My dad has never been much of a fisherman. I had a grandpa I hardly knew who I'm told loved to be on the water. The few fishing stories my dad tells are from times he was out with his father-in-law, my grandpa.
"We'd get out there before light, then as soon as the sun came up, we'd drink a beer and have a sandwich," is about the only thing I've ever heard from those trips. I'd press him for more how many fish, how big, where? He's never told me. Not because he doesn't care, but because he doesn't remember. Those weren't the important things to him. The important thing was that he was out spending quality time with his father-in-law. And that's the exact same thing I've take away the few times I've been out fishing with my father.
We never took a vacation to a city. We're an outdoors family. I have my family to thank for my love of the outdoors. We'd go hiking, camping, picnicking and, occasionally, fishing. I always looked forward to fishing the most.
Brevard, N.C., offered pristine streams brimming with trout. The salmon were shoulder to shoulder in Alaska; you could walk across the stream and never touch a rock. Trout would gather at your feet at the base of the San Juan Dam in New Mexico; they were so thick, you could reach down and grab a handful.
If that reads like part of a long list of fishing adventures, it's not. That's the entire list of my trips as a youth, but that just makes the few memories I have more meaningful. I count each of these among my most precious memories days on the water with my dad and brother. I remember each one with more detail than I ever could have if there were many more.
One memory stands out for me. It was one of the two or three times I've conned my dad into trespassing on his favorite golf course (he's a golfer) to fish for bass that may only see three or four baits a year. I knew there were (and still are) big bass in every one of these ponds, and he chose the one that was easiest to get to and away from if we needed to leave in a hurry.
Since I had been getting serious about my fishing, I wanted to catch a fish and show him what I knew. I did that pretty soon, and once that was out of the way I felt bad he hadn't caught anything. I knew he'd never go again if he got skunked.
It was getting dark, and the mosquitoes were lined up for a chance at any uncovered skin, so I knew the words I hated most were coming: "Okay, Dave, last cast."
I made my last uneventful cast and he lobbed his black Texas rigged worm in one last time as well. During the retrieve, he stopped and made a face like someone asked him a question he didn't have the answer to. He started tugging and pulling, but he was snagged on a rock. Then the rock moved. The drag on his old baitcaster howled. It was too worn out to fight the fish, so he started walking backwards, hand lining the fish closer to the bank with each step.
When he pulled it out of the water, I was shocked. I had never seen a bass that big. It looked like a dinosaur. I didn't really want to touch it for fear it would break my wrist or bite off a finger as I unhooked it, but it had to be done. We didn't have a scale, but as my father puts it, "I don't know how much that thing weighed, but I remember it was 27 inches long."
I have no doubt it was. He's always used his thumb-to-pinkie span as a 9-inch measurement, and sure enough he laid his hand across it three times.
Of all the hundreds of trips I've taken and thousands of bass I've caught, that one means the most to me, because I was with my dad when he caught it.
I'd like to think he had as good a time as I did.