My father’s fishing equipment isn’t fancy. Much of it has never been used. There’s still plastic shrink-wrap covering the corked grips on combination rod and reel specials purchased during winter sales.
He loved a spinning reel mounted to a 6 1/2-foot pole. He could hit just about any spot with a Beetle Spin or Red Devil spoon. He routinely landed crank-baits in the open water between limbs in the crook of a fallen branch with a flick of the wrist. He’d say, “That’s where the big one lives.”
His casts seemed effortless. He always outfished me when we pitched lures.
The last time we went fishing, we had two great days of nonstop action. We caught walleye and smallies until we couldn’t help but smile. No matter if we were in the boat or on the shore, we seemed to have the golden touch that weekend. It was hard to quit at the end of the day. But eventually he grew tired.
Then he got sick. We planned several trips after our last great outing, but his health and my schedule were never in sync. Last year, after my wife and I moved to Wyoming, we discussed another trip. My father, known to many as Charlie or Chuck, loved catching trout and stories of my adventures had him licking his chops for a chance to catch cutthroats.
He spent some time in the hospital last year. It didn’t look good. Doctors told us to prepare for the worst and it was suggested he move to hospice care. He refused. He was willing to fight for his life — the chance to witness important family celebrations and possibly a visit to the Cowboy state.
He wanted to get better. I think he truly believed he would.
After my mom died in 2015, it was rare that my father and I talked. I’d call and leave messages. He’d call and leave messages. My mother, Shirley, was the glue that held the family together, despite the hundreds of miles separating us. My father and I talked recently and, as usual, the subject was fishing. He was unwilling to plan a trip until he felt better, but wanted to hear the report. It was a short call. He sounded strong and bragged about losing weight. Fishing was one of the few things we had in common.
My father was a quiet man; I am not. My father found a couple of passions and stuck to them his entire life; I like to mix it up. He liked the Cardinals; I’m a Cubs fan. Most of our recent conversations were strained unless we were talking fish.
When I found his equipment, it was covered with dust and cobwebs in the back of his garage. I couldn’t believe all the new equipment.
To be honest, I was looking for an older bait-caster rig — one that would spark memories of better days on the water. I knew his bamboo fly rod was gone. I broke it as a kid, though he held on to it for years before pitching it.
I don’t think he associated his great catches with the pole he used. Pops was a true fisherman. He knew his tools, practiced and realized talent was in the head. He learned well as a boy and attempted to pass those lessons to me. He taught me to stay positive and to never give up — the next cast would be the one.
Since his death two weeks ago, I’ve felt mostly numb. Last weekend, I took all of the gear out of his tackle boxes and sorted it on the kitchen table. I recognized some of it. He was a big fan of plastic worms. I remember when Mr. Twister lures came out he was enamored.
I held his old Buck pocket knife in my hand. The tip of the main blade was broken off many years ago. I can still see it — or one just like it — in his hand, cutting line to tie on a new lure.
He had three plastic boxes, one I bought him 30-something years ago for his birthday. Every slot was filled. He had enough No. 6 hooks, new in the wrapper, to outfit a Cub Scout troop. My father made an annual trip to the bait shop and, dreaming of the next big fish, stocked up. The purchases afforded him the opportunity to hope for better days.
At that moment, I realized the tackle and poles weren’t my inheritance. His gift was the many fishing lessons I’ll carry with me until my final cast.