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Fishing and Father’s Day [Tall Drink of Nerd]

Since my Dad passed away in 2009, Father’s Day has become a weird sore spot on the calendar, reminding me that I’ve been orphaned by the male part of the my parenting team. This day in mid-June makes me miss my Pop and riles up my urge to go fishing. Though I hadn’t been fishing with Dad for about a decade, I love that his passion for the pasttime created a big piece of my childhood.

Dad loved being on shore, or out on the water, with a fishing pole in his hand. One of the big reasons for his affinity was that he so rarely had free-time, and he loved being a Dad and husband, so taking the family to the lake and sitting with all the kiddies on the beach fishing was fun and relaxing for him at the same time.

My earliest memories in life are standing on a grey sand beach, at the Jumbo reservoir in Julesburg, CO with a fishing pole staked in the ground by my feet. Probably around my 6th birthday, I finally got my own rod and reel. It wasn’t anything fancy, just something from Gibson’s, enough to catch small, oval pan fish or the catfish that seemed to have taken over the Jumbo. It was a deep brown pole and about double the height of me. Dad patiently taught me how to cast the hook overhand out into the water.  He would try to get me to pierce the slimy, pink night crawler onto the hook, but that was a little too icky for me at that point. It still is. Yuck.

The night before any fishing trip, Dad and I would traipse around the backyard, through long grass made dewy from an hour under the sprinkler, and hunt worms. Dad held the flashlight, shining spotlights into the dark lawn and I held the cardboard milk container, repurposed and filled with dirt and grass to give the worms a temporary home. Dad would lead the way with the light, bent over, stalking the little wriggling prey. When he spotted one, he’d move with lightening speed and grab the little sucker, along with a handful of the grass it had been moving through and stick it into my worm container. Quite often, he would “accidentally” let a worm drop onto my hand or my arm, which would send me into a high step run, squealing with grossed-out terror across the lawn and send him in to fits of mischievous laughter.

When I was 6ish, my brothers were teenagers and too busy with teenage business to go fishing on weekends and my sisters just weren’t interested, so it was just me and Daddy going fishing. I didn’t really like the taste of fish. Part of the reason I loved fishing was the chance to have Dad all to myself, another big part was the junk food.

We didn’t keep junk food in our house, no potato chips, no mass-produced donuts or snack cakes. The most decadent thing we had in the pantry was Kool-Aid. When Dad and I went fishing, we’d stop at the grocery store first and load up on chocolate milk, boxes of donuts, hostess fruit pies and chocolate pudding pies, Cheetos and Doritos. Whenever I see a single serving chocolate pie in a convenience store now, my mind fills in with the scratchy red/green stripped upholstery on that bench seat in Dad’s ’69 Ford truck and the cold air filled with the earthy scent of worms.

Fish always bite better when the weather is dreary. During cold spring days, we’d set in mesh lawn chairs on the shore, wrapped in coats and blankets, waiting for the tip of the pole to dip down as the fish took the bait. If it would start raining too hard, we wouldn’t give in, Dad would just back the truck up to the shore. We’d hop in under the hard camper top he’d installed on the bed, crack the back window and keep fishing until we weren’t catching anything or we were out of donuts.

If one of us caught a catfish, Dad would usually let the poor fella go back to the lake and on about his business. If the only fish we caught during a trip was catfish, Dad would put them in a 10-gallon bucket filled with lake water and take a few of them home. He’d transfer them into my kiddie swimming pool, fill it up with tap water and let them work the dirt/muck out of their systems for a week and then make dinner out of them. Catfish taste better after a week in a kiddie pool, or so I’m told. After a week tending to the fish in my pool, I was reluctant to eat it.

To this day I can’t eat fresh water fish without thinking of relaxing on the shore of that big reservoir, fishing pole in one hand and a Hostess Chocolate Pudding Pie in the other.