Try as he might, my dad never could teach me how to fish. He was an avid fisher himself, organizing trips throughout the year to fishing holes around the state. He didn’t have a preferred method either; he owned a small skiff for summer fishing weekends on the lake, he rented a cabin during the dead of winter to dangle a lure through the thick ice, and he spent his free hours wrapping flies in shocking colours and patterns. However, he could never get his only son to care about his hobby.
Every summer, the first weekend after school ended, my father would pull me up at 2 a.m. so we could drive to the nearest stream and drop lures. Regardless of my age, I was rueful of the entire experience. All the while we stood in silence, staring at the calm water or the dense woods around us, I thought of the other things I could have been doing: playing Ocarina of Time, learning bike tricks on my friend’s new ramp, sleeping in until noon or later. I can’t remember much else of those trips, except my dad’s desperation to develop my interest in his favorite hobby and my unkind indifference.
My dad died last year. It was sudden, and it hurt. Since my mom passed years ago, it was left to my sisters and me to sift through his belongings and determine what to keep. Naturally, the women allocated dad’s fishing gear to me; in true patriarchal fashion, my father never invited them on his fishing trips. Yet, despite the revulsion I remembered experiencing during our annual weekends, I couldn’t simply get rid of dad’s beloved equipment ― at least, not without one last trip.
My Last Attempt at Fishing
I had to borrow a friend’s truck to haul Dad’s Wellcraft 33 to Upper Klamath Lake. It wasn’t my father’s favorite fishing destination, but the body of water is among the largest in Oregon, and I felt confident I could find it, get the boat in the water, and catch a fish without much trouble. I considered heading to a more secluded spot ― which might be better for ruminating on heavy issues like family, mortality and duty ― but my fear of getting lost or stranded in the Oregon wilds convinced me to head to a place where other anglers were sure to be.
As I drove through the dark to the lake ― emulating in every other way my summertime journeys with my dad ― I imagined my quiet contemplation on the water. I expected revelations; some insight into my father’s soul that would connect me to him for all time. I thought little about navigating the boat, casting the line or cleaning whatever fish I managed to reel in. I only hoped to speak to my father through his favorite hobby.
Unfortunately, the experience was far from serene. Unfamiliar with loading docks, I nearly lost the boat to the water ― and the truck and trailer with it. I puttered too close to other fishers’ lines, incurring their ire, and I broke a rod trying to reel in what must have been half of the Titanic or the last remaining megalodon. I managed maybe two hours of meditation ― and that well after I had given up on fishing altogether and the sun was high in the sky.
In all, I dubbed my trip a success. I left without a fish, without a love of fishing, and with a renewed determination to rid my life of my father’s fishing gear ― but most importantly, I was able to rebuild almost entirely my youthful fishing experiences with my father. My fatigue and frustration were identical to what I felt when he was there next to me, and for a few brief moments, I even forgot how much time had passed ― and how far away he had gone. It was like I hadn’t said goodbye, at all.
What I Did With the Gear
It was the perfect last trip, and I no longer had any need for that old gear. So, when I finally made it home ― damp, stiff-necked, and smelling of fish I didn’t catch ― I began the efforts or getting rid of any fishing-related paraphernalia. Dad’s boat was well over 30 years old and hardly worth the effort of selling. My wife found a wonderful organization that accepts boat donations; the Wellcraft was refurbished and resold, and the proceeds went straight to improving our community.
After picking out a few beautiful lures to frame for my office, I disbursed the rest of my father’s tackle box to his few remaining fishing buddies. Like him, they hadn’t been on the water in a few years, but like me, they appreciated those small tokens of remembrance. Nearly everything else was easy enough to sell online, and I’m certain Dad would have found comfort knowing most of his gear was going on to catch more fish.
A small part of me feels bad that I could not replicate my dad’s love of fishing, but I know he was proud of me regardless. I’m not a fisher, but my dad was.