When Fishing Mends Relationships

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My brother and I grew up in a broken home. Raised by our mother, we grew up in a trailer along the Ohio River and it was a rare treat if we were given a quarter in order to walk to the nearest gas station and buy a can of soda (or pop!). We also spent way too much time alone, for kids our age, and trouble seemed to come easily and without warning. I suppose it does for any child who does not have someone around them to tell them the difference between a harmless prank and a more serious act of rebellion. So, we just kind of figured it out as we went along.

Being of very limited means also restricted many of the activities that we were able to participate in. Most of the kids around us were in the same boat that we were and so, no matter how grim our situation may have looked to other people, it seemed perfectly normal to us. We played a lot of neighborhood sports, pick up games of football, baseball, and basketball and we even invented some games of our own that didn’t require a ball. The entire neighborhood played together and I still look back at that time with a feeling of gratitude for the childhood that we had.

One of our favorite activities was fishing, though I cannot recall how or when we became involved in it. I wish I could credit one family member or another for having introduced us to it but the truth is, we were so young that I just can’t recall. It just seems as though it was something that we have always done, like walking or sleeping.

It didn’t cost much, a cane pole or a cheap rod and reel and some hooks. We improvised as needed, using sticks for bobbers or washers for weights. It was not uncommon for 5 or more of the neighborhood kids to go fishing and two of them show up with fishing line wrapped around a stick as they ‘hand-lined’ the fish in.

Nearly everyone in our family fished to one degree or another and in different ways. My grandfather lived to fish. If I recall, aside from his annual trip to Florida for saltwater fishing on a charter boat, his game was catfish. I remember he used to make his own bait out of Wheaties cereal. It was he, who taught us how to catch nightcrawlers in the yard after it rained.

My uncles fished as well, and so did my cousins. One of my aunts was an avid fisherman and she loved going after walleye in the Ohio River. My brother and I chased bass mostly and it is something that stayed with us as we grew up and began living separate lives. I joined the army right out of high school and my brother went to college, eventually graduating from Marshall University. I got out of the service after 7 years and surprisingly found a career for myself in law enforcement. Still, we fished.

All of the warmer weather holidays were spent fishing when we would meet at my mother’s house and we began teaching our own children as well. I still remember my youngest daughter’s first bluegill that she caught when we lived in Maryland and I remember the excitement on her older sister’s face when she witnessed me catch (what may still be) my biggest bass ever.

The fishing memories that I have prior to having children of my own, however, are simply too many to list. As we grew older, my brother and I also grew apart. His friends were no longer my friends and vice versa. He grew to have a more liberal outlook on the world whereas my own view grew to be a more conservative one. He was able to see gray in nearly any situation where I saw only black and white.

Now, our own children are grown and, for the most part, gone or leaving. My kids, like his, are busy making their own marks in the world and have little time to go fishing with us, just as we had little time for our own parents at their age. In spite of the more than half a century that my brother and I have been on this earth, he still sees things in gray and I still see much of it in black and white (though now that I’m retired I am trying to be a little more open-minded). However, we still fish.

I’ve come to realize that you never know what is going to become important in your life. When you are young, nothing seems important and then when you have your own family, everything seems important. On the back side of that though, when you begin taking stock of your life and reflecting back on all of your memories you realize that the really important things in your life were the ones you took for granted. You didn’t take them for granted because you didn’t care, you simply took them for granted because they were always there.

Fishing was one of those important things for me, that looking back, held everything together. It held my brother and me together through countless disagreements that seemed important at the time but I can’t recall what any of them were about now. It held my own family together as my children grew and I spent time with them outdoors as opposed to sitting in front of a game console. To a large degree, it even kept us close to both sides of our families through the long and painful divorce of our parents.

Even now, when I pick up my rod and walk to the water’s edge or start my boat engine, I feel the same renewed hope that it will be a good day. After all, that’s what fishing really is. It’s an endless supply of renewed hope. Every day with a fishing pole presents a clean scorecard and the chance to do well, even if the last trip ended in getting skunked. There is also an equality to fishing that cannot be found in any other activity. When you are fishing, everyone is equal in opportunity and potential.

I often wonder if our ancestors, who no doubt fished for their subsistence, felt the same way. Did they feel that same hope and optimism each morning as they set about casting their lines or nets? I suspect that they did but somehow it seems even more important in the modern world since now we fish because we want to, not because we have to. So we fish and we grow older and our children grow and they have children and without even knowing it, we glue ourselves to each other with each trip. We don’t do it with money or with possessions, we do it by fishing because it is in fishing that we are free to hope again and to start our day and our relationships with a clean slate.