On The Hook: Building character

BILL WALSH

Kids love fishing. Almost more than anything else save Christmas morning. When fishing, they love having most anything on the other end of the line wiggling and squirming. But it’s more than just that. It’s a sense of their personal achievement in the simple event of hooking and landing a fish. In a world of placations and platitudes too often directed their way, this is their way to deliver the message of personal capability loud and clear.

I have been rewarded a hundredfold watching youngsters grow and develop and although it may sound trite, on-the-water fishing experiences, can be one of the important building blocks of character.

A charter trip this past week with a family that first chartered with me in the late ‘90s put that axiom in perspective.

When I first met Norm and his son Peter, they had just arrived here with their family for a early summer holiday. Although their surroundings back home gave them but few opportunities to wet a line, Peter was a “ hooked” angler. Those few small lakes, is where Peter and Norm would devote long afternoons trying to outsmart bluegills. But this would be Peter’s first stab at the salt. As a supercharged first grader, he was aglow with anticipation.

Peter must have told me 100 times, how much he loved fishing and that was before I got the engine started. Norm acknowledged that Peter’s enthusiasm for fishing far outstripped his strength, coordination and skill level just yet. Before we cast the first bait, Norm patiently showed Peter each operation of the rod and and reel. As we started to fish some spots for snapper, it was obvious that Peter was having problems. His dad and I spent lots of time untangling Peter from just about everything that was vertical on the boat; including himself.

It’s customary I ry and help, even to the point of doing the casting. I was about to do the same for Peter, when dad intervened with an exacting, “Thanks, captain but let him be. Peter has to do it himself.”

On the way home Norm sat on the cooler cushion with Peter trying to pick up his spirits by saying there will be many more trips and learning to fish is one of life’s lessons. He softly related that it takes hard work and practice to get the things you want. He talked about getting over disappointments and failures and keep heading towards success. Peter nodded. He wanted to catch fish real bad.

The family returns in 2005 for a backwater charter with the intervening years spent sampling fishing in the Keys and the Panhandle. Peter is now 11 years old, growing like a weed and, if anything, has strengthened his passion for fishing.

Norm is still right there beside him. But he admits quietly that he’d much rather be gripping a nine iron these days but he savors these trips with Peter ateaching and bonding opportunity with Peter that could well vanish in the nearing teenage years.

Our adventure on that picture perfect May morning was in search of the elusive snook. It didn’t take long to notice the change in Peter. Totally confident in his fishing skill, a dynamo of movement and chatter. He needed zero help this time around.

The snook didn’t have a chance that day.

Norm was there at his side. Encouraging him on lost strikes and making sure there was no let-up on effort and determination.

Last week Norm and Peter book another charter. We plan a trip backwater with pompano and mackerel as our primary target.

Their morning dawns with great conditions and high expectations. As we exchange greetings, I almost don’t recognize Peter; that skinny little first grader is now over six foot tall standing straight as a ramrod but still wearing that silly grin.

We head up to Hurricane Pass and the pompano are there. Peter is into action almost immediately; great strikes drawn to impeccable technique. Norm steps back and let’s Peter go solo.

I mention to Norm, how well Peter has developed and recall that day, long ago, where he wouldn’t let me help Peter with his casting. We both chuckle.

“Peter and I have had a great run,” Norm said quietly. “He just finished high school at the top of his class and I think he has something he wants to tell you.”

Peter’s turn: “Captain, I just got my acceptance to the Naval Academy.”

Enough said.

Capt. Bill Walsh owns a Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to dawnpatrolcharters@compuserve.com.

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