Some people think I am crazy about fishing, but that’s not the case. I enjoy fishing, but I mostly enjoy being outdoors. My father, however, is crazy about fishing. Most of what he taught me about life came through the lens of this sport.
We moved near the coast when I was nine years old. My parents had always wanted to live near the ocean and when my father got an opportunity to transfer to the area, he jumped at it. We kids weren’t so sure, leaving friends behind and all, but it turned out to be a pretty good place to grow up.
My father quickly learned the art of fishing for flounder and taught my brother and me. We spent hours on rising tide, fishing for flounder at Masonboro Inlet. Although such fishing isn’t as graceful as using a fly rod, it requires at least as much skill. Dad showed us how to tie our own rigging, using an 18 inch piece of light wire with a triple hook on one end and a one ounce torpedo sinker on the other. The rigging was attached to the line of a lightweight spinning rod. A live minnow, which we generally caught with throw nets (another acquired skill I never completely mastered), was hooked through the lips. Walking in knee deep water armed with a spinning rod we’d cast the line out into the depths, searching for holes where a flounder might hang out. The line was slowly retrieved, the weight keeping the minnow near the bottom where flounders hid. We careful felt for tell-tell bumps on our lines, indicating a flounder taking the bait. When that happened, we’d loosen the drag and give the flounder about a minute to take the minnow into its mouth, then yank the line in order to set the hook. If we prematurely yanked the line, we’d pull the minnow out of the mouth of the flounder. From such fishing, we learned patience. Hurrying only caused you to miss fish.
A year after we moved to the area, Dad brought a 14 foot Jon- boat with a six horsepower Evinrude outboard motor. For years, that was the only boat he had and was perfect for navigating the creeks running behind Masonboro Island, a nine mile long barren strip of beach that stretched from Masonboro Inlet to Carolina Beach Inlet. Soon we were fishing the barren beaches for founder on rising tide and for Bluefish during the fall run. The island became a second home. Since the creeks only have water in them on high tide, a fishing trip more than an hour or two long committed you for most of the day. Often, we’d make a two day trip, camping overnight. In the fall, at low tide, we’d collected oysters and in the evening roast them over coals. Breakfast often consisted of roasted bluefish.
On one of our overnight fishing expeditions, my dad hooked a huge fish on a heavy surf rod. For nearly an hour he fought the fish. He’d get the fish almost up into the surf only to have it run back out into the ocean. During this time he moved up and down the surf, till he finally wore the fish out enough to safely beach him a quarter mile from where he started. It was the largest Red Drum I’d seen. The tide had already dropped and there was no way we could get the fish back to the mainland till the next morning. My dad knew the fish might be close to a record, but since he could get it to a weight station, and since our cooler wasn’t large enough to hold it, he gutted the fish, stuff ice in its hollowed cavity, and buried it in the sand. The next morning, we dug the fish up and headed to a marina where they had a weight station. Even after being gutted and drying out overnight, the fish still weighed 47 pounds, just a couple pounds shy of the season’s record. My father stoically accepted fate. If he had been able to get the fish to the marina the day before, he’d probably set the record. However, if it bothered him, he never let on to it. Another lesson taught by action, you don’t complain about things you have no control over. This, by the way, included mosquitoes and sand gnats and the weather. There was no need to complain about the obvious.
My father seldom spoke of the beauty of it all, but the times I spent with him on the beach instilled in me an awe of creation. I’ve seen more sunrises and moonrises on the ocean that I can count. I’ve watched many sunsets behind the marsh grass of Myrtle Grove Sound. I taught myself the names of the stars, especially the autumn sky, since fishing was best in the fall. There’s nothing more majestic than watching Orion’s belt rise above the ocean on a moonless night. Enjoying the outdoors was something we gained through osmosis.
For years my father continued to use that old Jon-boat, keeping the motor in tip-top shape. The motor still runs; my nephew uses it today on a boat he built in his high school shop class. Dad waited till he could afford a larger boat, a very utilitarian fishing boat. Then, as he was getting ready to retire, he purchased an even larger boat that allows him to run out to the edge of the Gulf Stream in his search for bigger fish. His patience has paid off.
Patience and don’t sweat the stuff you can’t change were two lessons Dad instilled in me while out on or by the water. Happy Father’s Day, Dad!