The father and son fishing trip is perhaps one of the classic moments of fatherdom. The Roon and I were fortunate enough to b invited to one by my friend and political antithesis, Dave Haynes, Republican Committee Chairman, CPD Sergeant, and talk radio superstar. Dave's family rents all the cabins at Sunset Bluff Resort every May and has a fishing weekend.
Fishing is more than a sport, fishing is a kind of religion. Its rituals are ancient and the man who pays them due regard is participating in an ancient and honorable ceremony of petitioning the earth for sustenance. Should he pronounce the sacred words correctly, should he furnish himself with the proper instruments of his office, should he perform the illustrious dance with the proper form then he will be rewarded and the earth shall give up her bounty, the robust and filling, mysterious small-mouth bass; and the man shall hold it against the palm of his hand and appeal to the gods of the water in the time honored fashion and with the following proper oration: Jesus Snot Barking Christ in a Hat Basket, I didn't drive five hours and pay $900.00 to catch more bait! And then ceremoniously throw his Shakespeare rod and reel into the weed choked briny depths of Lake Hamlin, Michigan.
Fun on a father-and-son fish camp vacation is hampered by several obstacles, not the least of which is the bizarre and unexpected skill possessed by one's son in knotting his fishing line, mid cast, in the wind, into a perfect model of an Amazonian jungle spider's massive web, large enough to catch a man (which we proved). How Roon managed this on nearly every cast is completely outside the scope of science. But, like in a cartoon, I'd set up his hook, his bait, the bobber, turn around a gently place my Rapala with the grace and precision of a man comfortable with his place in the world, turn back to the kid to find him entrapped in a monofilament cocoon.
There s an etiquette and a collection of best practices associated with fishing that can easily be translated for the man who, like me, hasn’t fished in a long time and who, like me, is about to embark on a weekend excursion among a group of uncles and brothers and sons and nephews who’ve been fishing this lake since Sinatra was on the radio and the first lesson is this: watch where they fish.
One of the draws of Sunset Bluff is that the cabin cost includes a boat, a nice open topped Boston Whaler aluminum john boat with a 9 horsepower outboard motor hanging off the back. We woke the first morning, fled our cabin to the dock where ten or twelve guys are all standing on the docks and the banks fishing worms. There were a couple of guys in their boats but they weren’t going anywhere. Their boats were still tied up, fishing off the back of their boat three of four inches from the pier. Me and Roon jump in our boat and take off across the lake.
Aaah, the open water! Spray in our face, wind at our backs, lures lodged firmy and irretrievably in the carpet of weeds that lie thick and mocking in every direction on Lake Hamlin just three inches below the surface of the water, the ping of your son’s lure catching on the keel of the johnboat, where it will dangle like an inverse trophy hood ornament, a badge of your lack of paternal instruction, throughout the trip.
About six minutes into the weekend, Roon and every other 11 year old child, threw their arms into the air from sheer exhaustion. They were bored and they needed guns so while we were getting our fishing licenses at Wal Mart, I talked Dave into letting the kids get air soft guns.
When I was a kid, I remember the Titanic task of begging my mom to let me have a BB gun. My mom would say “You could put an eye out with those things,” and I’d shrug, staring of at the rack of high powered pellet guns, shiny black and lethal as hell, and say “Yeah--barely.”
And air soft is a wimpy version of a BBgun, molded out of high impact plastic to look exactly like an AK 47 or a Glock, the pistol most favored by drug dealers and Gary Busey. The producers finally started making them out of clear plastic so the neighborhood watch people would stop calling in their kids as gangbangers. They fire little plastic pellets that can hardly hurt you and probably would merely give you permanent diminished sight, not total blindness, not like a BB gun.
Not sixteen seconds after opening the passage, homeboy had already had his gun confiscated for pointing it at one of the grown men in the cabin—all cops—who wholeheartedly disapproved of the toys, especially their propensity for filling the damn things by, apparently, tossing all 15,000 bright green plastic BBs into the air, hoping a few might make it into the ammo slot. By 11:30 one of them had shot the other in the leg and both guns were on top of the fridge and they were sulking around the property. Bored.
But some rights of passage are vital and must be endured. Most vital, on a father and son fishing trip, is the entirely unnecessary profitless run. This is a trip by boat at a time when even comatose fishermen know that no fish in their right mind would get off their warm lake-bottom bed to eat a lifeless worm dangling from a rig transmitting our every word like a loudspeaker into the black water beneath the boat.
It is vital that this trip be undertaken under threat of rain, when it is far too cold to even creep slowly past an open kiln, much less fly across the open water of a deep water lake in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan. (Not many people know that Lake Hamlin, in Mikasoukee, means “dress in layers”).
But we did that right of passage. Four of us, Dave, Connor, Nate, and myself, in a tiny rowboat with an 8-horsepower engine (and by horse we mean dead horse and by dead horse we mean a three legged, diseased, malnourished ancient asthmatic dead horse) cutting a deep wake across the very center of the lake. Boats flew past us, barely touching the water, their keels just slicing through the very tips of the whitecaps, their Ray Bans following us in silence as they skimmed by, the look on their face the same look you give to someone limping to a four way stop in a purple 1973 Gremlin.
We got to the furthest edge of the lake, dropped anchor, and began fervently casting in all directions, the water cool and perfectly clear, calm as glass in the little cutaway glade we found, the bottom riddled with shallow pans of fish beds. We were silent, studious, our lures and bait in the water for all of, I don’t know, three maybe four seconds before Roon start reeling furiously.
“They’re not biting, let’s move.”
After getting his lure snagged on the anchor rope, and after getting mine snagged under the boat and onto Nate’s line and after a beaver swam up to stare at us with that same Ray Ban glaze the pros were using out on the open water, that there but for the grace of God go I stare FROM A BEAVER Dave and I chucked it all and raced (I’m exaggerating) across the lake to a waterside restaurant and order fish baskets and beer. We’re all puttering along toward the docks under a gray sky and the waves are low mounds, the reflection of the clouds like silver jewelry on the surface of the water and just as I’m thinking that, Roon notices it too and he says “Dude, this lake has excellent graphics!”
Later, after docking the boat, we saw that nearly everyone who had elected to stay at the docks had caught enough fish to feed Bolivia. We all took positions on the ends of the docks and dropped our bait in the water. I watched as mine drifted all the way back from the middle of the slough to just in front of me, a shaft of setting sunlight gilding the worm just a few feet below the surface and by some miracle, two fish, a bass and a northern, spun their slow motion front fins and idled up to my bait and I swear to you I SWEAR they looked at the worm, looked at each other, and shrugged.
About that time, Roon got a bite and reeled in a gorgeous 2 pound bass and his inner cave man perked up and said hey, wait, that’s kind of cool, and Roon got bit by the fishing bug and we stayed there until it was so dark he couldn’t see his bobber anymore.
The next morning when the insane bird that kept flying into my window every morning had finally committed birdicide and I finally crawled out from under the blankets, Roon was gone. I found him down on the bank with his rod, my rod, and someone else’s rod, working all three, eyes on the bobbers like a bird of prey. He caught a couple of bluegill and we took the boat our one last time for the hell of it. Roon road silently in the boat for like ten whole minutes before he finally spoke and I braced myself for the inevitable, for him to say I’m bored, or this is better on x-box, or fishing is gay, but instead he just says “This was pretty cool, dad.”
Please save me: my children are trying to kill me.
Christopher Garlington is currently weaning himself from his obsession with do-rags in order to appear more like a grown-up in the presence of his children. As soon as he opens his mouth or tells a story you know, pretty much, everything’s going to end up as a fart joke or a story about puke. His Christmas tree is currently in the running for longest standing post-holiday decoration in the posh, Northside Chicago neighborhood where he lives with his wife and two kids. Mr. Garlington was born in Birmingham, AL and raised briefly in the hills of Shelby County and then for a seemingly unendurable enternity among the lakes and groves of Lake County, FL. He considers himself a southern writer. He has one tattoo. He has no college education. He makes perfect gumbo.