Your fishing experiences are chiseled in your memory’s bedrock.
A bold statement to be sure. But if you have doubt as to the veracity of the axiom, ask another family member about their fishing trip at the lake or down here, in the salt, last year.
They will remember every twist and turn of the event ,and, probably, every species of fish they caught and in which order.
Try that against asking a recall at what happened at Aunt Mildred’s birthday party or even the homily at last week’s church service.
Not even close!
Step back from that truism for a moment and consider the universal addiction to the sport of fishing and the ability to compete at any age.
A five year old has the capability of outfishing Aunt Mildred or dear ole Dad on any trip — try that possibility on a round of golf or a game in bowling and you’ll begin to see the point.
Fishing is the universal sport that shows no differentiation as to age, skill or persuasion.
Now look at fishing as the ultimate family experience. A mother or father with teenagers, who have excluded parents from their young lives on most everything else, will be first in the car on the way to the weekend family fishing trip.
A youngster with affinity to the world of “YouTube” and “My Space” will shut down access to the internet in favor of spending that day with you with rod and reel in hand.
That all sounds so trivial until you put the fishing events, remembrances and their significances together when it really counts.
The little story today makes that really happen.
The Saxton’s first fished with me in the early 90s. A young family that loved their togetherness. They had a family condo here and would enjoy the school holidays during the winter equally as well as those melting hot summer days during the mid year recess.
There was Jim and Marilyn and their three “live wires”, Jimmy, Scott and daughter Tiffany. From the moment you met them, you felt the electricity of their affection for one another and their shared activities.
Their fishing trips over the years were always an event! I can’t remember anything totally ordinary about any one of them. There was the day that the big redfish, on one of the kid’s lines, wrapped line around both the prop and the anchor line (try to get out of that one) or the time that Jim hooked a passing boat and couldn’t hang onto the rod.
We would always finish our trips measuring the events rather that fish in the box — the former was always more important than the latter.
We fished a least two or three trips a year for years as time rolled on and we watched the kids move into their teen years and beyond, making Jim and Marilyn early empty nesters.
And then, suddenly, it all shut down. I didn’t hear from them for two or three years.
In this business, you expect that time and lives move on, properties are sold, things change. So be it!
Bu then the phone rang late one winter evening this past season and it was Marilyn Saxton. She didn’t sound a whole lot different when she asked to book a trip for “her gang” a week or two following. We booked a date and I certainly looked forward to seeing them again.
The morning of the trip felt like old times as the kids and Marilyn poured aboard and we exchanged pleasantries. I held the boat to the dock and innocently asked Marilyn “Where’s Jim parking the car?”
Silence. Marilyn, in a stifled tone spoke “ I didn’t know how to tell you on the phone, but Jim passed away suddenly last summer — it was his heart.”
Silence again. It was one of those moments when you feel like someone just hit you in the gut and then you collect yourself — “Marilyn and kids... I didn’t know ... I’m so sorry.”
Before I had a chance to say another word, Jimmy, the oldest boy spoke up “We all wanted to come back here. The fishing trips we had with Dad, we all agreed, were one of our fondest memories we had with him. We know here’s here with us today. Let’s go fishing!”
It was tough getting started that morning — more for me that the Saxton’s. Putting a bait on the hook and chasing some sheepshead was rather mundane considering the circumstances.
But all that became secondary as the morning became a fond remembrance of Jim. They recalled event after event, not of trophy fish caught but of things that happened that became binding events.
There was the time Jim worked for close to an hour to land a big grouper on light tackle and was so proud he could hardly stand it, leading to his desire for another picture of him holding the fish at the dock. As he lifted the fish for the shot, it slipped out of his grasp and slid beneath the water, never to be seen again.
He was inconsolable and the kids were doubled over in laughter.
And then the kids recalled that Jim was not a skilled caster, although he thought of himself as one of the best. They all roared recounting the day he hooked Marilyn’s swim suit with one of his super casts in an unmentionable place. The two of them spent twenty minutes under towels in the front of the boat doing the extraction.
So the trip became a celebration for a father that had shared his human side with a family that loved him dearly.
With the rod in hand there can be no pretense of superiority — you are totally exposed and in the admiration of those with you that are in the same boat.
If there was ever a better lesson as to what family and family fishing is all about ... I don’t know it.
Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to email@example.com