Every time I drive through Bear Brook State Park and see people fishing, I think of my dad, who practically was addicted to the sport.
I know my dad would have loved to have spawned (pun intended) a son who was as passionate about fishing as he was, but unfortunately, he got stuck with me. I, however, was determined to prove to him that girls could catch fish just as well as boys could, so I often accompanied my father on his fishing trips. But even though I spent countless hours giving fishing my best shot, I never really got the hang of it.
Aside from all of the three-inch “kibbies” I, along with my trusty bamboo fishing pole, used to hook at Lake Massabesic every summer, my biggest catch usually was a tree branch...and that was on a good day. On bad days, I hooked everything from the crotch of my father’s pants to my ponytail.
Learning the art of fly-fishing was even worse. I still believe I was the direct cause of the death of many of the trees surrounding New Hampshire’s lakes and ponds – trees that slowly and painfully strangled to death because they were so badly tangled in the thousands of feet of fishing line I wasted trying to learn how to cast a line.
My dad introduced me to all types of fishing. When he first mentioned troll fishing, I was all excited to go – until I realized we weren’t actually going to be fishing for trolls. Troll fishing involved slowly riding around in a boat while dragging my fishing line in the water behind me, hoping I’d accidentally snag some big fish that liked to chase boats.
I think I enjoyed troll fishing the most because it didn’t involve any particular skill…or trees. Most of the time I just sat in the boat and stuffed myself with food from the picnic basket until I felt like throwing up. Then I’d whine that I had to go to the bathroom until Dad, muttering under his breath, finally surrendered and took me back to shore.
My mother also claimed to love fishing, although I still suspect she said it solely to make my father happy. She was a pretty impressive fisherman, though, usually catching more and bigger fish than my dad did. The only problem was Mom had a worm phobia. Dangle a worm in front of her and she could outrun the Amtrak Express.
As a result of this phobia, Mom always made my dad bait her hook for her. One day, however, he refused, telling her he wanted her to be brave and try to do it herself.
I have to give my mom credit. She really made an effort to bait her own hook…and without actually laying a finger on an earthworm. I’ll never forget how my father and I hid behind a tree and giggled as we watched her. Mom found a flat rock, then jiggled the can of worms until one fell out. As the worm wiggled across the rock, Mom chased after it with her fishing hook, trying to stab it. She kept missing it and stabbing the rock, however, until the hook was completely bent out of shape and the worm vanished into the underbrush. That was the day Mom decided to permanently switch to fly-fishing.
The two types of fishing I disliked the most were ice fishing and smelt fishing. One of the stipulations of ice fishing was I had to wear a minimum of 40 layers of clothing so I wouldn’t risk getting frostbite. Then my dad and I would spend the next six hours sitting in sub-zero temperatures, staring at a hole in the ice and waiting for a red flag to pop up on the tackle...which would indicate we had some poor, half-frozen fish on the line. The only part I enjoyed was the thermos of hot cocoa Dad always brought to help keep my blood from solidifying.
And smelt fishing was downright scary. For some reason, it had to be done in the dead of night with the use of lanterns, nets and buckets. Smelt(s) are teeny little fish that swim in schools – night school, I guess – and you eat them bones and all, because if you took the time to individually clean enough of them to make a meal, you would starve to death.
As if sitting on some rickety old dock in the middle of the night, surrounded by water as black as ink and mosquitoes the size of pigeons didn’t scare me enough, I also kept expecting the Creature from the Black Lagoon to pop out from under the dock and grab me. I usually ended up clinging so tightly to my father, he barely was able to fish.
I’ll never forget when my husband and I were newlyweds and he asked me how he could make a good impression on my father.
“Go fishing with him,” I said.
“But I hate fishing!” he groaned. “It’s so boring, I’m afraid I might lapse into a coma!”
Nevertheless, one Sunday that summer, my husband, eager to earn a few brownie points, finally gave in and climbed into my dad’s new boat and ventured out with him onto one of the Connecticut Lakes in Pittsburg, NH. My mom and I remained onshore in the cabin she and Dad had rented, and waited for our mighty fishermen to return.
Three hours later, in walked Dad, carrying a string of plump trout.
“Where’s your fishing partner?” I asked him, craning my neck to look for my husband.
“He’s still sound asleep in the boat,” he said. “I decided I’d better head back when his snoring started scaring the fish away.”
Funny, but he never invited my husband to go fishing again.
Poor Dad. I’m sure he’d been hoping I’d marry a guy who would become his avid fishing buddy, but instead, I married one whose idea of fishing was opening a can that had a picture of Charlie the Tuna on the label.
But now that I think back to my days of fishing when I was a kid – the sun glistening on the calm waters of a beautiful New Hampshire lake, the ducks and loons swimming near the shoreline, the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches that always tasted so much better when eaten out in a rowboat, and most of all, the look of sheer joy on my father’s face when he reeled in a plump rainbow trout – I have to admit…they really were pretty special days after all.
It’s that time of year again! Back in August of 1994, “My Life” was born. To celebrate the anniversary of this column, I’m holding a prize giveaway in honor of my readers. The top prize will be a $50 gift card good at any Applebee’s restaurant. There also will be several runner-up prizes. To enter, simply send your name, address and phone number to: Sally’s Anniversary Contest, PO Box 585, Suncook, NH 03275-0585. You also can enter online (please use the subject heading, “Sally’s Anniversary Contest”) at email@example.com. Enter as often as you’d like to increase your chances of winning. All entries must be received by September 15, 2015.