Every time I go fishing I either wish my father was there or I think about calling him to tell him how I did. Sometimes, especially after a good catch, it just strikes me how much I miss having him tell me what a good fish I got. He was my fishing buddy.
He took me with him as far back as when I was only 2 years old and he was a staff sergeant in the Air Force back in Cocoa Beach, Florida. I still have flashes of memories of going out with him on the long piers at night when he was shrimping.
I fondly recall my dad taking me to my Great Uncle Spencer Kleinhammer’s fishing pond in Lemoore. I can still see and feel the thick cattails we walked through to reach the water. It was where I got my first bluegill on a bobber and ’crawler. I ran with the fish in hand around the pond to where my dad and cousin were throwing bass lures to show them my prize. I wanted so badly to be a “big boy fisherman” and their praise for my catch started a lifelong passion.
Another passage in my early years was having my dad take me with him to Hanoian’s Sporting Goods, where outdoor legend Gary Alcorn held court with other sportsmen. Being accepted as a good angler was something I wanted very badly. When Gary remembered my name it meant the world to me. I try to remember that lesson with young anglers. My father knew that this was a healthy environment for a young boy, and he made it possible for me to experience and grow from it.
My father was a very tough farmer and ex-military guy, but what really connected us was that deep down we were buddies who had shared a lot of life and outdoors. He spent key time with me, and taught me life lessons that are still paying off to this very day. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t for the fact I don’t see this happening nearly as much these days. It’s hard to make important life memories spending your key time with a computer or a cellphone – yet that’s where many folks are investing in their family’s lives.
Later, when my dad was failing from Alzheimer’s, our roles reversed and it was my turn to sow into his life with planned fishing trips. Funny, the trips became that much more important and making my dad feel like he still had the freedom to go fishing was critical for him. It was almost all he looked forward to – just like I did as a child.
My fondest memory is planning a special fishing trip with him as he was failing. I knew time was running out. He was so pumped up to go, he didn’t sleep the night before. I picked him up at the assisted care facility pulling my boat and we headed out to Millerton. Incredibly, he fished all afternoon and he held up well! He “wasn’t giving up!”
It was near dusk and we hadn’t caught a fish. I threw up a little prayer when I made literally “the last cast.” Reeling in, I got a strong hit. I handed the pole to my dad and let him fight the fish. The 12-pound striper was a beautiful blessing. He was ecstatic. We had caught it together. It was his last fish ever. It was an ending beyond anything I could have hoped for, a treasured memory and the culmination of our special relationship.
Love you, Dad.
Never give up!