The joy of fishing badly

A question keeps knocking at the door of my consciousness, a question I have been unable to answer. It's not one of those deep "issues of life" questions. It is simply this: How did such a lousy but enthusiastic fisherman - who also trained his sons and daughters in the art of fishing badly - produce two sons who are such talented fishermen?

Russ, the older of my two younger brothers, is a trophy bass fisherman who regularly enters contests and wins. He and Chris both own bass boats and share the latest in fishing technology and techniques.

How did my father, who took his children fishing specifically for small- and large-mouth bass and caught mostly pickerel and "stink-in-the-lousy perch" (Chris's childhood translation of "stinking, lousy perch"), manage to transmit a sustained interest in bass fishing to his sons? An interest that verges on an obsession? It boggles the mind. Mine anyway.

Dad also took my younger sister, Janet, and me on fishing expeditions to Maine's Lake Pocasset, where we spent our summer vacations. Night fishing and day fishing were part of the fare, the times carefully selected according to the lunar tables of "The Farmer's Almanac," which Dad studied with great seriousness. His fishing enthusiasm reached to the wee hours of the morning, when my brothers would join Dad to fish before dawn. Not my sister and me, though. We knew better. Or we thought we did.

But perhaps my brothers weren't the only beneficiaries of Dad's passion for fishing badly. Perhaps it explains my willingness to try anything I'm interested in. If I do it badly or well, no matter: I enjoy the process, regardless. Perhaps my trying to learn to fly-fish and not catching any fish (not seeing any fish, for that matter) was so enjoyable because I'd been trained in the art of not catching fish. I was taught to enjoy something for having made the effort.

Dad first taught us to cast from the dock with child-size fishing rods. We graduated to casting from the wooden boat with the trolling outboard. We rowed a lot, trolled a lot, and used a variety of lures, surface and sinking. On one fishing foray, Russ was so successful at casting badly that the hook had to be professionally removed from Dad's arm.

Mosquitoes on night fishing trips were always a problem, especially for Dad. His bald head doubled as their landing pad. Fishing trips with Dad were most noteworthy not for the fish, but for hands swatting the air and missing the annoying lone mosquito bomber.

If a fish did make it into our little boat, Dad always had a glove handy. He didn't like to handle fish with his bare hands. He was the quintessentially reluctant but mysteriously enthusiastic fisherman.

My brothers will likely continue to excel at catching fish, and they'll teach their children the art of it. Their children will incorporate it into their lives. I will undoubtedly continue to try things I'm interested in and enjoy them no matter what the outcome. Fish or no fish.

I may never know how my brothers acquired their uncanny abilities to catch fish successfully, despite having been trained otherwise. But it doesn't matter. It was the love of a father for his children that found its greatest expression in sharing his passion for fishing with his sons and daughters. And in doing so, he gave us more than he could have known.

May the fish be with you, Dad.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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