In most American homes, the Fourth of July signifies parties,
fireworks, beer, and raucous laughter with beloved friends
and family. There is no better place for a big bash than on a
lakeshore, and this is where I characteristically spend my
Fourthup at Grandma and Grandpa's cabin.
Now, what you must know is that I couldn't give less about fireworks,
parties, beloved friends, or beerI'm on a lake known for fishing
well, and the last few times that I've been able to fish on the Fourth have
all been memorable. The first year Dad and I were out wasting time one
windy afternoon, what with Jet Skis and skiers and a twenty-five mile-an-hour
wind tearing up the water around us while we threw 5 weight rods and #10
Clouser minnows looking for crappies as the bluegills had long been over
with and we hadn't done anything with any luck at all since then. A few
hours into the trip had brought nothing, and instead of dealing with the
relatives back at the cabin, the 15-year-old-and -47-year-old team of
us took to our task of finding fish like a couple of old curmudgeons
insistent on doing things "the right way." We decided to try that notorious
one last spot, and the wind howled over stinging sunburn as I hocked
out a sinktip over a rotten-looking weedline. Suddenly my streamer
stopped, and I felt the familiar dragging thud of a decent crappie.
Five fish later"Nate, howinell are you catching these fish?"
"Try throwing a sinktip!"
"I don't wanna, this is just my five weight!"
Another half dozen fish later"Sure it's not some special fly?"
I don't think I'll ever forget the pained look of realization on his face
when I told him that.
After pulling a couple foot long crappies out of the water, over
the wind I heard a mutter from the front of the boat"
The crappie fishing was phenomenal that year and we limited
out that day on eight to twelve inch crappies. We did again the
next year too, only then we took numbers of 'gills along with the
crappies and had a hoot doing it while there was no wind and
no challenge other than the game warden, curious to see what
we were using to catch all these fish. He soon enough left us
on our way and laughed to himself as he drove off, wondering
what in the world two flyrodders were doing out on the lake that
was otherwise devoid of fishermen all missing the fantastic crappie
bite. Dad and I just looked at each other and giggled.
Until this year, that was the last we were able to fish together,
because getting a job and leading a more grown-up life precluded
such childish things as getting to fish on the Fourth of July and
spend the holiday with my family. In the absence, other things
filled its placebuying a 1 weight fly rod to enjoy the
bluegill fishing whenever it became possible, getting the occasional
summer-fling girlfriend, hanging out with a group of friends at the
local park while the fireworks display fired off
those 'other' things, the things that are at the time more important
than some stupid fishing trip with your dad.
Whatever. Now I know that times are getting short as the number
of trips I am able to make with Dad are growing to be counted on
one hand every summer, fewer and fewer as each year passes.
While time grew short in those few years, experience with college
life went on, as it always did, and I finally figured out what I think
will be the last time I change my majorpolymer chemistry.
Changes were brought forth that I didn't exactly plan for
quitting the job that I'd called home for the last handful of years,
the need to study my books a lot more, ignoring and becoming
intolerant to the daily drama of roommates and girls, and looking
into a research position doing work for the Navy.
The Navy is nothing if not patriotic when it comes to celebrating
national holidays, and as such, I found I had the Fourth of July
off again for the first time in about 4 years. (Hey, I know what
you're thinking"Gee that's nothing like when I was
separated from my sushi bar for the 38 years I was married to
my second wife"but 4 years is a long time to a 19 year
old kid.) Finally I was able to head back up to The Lake and
spend time with my family and the place I grew up. That one
Friday night, I made it back.
Having spent every summer between the ages of 5 and 18 there,
I'd grown accustomed to how things worked, when and how
change came about, what was where and where it went, and
all the other details one unknowingly masters while growing
roots in an area. What you really see from that is the change
that goes on. You don't know you knew it until it's too late and
things are no longer as they were. I knew where the lily pads were
growing and what stands were new, I recognized with an odd
sense of nostalgia the cigarette burn on the chair that Granddad
bought at an auction last summer
no, wait, it was really
five years ago now, and I found I missed hearing the dog bark at
my arrivalonly the dog had died three years earlier and
we'd all grown used to not having her around anymore. The "new
neighbors" next door had completely torn down and rebuilt the cabin
they'd bought last summer
no, wait, that was five years ago
And the lake was different. Now it was all weeded in where there
were no weeds before. Much of the open water was slop to the top
and piles of stringy vegetation blanketed the surface; birds walked on
it safe from bass as no fish was getting through that mess.
The morning after I arrived, Dad was sipping on a cup of coffee
when I dragged myself out of bed. He was happy to see me up,
as was everyone else, but instead of eager to sit and talk with me
about what was going on with my chem lab and school, he was
eager to get out on the water. He wanted to go bass fishin'.
Now, as an aside, I must warn you that one does not go "bass fishing"
in the Midwest on the farm country lakes that grow bass as large as
some of the less-fertile Florida lakes. In the lands of Boomhauer and
Li'l Cletus, you go "bass fishin'." Whether you sling grubs on a 6 foot
pool cue kind of rod with 30 pound SpiderWire, or a 6 weight and #4
poppers on 2X tippets, you go "bass fishin' ."
Turned out the bass fishin' sucked that morning. Dad was crabby
as all-get-out because the bass weren't cooperating, but meanwhile
the bluegills were finishing their spawn and I knew it; I could see the
nests. I was optimistic about the day's prospects as I had no
expectations for my first trip back on The Lake in a few years
and my first glimpses looked promising so I pulled out my sunny
flies and leaders on my 5 weight. Dad had other plans. The boat
dialogue sounded something like this:
"Dad, there's bluegills waiting."
"I'm bass fishin'."
"Well, yea, duh
but there's bluegills waiting."
"I'm bass fishin'. We'll do that later this afternoon
sometime, after we get a few bass."
"I'm going to entertain myself until then with a few sunnies. Okay?"
"Gaddangit Nate, I'm tryin' to bass-fish here. Can't you do
that some other time when I'm not bass fishin'?"
"Uh, it's no big deal, you know how I work and I'll be more
than happy to fish around however you want to do it. Don't
worry about me."
Later, the bass fishing was indeed proven a bust, and lightweight
rods won the heart of the day. Tossing foam spiders to swarms
of decent sized bluegills, we each saw numerous bass up to several
pounds and Dad managed to sight-fish to a couple. The first took
him by surprise, as a twelve inch bass on 4X and a 2 weight SPL
was a pleasant battle in the lily pads for him. The second that day
was fully 3 poundshe was still using that two weight fairy
wand when he spotted the fish, tossed a foam spider-type thing in
front of it, and it ate it. He giggled like a little kid who'd been given
stock in Fanny Farmer Candies.
We still don't know why he was crabby that day.
I woke with a start, as the door to the bedroom had been opened
and suddenly I'd become aware of it. No matter, it was just the fan
blowing out in the main room of the cabin. And then I heard the
familiar sound that I knew would keep me from sleeping further:
percolating coffee. The Boys (Dad and Granddad) were talking
about Granddad's garden at his brother's farm and some recent
auction events while The Girls (Mom and Grandma) were making
breakfast. Once out there I found Dad indeed had plans for fishing
that day, but to my surprise none of them included bass or pike. He
wanted more sunfish, this time on his 1 weight SPL.
After a good stint out in the sun prior to our planned trip, I felt
exhausted which combined with a run-in with some allergen to
leave me feeling very lousy and eager to take a nap in the middle
of the afternoon. Dad was disappointed, but he cares more for
my comfort than my company so he left to take a relaxing bluegill
trip in the late afternoon sun by himself.
Fast forward a couple of hours: I get dragged out of bed by Dad,
who is just giddy and all smiles and won't shut up, talking something
about how "it's one of two I spooked" and how "it took me damn near
into my backing" which he'd "never seen anything run so fast and so
hard in my life" and so on and on. You know how these fishermen are.
"It's the size of a big trout Nate, and I got 'em on my ONE WEIGHT!"
"Uh, whaddizzit..?" I was still pretty groggy. He wasn't.
"Hee hee, you're never going to believe this! It took me almost into my backing andIhadtograbmyreelwhenitfelloffmyrodanditwhackedmeintheknucklesafewtimesand
"Dad, chill... Just what is it?"
That big dumb grin again. "Look in the live well for yourself."
There, in the live well, sat the fattest largemouth I'd seen in a long,
long time. It was probably the fattest bass I'd ever seen. And it was
definitely the longest. At over 22 inches and well over six pounds,
I was in awe. Looking up, I congratulated him.
And there was that big dumb grin again.
Seeing him smile like that reminded me that sometimes the kid
you once knew in yourself never really does leave. It just takes
a few quality moments with yourself and your loved ones to
recall the moments that you thought you'd never get back
you may not get them in their entirety, and in that case they're likely
gone forever, but the essence of them is always there. It doesn't
matter whether you're 5, 55, or 105, when you're doing what made
you love, time is irrelevant. It only hurts when you have to face a
change that no amount of hope and nostalgia can bring back, when
your dog isn't there to bark at you anymore and when the days of
chasing bluegills just getting off their spawning beds is down to just
youwhen you realize that time does catch up with us all,
despite the unerring timelessness of pastimes. That's when you sit
back, all grown up, and think about the days now past when time
was irrelevant, when big dumb grins on your fishing partner were
commonplace, and now you catch yourself thinking:
The bluegills are on their beds. It's time to play. ~ Nate