Photo by Brian Baiamonte
Ever since New Year’s day I’ve been trying to engineer a fishing trip for myself without success. Nothing very ambitious; I don’t need to go all Hemingway on a marlin or do battle with monster tarpon to make a fishing trip matter. A couple of days’ escape to a Grand Isle pier or into a kayak would do the trick. But somehow, between a small business, an old house, a couple of over-scheduled middle-schoolers, and an embarrassment of chickens, the tentacles of self-inflicted obligation keep getting in the way, and weekend after weekend goes by without any lines wetted or fish inconvenienced. When you live in South Louisiana this seems an unreasonable state of affairs and something that ought to be a priority to correct.
Because I love fishing. As far back as I can remember most of my fondest childhood memories involve a body of water and a fishing rod, and to this day the arc of a line out over still water, the unseen possibility of silent leviathans lurking below, and the anticipation that any cast might bring the electric jolt of a strike, are experiences I will never tire of. There aren’t always actual fish featured in those childhood memories since, as any fishing purist will confirm, it’s quite possible to be a keen fisherman without being a successful one. As a kid, there was not a body of water on Earth into which I was not prepared to dangle a line; no limit to how long I was willing to sit beside it not catching anything; and no end to the amount I could nag my father to transport me to and fro. This would drive Dad to despair since he was utterly allergic to fishing—an activity that struck him as an incomprehensible waste of time. Since he was fond both of sitting around for hours with his nose in a book and of eating fresh fish, this struck me as so strange, I refused to believe it for years. Being a devoted dad he would sometimes succumb to my pleas and take me fishing before I was old enough to go it alone. Once out there he would sit in the back of the boat or on the end of the pier, fiddling half-heartedly with his reel before abandoning all pretense, and gazing blankly at the horizon. Once, as a ten-year-old, I remember catching him casting his line out without any bait on the hook—insurance, presumably, against being interrupted from the book he’d brought along. Recently during a family reunion, Dad allowed himself to be lured out on a fishing trip by my brother, Tom, and me. Now all grown up and capable of discussing the topic of Dad’s indifference to our favorite pastime without wondering whether we were adopted, we theorized that fishing fanaticism might be a genetically inherited trait, passed down via a recessive gene, explaining how it could skip a generation. “It’s all your great-grandfather’s fault,” announced Dad, eyeing the rod he had abandoned on the pier with distaste. He explained that, while his own father had shown no particular interest in fishing, his grandfather had been another matter entirely. That man, one Charles Smith, had, sometime in his early forties, abandoned a perfectly acceptable career as a dentist to devote every waking hour to the pursuit of rainbow trout. He waded English rivers, tromped the banks of mountain streams, rowed around lakes, and spent any waking hours not actually suitable for fishing, in a shed at the bottom of the garden, tying his own flies. By all accounts he died a happy man.
Strong genes, those. So now that I’m a father, it’s a joy and a relief to know that the ghost of my great-grandfather has well and truly resurfaced in my own son, Charles, whose absolute fanaticism for fishing would do his English ancestor proud. In this sweet spot during the pre-adolescent years of Charles’ life, finding time to escape the daily maelstrom to take my kid (and myself) fishing from time to time, seems pretty high-priority. Whether that counts as nature or nurture, I leave it to others to decide.