I have been fortunate to fish with many extraordinary anglers during the 49 years I've walked this earth, and more fortunate still that many of these people were superb teachers. These men and women, each with a deep abiding love for fishing, taught me not just lessons about catching fish, but lessons about life as well.
One of those fine fishermen was my Uncle Julius. Despite a busy schedule, he always found time to take me fishing when I was young. We spent many days chasing crappie, bream and bass on ponds and oxbows, and though I didn't realize it then, he taught me many things that have helped me lead a happy life rich with the joys of success.
One of Uncle Julius' lessons came to mind earlier this week while my 13-year-old son Zach and I fished with our friend Brad Wiegmann, a guide on Arkansas' Beaver Lake. The weatherman forecasted sunny skies and warm weather for our visit, but things turned sour before we arrived. When we launched at 6:30 a.m., the temperature was barely above freezing and clouds hid the sun. Brad graciously shared some warm clothes, but Zach and I still shivered in the cold.
To make things worse, the stripers, hybrid stripers and white bass we were targeting refused all offerings. After almost ten hours of fishing, we had caught just one stray crappie. And with a long drive home facing us, Zach and I knew that we'd have to leave soon. It seemed our trip would probably be fruitless.
"This reminds me of fishing with my Uncle Julius when I was Zach's age," I said. "We'd leave home at 3 a.m., get to the lake just as the sun was rising, then fish all day. We never got off the water until after dark. Never. There were times when the fish weren't biting and I thought the day would never end. But somehow, before each day was over, we always managed to catch a mess of fish."
I said this hoping it might encourage Zach to keep trying. But encouragement wasn't really necessary. Zach had already decided we should stick it out, despite our discomfort.
"We have to catch fish," he said. "Or else we did all this for nothing."
It was then I remembered one of Uncle Julius' sayings he often used when things got tough.
"Don't get discouraged," he would tell me as we tried first one tactic then another. "It's often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock."
When 4 p.m. rolled around, Brad, Zach and I knew we were down to that final key. And all of us were worried it might not open the lock.
Brad had moved the boat to a cove where one of his neighbors had some luck a couple of days earlier. "The white bass started coming up and hitting shad on top," the man told us as we passed him on shore. "But it was just before dark when the bite started, and it only lasted about a half hour."
To our delight, the feeding frenzy began just minutes after we entered the cove. We saw a swirl on the surface and a geyser of shad erupted from the water as some unseen predator began its evening meal. Then there was another swirl and another and another.
Brad and Zach grabbed rods and started casting topwater lures and spoons while I watched the shad-baited rigs we were trolling behind the boat. Then suddenly, one of the trolling rods went down. I called Zach to grab it.
If my son has ever had a bigger smile on his face, I've never seen it. The hybrid striper he fought gave him a run for his money, but the fish never had a chance against a teenager who'd been patient for far too long. Zach quickly brought the hefty hybrid alongside the boat and Brad netted it.
More fish now were feeding on the surface around us. Zach and Brad started casting again, and soon each had a nice white bass on his line. More casts, more white bass, more smiles. Then another jumbo hybrid exploded on Zach's topwater plug, and another big battle was on. Zach won that skirmish, too.
The action lasted two hours. We left Beaver Lake much later than we intended, but Zach and I departed with glad hearts. We were both happy our long, cold day on the water hadn't been unproductive
Sitting at home now, warm and toasty in my office, I've been thinking how much Brad Wiegmann is like my Uncle Julius. He hasn't figured too prominently in this story, but to tell the story right, he must. It was Brad's perseverance, as much as Zach's, which led this trip to a happy conclusion. And it was Brad's patience and guidance that led Zach to success. I was just along for the ride.
One of Brad's most important character traits is a willingness to share his knowledge and enjoyment of angling with youngsters like Zach. Before we fished, Brad spent a great deal of time showing Zach the rods, reels and lures we'd be using and teaching him the tactics we'd employ to catch our quarry. Then when we were on the water, he continued his tutelage, showing Zach how to read the sonar, how to rig the lines, and how to cast and retrieve properly. He was patient and thorough, and the way he did these things made Zach more comfortable about this new experience.
Brad did the same things with my oldest son Josh on a trip several years ago. We fished many hours that day and might have gotten discouraged. But our guide's upbeat, optimistic attitude was contagious, and we continued fishing even when it seemed there was no hope for success. As a result, Josh caught the biggest fish he'd ever landed, a 25-pound striper that decided to eat during the final hour of our fishing day. And Josh, like Zach, learned the reward of perseverance as a result of fishing with Mr. Wiegmann.
When Brad reads this, I'm guessing he'll feel a bit embarrassed by the attention. His actions do not result from an expectation of reward. Like my Uncle Julius, he does what he does because he enjoys seeing young anglers smile. And he knows there are many valuable lessons he can teach — like the value of perseverance — while spending a day fishing with young people just getting into the sport.
I share this with you as my own form of encouragement. Perhaps until now you've never considered the far-reaching effects a fishing trip may have on a youngster. But my experiences with good people like Uncle Julius and Brad Wiegmann show this can be true. Anglers influence youngsters in many positive ways if they take time to share a few lessons on the water. And it is good when some of those lessons come from people other than parents.
I hope you will take a youngster fishing soon. It's something we all should do.
To contact Keith Sutton, email him at email@example.com.