Teaching and demonstrating a love for the outdoors is an important bonding tool between a father and his children or grandchildren, and I hope I’ve lived up to that obligation.
In thinking back on my formative years, I probably haven’t given my father enough credit for instilling a love of fishing that continues to grow. My father was a Baptist minister in North Carolina who passed away more than 30 years ago. He wasn’t an outdoorsman in the strictest sense, but he made sure I was able to enjoy the outdoors experience. We camped and he made sure I was able to fish just about any time the urge hit, which was pretty often.
My earliest fishing memory didn’t really involve me catching a fish but learning that a croaker was a member of the drum family. We were vacationing at Fort Caswell, the North Carolina Baptist Assembly located on the Cape Fear River across from Southport.
At some point, my father handed me a paper sack with his catch and sent me back to the house where we were staying so my mother could clean and cook the fish (it was a much different time 50-plus years ago).
Somewhere between the pier and the house, the croaker made his croaking noise. I probably was about the same age as my 4-year-old grandson, and when I heard that noise, I dropped the bag and raced screaming to the comforting arms of my mother. I think she took me back to pick up the bag of fish and I’m pretty sure that’s what we had for dinner that evening.
Somewhere in my house now I have photographic evidence of my first flounder, but that’s not what I really remember about that particular fishing experience. I was 6 or 7 and visiting my grandparents when I got an invitation from my best friend to join his family at the Outer Banks.
My father sent fishing tackle down with my friend, whose family picked me up on their way to the beach. It was a J.C. Higgins (the Sears, Roebuck and Co. brand) outfit — a fiberglass rod with a pistol grip and a level wind reel. When we got our first opportunity to fish, I stepped to the edge of the surf and launched my bait in a perfect cast. I watched the line spin and spin off the reel. No backlash. It kept going and going, all of it; the knot he had tied didn’t hold and we had to make a trip to a tackle store so I could re-spool. But I did end up catching a flounder.
The little town in which I grew up was a farming community, and that meant a lot of farm ponds. And being one of only a few preachers in town meant there were a lot of invitations for the preacher and his son to fish those ponds.
One of those trips led to two distinct fishing memories. We picked up my friend and headed to the pond. Highway construction was taking place on the most direct route, so we had to make a minor detour around a ditch. My father gunned the 1956 Oldsmobile as we made our way around the detour and we got stuck. This was long before the days of cellphones, so he had to hike back to town and get a wrecker to pull us out of the mess.
He wasn’t too happy, but it didn’t stop him from getting my buddy and me to the pond where he dropped us off with a promise to pick us up that afternoon.
When he came back, I loaded up my catch in my metal J.C. Higgins tackle box and climbed into the car for the return trip home. We unloaded the car and I promptly forgot about those fish until a few days later when a pungent smell began to escape from the tackle box.
I get pretty wistful thinking of those and other fishing experiences I shared with my father.
Thanks, Dad, for a great childhood.