When I pulled up to the school, I was ready.
The back of the truck had rods and reels rigged to go. I’d picked up earthworms from the local bait shop, and my buddy had given me a tip to a pretty solid bluegill bite.
As his art teacher opened the door, Will hopped in the truck . . . We made normal small talk about how each other’s days were, lunch, the usual. We stopped for an Icee, and it wasn’t until we pulled up to the bank of the creek that he exclaimed . . . “Dad, are we going fishing? WHY?”
Why? Why are we fishing?
I began to unpack the tackle and bait hooks as I began to unpack this idea for him:
“Why are we fishing? WHY ARE WE FISHING???”
“To sit on the bank all afternoon with my son, watching the storms building and debating about whether it’ll head our way.”
“To watch to dancing of a bobber as an unseen bluegill or catfish or trout decides whether or not it’s worth the risk . . .”
“We’re fishing because it’s part of who we are, a legacy passed down from fathers and grandfathers to their sons and daughters . . . A heritage of harvesting a few bream for the frying pan, or watching a big spawning bass swim away to make more babies. It’s getting skunked and realizing that great blue heron is a vastly superior angler. It’s the rattling of a kingfisher doing aerobatics overhead. It’s the dolphins and the manatees and the snakes and the bobcat we saw that one time . . . Remember that? It’s pitching a frog onto a lily pad . . . It’s skipping a greenback under a mangrove, just in the perfect spot . . . It’s earthworms and eagles and stripers and stringers . . . it’s tarpon and tackle boxes, channel cats and crickets . . . ”
“We’re fishing because of possibility . . . Because we have no idea what’s going to come tight on the other end of that line, or when . . . Because of 5 lb redfish who think they weigh 50 lbs and goes on a run into the next zip code . . . Because of the bass that eats the breadball and puts on an aerial display to rival a tarpon . . . Because we love the idea of the drag screaming as line peels off, no idea what’s attached to the pointy end of our rig . . . The sight of a topwater plug, worked beautifully across a point, knowing, just having absolute certainty, that it’s going to get slammed . . . And that feeling you get when it happens . . . And that feeling you get when it doesn’t . . . ”
“Why are we fishing? WHY ARE WE FISHING? We’re fishing because it’s romantic, it was the vehicle of Hemingway and Walton and Grey . . .We’re fishing because it’s nostalgic; we fish accompanied by the ghosts of our fathers, a nod to a simpler time . . . Why are we fishing? We’re fishing because it’s a challenge, from crappie and carp to tarpon and trout, there is no lure in the world that can MAKE them bite . . .”
“Will, you may not realize it now, but we’re fishing for you . . . To ensure that you know that in this time of xboxes and iPads, that there is a REAL world outside, full of hope and wonder and beauty and nature . . . That somehow, by being disconnected you can actually be more connected, if that makes any sense.”
“We’re fishing because this is America, and that’s what we do. We’re fishing because it’s fun. We’re fishing because it was a cheap way to kill three hours this afternoon and maybe bring home dinner. We’re fishing because it’s a great way for a father and son to spend an afternoon, talking on a creek bank.”
“Son, what I want you to understand is . . . ”
“Dad,” Will interrupted me, staring wide eyed as my rant had gone on for several minutes . . .
I looked in his eyes, bright brown, the only reminder of him as a baby as now here stood a young man before me. I smiled, believing this was one of our moments, that he got it, that he understood what all this meant to me, and what all of it meant to him . . .
“Dad, what I meant was, ‘why are we fishing’ when today’s your anniversary? Weren’t you supposed to be at dinner, like, 20 minutes ago???”
Good talk, son . . . Good talk . . .