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Go Fishing With Your Grandchildren

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Go Fishing With Your Grandchildren

Captivate your grandchildren – hook, line and sinker!
It’s your responsibility to teach them to fish
(and you might achieve some immortality!)

Bill Dance surprised me the other day.  We were chatting about our fishing lives and our families, and Dance, the Great One, the world’s most recognized bass fisherman, said to me, “You know, the biggest thrill I’ve had in fishing is being there when all of my children, and my first grandchild, caught their first fish.”

Now here’s an angler who’s fished and won nearly every bass tournament there is.  But what he remembers most about the sport is the excitement of his grandchild’s first catch.

I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. An earlier book of mine, The Fishing Club: Brothers and Sisters of the Angle, explored the reasons that almost all of us learned the sport from their grandparents – not their parents, but their grandparents!

Given the economic and time pressures on most families today, and the prevalence of two wage-earner parents per family, it makes sense that grandparents would introduce the kids to the joys of fishing.

After all, it is the grandparents who generally have more time on their hands, as well as more patience to deal with the young ones – at least over short periods of time!  Dance shared with me that his grandfather, a doctor who lived in Lynchburg, Tennessee, taught him how to fish.  He said he’ll never forget their trips together on the river.

John Bailey, one of the most talented and prolific fish-authors in the world, also learned from a grandparent.  Bailey loves to reflect on the beginning of his fishing career, when he was growing up in England.  In his case, it was his grandmother who took him to a lake and fastened a bobber to his line.  After a while, the bobber went down, thrilling him!  He’d snared his first fish!  With his grandmother cheering him on, Bailey reeled in his line – revealing a fish cleverly disguised as a large green turtle.  Bailey has fond memories of this experience.  It helped him to know his grandmother better, he said.

Another of my pals, Scott Keller, a trout guide out West, smiles when he talks about how his grandfather taught him to fish in California.  The two went out on a small lake in a little boat. After they anchored up, Keller’s grandfather took out a pound of cheese an showed his young grandson how to roll small cheese balls that they then tossed into the water.

After about five minutes, which probably seemed like an eternity to Keller at this young age, his grandfather hooked a cheese ball to his line.  Not surprisingly, Keller caught his first fish.  “He showed me right then how to ‘match the hatch’,” Keller told me, smiling.  “I decided that day that not only did I love to fish, but that I wanted to be a fishing guide.”

Even President George H. W. Bush remembers learning how to fish from his grandfather, off the coast of Maine.  “His boat was called Tomboy,” he recalls, “and sometimes when I got older, he’d let me drive.  I guess that’s where I got my love of the ocean and fishing and boats.”  Are you surprised that this very busy man, during his tenure as probably the most powerful man on Earth, still made time to fish?  I’m not.

Lastly, there’s William Bradley, one of the most interesting people I’ve met while fishing.  An older gentleman, Bradley fished every day in the summer from his favorite pier in my hometown, Buffalo, New York.  Mr. Bradley’s ancestors were slaves in South Carolina, where he grew up.  A twinkle came to his eye when he talked about his grandfather waking him up early to go fishing.

“Is that because that’s when the fish bit the best?”  I asked him.

“Not actually,” he replied.  “He just liked to get up and sneak out early, so he didn’t have to work in those cotton fields.”

And then Bradley said something that echoed a feeling that I have.  “My grandfather was a wonderful man,” he said, “and I’ll never forget him.  I want to teach my grandchildren to fish just like he taught me.”

There is a great deal of precedent in literature for the old to teach the young to fish.  In his novel, The Old Man and the Sea, for example, Ernest Hemingway penned a loving relationship between the old fisherman, Santiago, and the five-year-old boy, Manolin, he took out fishing with him.  My favorite lines from this novel read:

Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated . . . the old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him.

As I reflected on this one night, getting ready for bed and feeling a bit ‘long of tooth,”  I thought of my eight young grandkids, and how pleased I was that I had been with each one of them when they caught their first fish.

Then a cold thought entered my mind and went right to my gut.  It was quickly followed by thoughts even more painful.  Maybe my grandchildren won’t remember the experience, or maybe it will become a blur.  Maybe I’ll become irrelevant.  Or worse, after I’m gone, maybe they won’t remember me.

Thumbing again through The Old Man and the Sea, I came across a conversation between the old man and the boy about their first fishing trip together:

“Can you really remember or did I just tell it to you?”

“I remember everything from when we first went together.”  The old man looked at him with his sun-burned, confident loving eyes.

That’s it, I thought, as I got into bed and turned out the lights.  Eight new anglers are going fishing with their grandpa this summer.  Isn’t it ironic that grandchildren, whose births at first make us feel so very old, can suddenly make us feel young again – through the student/teacher dynamic – as we quest for fish?

At the end of the day, fishing may not provide us with immortality.  But it will give us a chance to pass along a pastime/sport to our grandkids, and provide them with memories they’ll never forget.  Some of those memories will be of us.


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