This post is from contributing author, Pat Burke.
From the time my oldest son Logan was born, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the days when I’d take him out to float a local river. Over the last year I’ve witnessed him make great strides in his coordination. He is no longer the clumsy little boy tripping over a ball during his soccer games or closing both eyes and cowering back as we play catch with a football. As he grows he continues to gain confidence, maturity, and coordination. This has carried over to fishing. His line control, casting, balance when wading, and most importantly his concentration, have all improved. So much so that I was ready to take the next step and begin floating our local rivers alone with him.
When I’m standing on the bank and looking over his shoulder as he fishes, I tend to get too involved. I continually correct his casting and help him through the tangles and snags. I’ve felt that in order for him to enjoy himself he needs to be catching lots of fish. For that reason, I intervene too much and ultimately he ends up losing interest quickly. It took me a while to realize that he is satisfied not catching fish, and more than anything, he just wants to be in control and fishing without the crutch of his dad.
So taking him out in the boat was a big step. He fished from the front platform while I was on the oars. I was still there to watch, offer encouragement, and answer questions, but it was now up to him to control the outcome. The best part is he excelled when I backed off and let him do his thing.
As is the case most of the time on the water, it wasn’t all about the fishing. It was about spending those hours on the water alone with my son talking about whatever it is he wanted to talk about. For a 5 year old, it was questions like “where does this river go to” or “when are all of the trees along the bank going to die and fall in the river” — just the curious questions and innocent observations made by a young child. As an adult, I’ve begun to realize that I tend to miss the details of my surroundings. There is little I haven’t seen before on our rivers. Through the eyes of a child though, everything is a new experience.
After rounding the first bend we were lucky enough to see a family of deer cross the river below us. Shortly after, a blue heron gave a startling squawk and took to the air. It circled down below us, changed directions quickly, and flew directly overhead silhouetted against the sky like a mighty pterodactyl. Probably the most notable sighting of the day was a family of mergansers, one of which had a fish positioned perpendicular to it’s beak. As our boat approached the group, the lead bird flicked it’s head to the left and the fish was immediately positioned head first and down it went. I aimed the boat in the direction of the birds and paddled towards them to trigger their escape. In typical fashion, the birds erupted and began to run across the water. Logan nicknamed them speedy ducks.
The fishing is really nothing more than the means to bring us closer together and give us a reason to spend time alone. It’s about growing the bond between a father and son through quality time in a primitive setting, tucked away from the rest of the ugly parts of our world. As he grows, I hope these moments together increase in frequency and we continue to have long talks on the river. Talks about the important things that can foul you up in life. I’ll give my best advice, but just like his time spent learning to fish, the only real way to learn is through making the mistakes on his own and working through them.
The best, most vivid memories in my life have always come with a rod in my hand. Not because of an amazing day catching fish, but rather, the quality time spent with a close friend or family member that I care deeply for. These couple days were no different and will provide lasting memories.
Oh and about the fishing… Logan made some amazing casts for a five year old. He also slapped me across the side of the face a few times with the rod. It didn’t really matter though. He caught fish, he learned, and he had fun. That’s all that really matters.