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry Dad,” I uttered. “I didn’t mean to say that. It won’t happen again.”
About 10 minutes later, I missed a fish and swore a second time, after which I severely reined in my verbosity.
This past Father’s Day, my son-in-law quietly reminded me after my second verbal faux pas that young Ben was sitting in the boat. Ben remained poker-faced, giving no indication that he’d heard anything worthy of note. Later, he confided to his dad, “Cappy said some bad words.”
Toward the end of summer, Ben and I spent five hours on a spring-fed pond fishing for sunnies, bluegills and bass, from shore and from a noisy old aluminum rowboat. We had a great time. We heard a barred owl somewhere along the ridge to the east — Ben later told his mother we had “owl luck.” Dragonflies were busy hovering over lily pads. And we caught some nice bass along the edge of the weeds and in a clear pool under a canopy of low branches.
In another spot, I tried to place a swimming plug beside a small wooden float tied to shore, but the line wound up just over the tip of a branch, held in place by a leaf or two. I retrieved the lure until it hung straight down from the tree limb and adjacent to the float. “Let’s see if we can get lucky, Ben,” I said. “Watch this.”
I wiggled the rod tip, causing the lure to dapple the water. A bass promptly smacked it, freeing it from the limb. I handed the rod to Ben, who brought the fish in.
Ben kept count using the latest math. The final tally was Ben: six bass, 11 sunfish, three or four bluegills. Cappy: zero.
A fisherman is born.