By Scott Cameron
No matter how sentimental one might be, we were plain and simply embarrassed. We were the only kids by the small lake in southern Minnesota who had to use bamboo poles to catch sunfish (or "sunnies" as we called them). We felt like we were reliving some sort of rejected chapter of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Despite our success, Mark Twain would never have been so cruel to his protagonists.
Then again, we caught so many sunfish with our bamboo poles that people started to ask us for advice even though they could see exactly how we were using our now slightly notorious bamboo poles.
The Elusive Sunfish
These were fishermen with bobbers, lures and fancy rod and reels to boot. Fish don’t seem to care in the end what you use but somehow these folks were experiencing nothing like our success.
Our tactics were simple beyond words. Each one of us would find whatever we could on the lakeshore that might seem appetizing to a fish. We then put whatever it was on our hooks and slung out our line from our bamboo poles in a broad arch to get as far away from shore as possible.
We watched the bait slowly descend into the water until it reached the maximum distance from the bobbers we had attached about a yard from the hook. Usually, the bait would be a worm or a cricket we had fortuitously discovered. All that was required afterward was to simply let the line tighten and voila, we pulled them in – fish after fish.
Our record in one day was: Sunnies 0 vs. Camerons 200. Alright, maybe that isn’t really fair given the Sunnies had no way to actually score any points. But, hey, they can come up with their own scorekeeping system and write their own history-type articles of such events if it is truly important to them.
So where does Grandpa fit into all this? Well, the answer is simple. He liked to fish but he also liked to watch us fish even more when he wasn’t sleeping. This created a slight modicum of conflict given that to us kids our Grandpa was near to a God, at least in the manner that we were raised.
As young boys, we followed religiously the habits of our Grandpa, believing that he had a special insight into the whole fishing process. This meant that as your Grandpa’s eyes started to close, with the sun softly setting, well, we knew there must be some sort of trick to it all. So when he started to close his eyes, we dutifully closed our eyes in reverent respect, waiting for sleep to eventually come or, more importantly, for a sunny to nail our bait.
You should never put a person, even your Grandpa, on a pedestal – it is simply too easy to knock them down again. I guess that is where this story ends up. Witnessing two simultaneous events (sleeping and fishing) left me feeling both confused and somewhat empowered. Grandpa had clearly fallen asleep on the shore evidenced by the loud snoring that is ripe in my family.
But then my Grandpa’s bobber went crazy – a fish was no doubt on his hook and he was not conscious enough to record the event. The bobber circled round and round as the fish fought. I was too embarrassed to wake him to tell him he was missing a good fish. At the same time as the line went silent, he awoke from his afternoon nap.
When he awoke he immediately looked first towards the lazy sky and then towards me. When he was more or less fully awake, I said "Grandpa - I think you just missed a good fish".
"How do you know?" he replied almost whimsically.
"Well, I kind of sort of saw the bobber going round and round and under a few times," I replied.
"Couldn’t be", he responded and then looked back into the warm afternoon sky. "I’ve been monitoring that bobber since we first set our lines in this morning." There are times to test authority and times you shouldn’t even consider it. If you knew my Grandpa, well, you would not even consider taking the discussion one step further.
I decided to just go back onto the lakeshore and see if I couldn’t find some more bait for my brothers and me to use. I lifted every rock I could and clawed the earth to try to find the worms and crickets that the sunnies would surely die for. Then again, this left me in a position where it was hard to monitor my own bamboo pole.
Eventually I realised my lack of diligence and ran to the lakeshore only to find my Grandpa smiling at me with a somewhat self-satisfied look on his face. The line and bobber attached to my rod were motionless. "Well", I said, "At least I didn’t miss any action".
"Oh yes you did", my Grandpa replied.
"How do you know, Grandpa?" I said.
"Well, to start with," Grandpa said, "I kind of sort of saw the bobber going round and round and under a few times." He then looked back at the fading afternoon sky with a little smile on his face and gently closed his eyes again.
At that point, we both knew we were even on the day without saying another word. How wonderful it is that we can now keep the same score for the rest of eternity. With all the years that have passed, I reckon that grandpas are probably undervalued as a factor in developing a child’s character. Grandpas probably also have the potential to influence the fishing prowess or deficiencies of their grandchildren – I know my Grandpa did.
© Scott Cameron