The accounts of my love fishing one day with Dad, fictionalized.
Fishing With Dad
Brian K. Compton
Through the tangled brush we trailed to our favorite fishing hole. Dad led Jimmy by the hand. I averted most of the flinging branches. We would spend the first humid day of the year near the old hydraulic dam. The rush of the cool water could be heard thrusting through the plant's giant turbine engines. My heart beat hard as I imagined fish leaping and falling inside the churning water.
The Menominee river cut a jagged path through miles and miles of evergreens. From the scenic overlook where we parked, we had been able to see no one had yet claimed our special fishing spot.
Before our day could start, I had to decide what to wear. I chose my brown and green cut off pants and a red and white striped button up shirt. Mom picked out Jimmy’s clothes, which “matched,” she said. My little brother fussed until he spied Dad loading the truck with our fishing gear and a big brown paper bag that would be our lunch.
I would regret my choices today. Tiny red welts amassed on my arms and legs as Dad pushed past. Jimmy whined his loudest just before we reached the clearing.
The shoreline was nothing but loose rocks -- broken and washed ashore. Busted beer bottles and debris were strewn about in places where no barefoot person would dare tread. Charred remains of campfires dotted the shoreline away from our destination.
Mosquitoes swarmed and buzzed around our heads. Dad had sprayed us with “OFF” right after we got out of the truck, but the pesky critters were still bothersome. Horseflies and dragonflies swooped and hovered about the sunlit openings.
The dam hummed louder than ever as we approached the security fence. Swirls of water spun from around the cement retaining wall guarding the plant. But the river had dried up just enough to give us firm footing as we ventured inside.
We were just a few feet from our destination. We just needed to traverse a few jutting, slimy rocks, swing around a mangled metal gate protruding from the wall, and hoist ourselves up on the ledge of the dam wall.
Dad held fishing poles, a tackle box and our lunch in one hand, while holding onto Jimmy with his other. I carried the bait and my pole. My left sneaker slipped a little on a pointy crag beneath me. I managed to balance myself by switching the bait to my left hand and grabbing the metal fence with my right. Dad had hoisted Jimmy up to the cement sanctuary before I could round the corner. The rush of water almost drowned out their voices just 15 feet ahead.
My chest thumped like mad. I caught my first glimpse of the massive walls, water oozing from slats. I envisioned big fish knocked senseless by the machinery’s mayhem -- befuddled prey funneling out and easily scooped up in my hands!
The sun-baked dam walls shielded us from the forces of nature, kept us warm. Now inside, we could easily see no one had yet ventured in to steal our snug, reclusive spot. Dad had made sure this would happen by getting us up before dawn. And with a King Kong-sized slab as our cover, no one would be able to find us from above.
Dad got Jimmy’s pole ready. I baited my three-prong hook with half of a night crawler. After watering the yard the night before, we spotlighted and yanked 16 grimy worms from the ground. Snagging bait under moonlight was a thrilling prelude to the day ahead.
Jimmy continued his fussing as Dad put the K-Mart rod and reel in his hand. “I should have stayed home,” he sobbed. He was taking all the fun out of it. Didn’t he know this would be an adventure? Maybe he should just sing his favorite song, “Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me. Guess I’ll go eat worms.” Then, I could pry his jaws open and drop one in. But I was more interested in feeding chunks of my monster worms to the fish. Maybe I would haul in a fat rock bass, or a saucer-sized Blue Gill, or even better, a foot-long perch. But the big whopper I really daydreamed about was the Northern Pike.
My best friend Randy landed a 36-inch pike last summer and couldn’t stop yammerin’ about it. Other kids my age were telling stories about pulling muskies and walleyes from the waters out here. Why couldn’t I?
Jimmy sat with his arms folded. He didn’t want to cast his own line, so Dad would have to do it for him. I knew he really wanted to fish, but not like this. He wanted to be in the boat with our big brother Larry. Dad tried again to hand the yellow nylon pole to my three-and-a-half foot mule of a brother. When Jimmy wouldn’t take it, he just grunted and wedged the rod between some rocks and fished it on ‘auto-pilot.’ We had to keep an eye on his bobber now, besides our own.
On the way in, Dad had pulled out his trusty pocket knife to cut off a long green branch from a tree bent over the water. He cut it to this heighth and notched the end before pulling some string out of the pocket of his overalls. His gritty mitts were now deftly tying secure his line before adding a hook.
I winced into his silhouette standing in front of the rising sun. “What’s that?”
“Government pole,” he answered with a smirk that he barely concealed. With fresh bait wriggling for its life, into the turbulent water his line went.
“How deep is it here, Dad?”
“Pretty deep, Sam.” He looked at me just then, probably making sure Jimmy or I hadn’t set up too close on the ledge of that great wall. Water crashing helplessly over the rocks seemed to suck at my shoes. Jimmy suddenly got excited and was trying to talk with two marshmallows jammed inside his mouth. That’s when we noticed he was already eating our snack.
Jimmy hopped up and down, pointing to his pole now getting yanked loose from its fortress. He seemed to be saying, “mmm-got omtin! Ad, ook!”
Figuring out what the commotion was about, Dad yelled at me “Quick, grab the pole!” But, it was too late. In a neon burst of a flash, his pole met with the agitated waters. Six dollars and twenty-three cents with tax now bobbed about the waves of our hidden cove. Jimmy was still hovering over the grocery bag of food.
“You should have grabbed the pole!” Dad’s sharpened blue eyes honed in on me. He whirled, and with a free hand grabbed the sack made with Mom’s love. His eyes darted back and forth, looking for something. My eyes started looking, too. He set our food at his feet and found yet another use for his newly crafted fishing gear.
Dad skewered the water repeatedly in frustration. “I didn’t want to come fishing anyway,” Jimmy pouted before Dad caught hold and hauled in our catch of the day.
Dad turned and grabbed Jimmy’s forearm, startling us both. “Come on.” He jerked the small boy from his feet and carted him off. His exile for this morning would be the cab of our blue Ford pick-up.
“I don’t want to go,” I heard him murmur.
I chuckled to myself, ‘make up your mind.’ I could hear him screaming all the way past the brush to the road above.
My mind now keenly focused on the game, hoping the bobbing, sun-splintered red and white ball would plunge beneath the murky wash. The shimmering water captured a paling sun. Gray clouds had snuck up, unfurling its intimidation.
Hands slippery with sweat, I wiped them one after the other on the loose tail of my shirt. The cool water sucked the muggy air, as I gripped my pole tighter. My over-perceptive mind committed my helpless arms to give a yank. False alarm. A small wave had temporarily capsized my float. I tightened the slack in my line with a half turn of the reel. My connection to rushing tides drew a little closer as the wait lingered.
The anticipation was my love. Stormy skies could not spoil the solitude of a beautiful, peaceful moment with nothing to do but dream when something struck -- striking love in my heart.
This story was featured in a February 2010 "Spiritual" newsletter...