Father and sons, Southbury, Connecticut © Steven Willard. 2012
This time of year reminds me of summers I spent in Indiana. I would have been seven or eight years old, and as soon as school let out for the summer dad would take me fishing. He was a minister and took his days off on Mondays and Tuesdays so that was usually when we went.
Dad grew up in Oregon fly fishing for trout but as and avid angler any fish would do, and just about anyplace there were fish would do as well. He was one of those guys who kept a fishing pole in the car “just in case”, and wasn’t above pulling off the road to try a likely looking pond or creek.
My favorite place though was Denver Gibson’s pond. It wasn’t too far from where we lived in Spencer, down a country road to Mr. Gibson’s farm. The pond, what they might refer to as a “stock pond” or “tank” in Texas, was about two acres in size and fed by a spring. There was a section on one side that had been cleared of brush and trees down to the water’s edge, and here there was a picnic table, a hammock, and a home built flat bottomed wooden rowboat tied up to a rickety dock.
The other sections of the shore were covered in reeds, cattails, and brush right down to the water. Trees grew close enough so their branches hung out over the water, and there was an occasional slurping sound as fish took insects that fell out of the trees and into the water.
We usually got to the pond before the sun had cleared the trees and would be out on the water soon after. Now most people in those parts fished with cane poles and worms in those days, the more modern folks using casting rods and reels, but the progressives like my dad used spinning rigs. His usual outfit was a Johnson closed faced spinning reel mounted to a rod he had made himself to which he attached a small silver spoon with a bit of pork rind on the hook. His favorite weapon though, and mine too, was a fly rod with a floating line carrying a “popper”, a large dry fly. Our preferred fly was a large black and white whiskered thing with red eyes. They were called poppers because when you twitched the rod tip it would make a nice “pop” that seemed to either attract the fish or piss them off enough to attack. The fish we most wanted to hook up with were the good sized large mouth bass in the pond, but there were some fair sized blue gill and crappie which were a lot of fun on the fly rod.
We would break for the lunch we had packed; dad would have hot coffee from the thermos and smoke a cigarette, then we would stretch out on the hammock. From the looks of it the hammock had probably been made by someone on the farm. It was fashioned out of baling wire twisted around wooden slats. The whole thing was well worn and didn’t look too strong, but it was big enough for the two of us to nap side by side. After an hour or so dad would go back out alone to do battle while I dozed to the sounds of the breeze in the cattails, grasshoppers buzzing and the steady ga-lunk call of bull frogs. After a while I’d call to him and he would row over to pick me up and we would spend the rest of the day on the water.
Those were some of the best times of my life; not a care in the world and all day to spend with my dad. It didn’t really matter if we caught anything, at least to me, and thinking back I don’t think he really cared that much either. We got to spend time together talking about all sorts of things. We made memories.
I was in the Army in 1970, stationed in Maryland, and Saturday night I called to wish him a happy Father’s Day the next day. It was the last time I ever spoke to him. He died of a heart attack while getting ready for church and the Father’s Day service he didn’t get to give. He was 55.
We never know at the time when we might be having the best days of our lives, or when we might be saying the last thing we’ll ever get say to someone we love. This was one time I got it right, and I’m thankful for that. I’d give a month of Sundays to have a chance to go fishing with my dad again, and I still wouldn’t care if we caught anything.
Pentax K10D, kit zoom.