Sunday, June 15, 2008

How Casting A Memory Begins With A Fish

Last week I was watching a movie in which the main character was fishing. As I watched him bait his hook, cast his line and reel in fish after fish, I was hit with a bit of nostalgia.

Fishing is one of the first things I remember doing with my father. When we were kids, he would take my brother and I fishing all the time. The first place I ever remember going was Jay's Lake, just down the road from our childhood home. We could grab a few poles, a can of bait and be there in less than ten minutes. My father had a bevy of fishing rods; freshwater and saltwater rods, long and short, cheap and expensive. Surf rods, fly rods, spin rods and sea rods. He had them all, but mostly we used the spinning rods.

(My father taking a peaceful moment alone with the fish. I think he was luring them with Prosciutto.)

I loved using the spinning rods but was rarely allowed, even though I had learned exactly how to cast. My father taught me to hold the fishing line with one finger against the rod, then as I threw the rod back and just as I was whipping it forward again, as it sliced through the air, I would have to let up on the line so it could be pulled forward by the weight of the baited hook. It was only then that I would watch my bait flying overhead, the line flowing freely behind it, as it sailed across the water and hopefully into the center of a school of fish.

For bait, we used worms or lures. I was never allowed to use the expensive lures because my line would always get tangled in trees, underwater obstructions or other people's lines. But the worms came from our backyard. And they were free. My father would take us out late at night, especially after a rain, to look for nightcrawlers. We'd pull fat, long earthworms from the ground and store them in coffee cans. Whenever Daddy told us we were going to look for worms, we knew we'd be going fishing the next day.

(My brother and I fishing in the lake.)

I loved baiting the hook myself. It was only when I got older that I didn't like to touch the worms. But when I was young, I would thread the smaller worms right onto the hook whole, a little piece dangling off the end for movement. With the bigger worms, my father would cut them in half and then we'd do the same thing. I liked using the worms better than lures anyway, since I always felt the the fish would be more likely to go after something they thought was a real live meal; thick and meaty instead of a fake, shiny, metal flippy thing.

I always wanted to use the "good" fishing rod. The "good" rod was whichever one the person catching the most fish at the moment was using. My brother always seemed to have the good rod. No matter what he used, he caught fish. He could have hung a string from his finger and come back with something on the end of it.

I remember this one fishing rod my father had, which wasn't really even a fishing rod at all in my eyes since it had no reel, no eye loops to guide the line through and no spinning apparatus of any kind. It was just a pole. A bamboo pole. I never wanted to use it because it was essentially a stick with string tied to it. And who can catch fish with a stick? Right. My brother.

One time, I had whined about not wanting to use it, so my father gave me another rod and gave the bamboo pole to my brother. No sooner did he put it in the water did he get a bite. It was such a big fish that the pole arced in his hands. When he pulled the line out of the water, with my father's help, there was a HUGE grayish-black catfish on the other end. I still remember its shiny skin and those long, creepy, twitchy whiskers. It was ugly as hell, but it was the biggest fish anyone had caught all day and after that, the bamboo pole was magic to me.

As you can see from this picture, I'm not using the bamboo pole, but it's obvious that whoever is standing NEXT to me is!!

Most likely, they caught a big 'ol fish with the bamboo pole and mine were just scared away by the pants I was wearing. Conceivably, I can blame my mother for my lack of fishing prowess that afteroon. I mean, look at the way she dressed me. Plaid???

My father is no longer around, but I have hundreds of memories that are, and they don't come to mind only on Father's Day, but they come to me often whenever I'm doing something that reminds me of him. Without him, I would have never learned how to fish or cook or play Bocce (although knowing how to play Bocce rarely comes in handy). And I would not have been the kind of person, who when fishing, brings along a pot of espresso, eggplant parmigiana sandwiches and Italian pastries including biscotti and cannoli for dessert!

It's been a while, but I think this year I might pick up a fishing pole again and remember how it used to be. Although this time, I'll be wearing different pants.

To all the men I know (and don't), Happy Father's Day!

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