August 17, 2011
The 6 foot seas crashed over the stern, the captain yelled instructions, and the big diesels smoked as we backed down. The blue marlin jumped repeatedly before being wired and tagged. I could not believe it, I had actually achieved a life long dream. As I engaged in my epic battle, the absolute thrill of a lifetime, my mind returned to my dad, a Mulberry tree, and a bunch of bluegill.
When I posted the blue marlin picture on my home page yesterday it left me feeling melancholy. How had I arrived here? What lead me to this passion that has consumed my life since I was old enough to ride my bicycle to the local river to battle the cagey carp and the mighty bullhead?
My father worked hard. He and my mother raised 5 kids by giving it their all. No matter how hard my father worked he always made time to take me fishing. It was not the glamorous trips to Florida, we did not have a boat, and the best equipment we had was a Zebco. But he took me when he could. That first memory of those bluegills coming one after the other under that tree is one I cherish. The feeling of the bite and the struggling fish was the most exciting thing this little boy could ever imagine. That memory lingers with me today as real as that jumping marlin.
As I became obsessed with fishing he and mom would take me to the river and local ponds and drop me off, often to meet my friend Tim Stoner. His mom would pick us up, or we would walk the couple of miles home. We waded Iowa streams for smallmouth, fished the hospital pond for bass, and stayed up all night fishing the Skunk River for anything we could catch. I pedaled that bicycle miles and miles, and hitched a ride to the water by hook or by crook.
I fished with Clyde Burchard, Tom Ryan, my brother Jeff and a host of others growing up. If it had fins we chased it. If there was water we tried it. Nothing was more exciting than a new rod and reel, a Mepps spinner, and catfish bait that would burn your eyes putting it on the hook.
When I was 21 years old I loaded my AMC Gremlin with my tent, $125 to my name, and moved to Arkansas to become a fishing guide. Dick Lane, Mack McGinnus, Tad Shaw and all the others helped me and taught me how to fish. They took me under their wing, taught me, and helped me grow in my love of fishing. They are gone now but their kindness will always be remembered. And John Bauer, he let me work at the dock, live in a little house overlooking the lake, and guide when I had someone to take.
And there is another very special group who put aside their lives to let me live mine. My wife and daughter, family and friends, have all paid a price for my passion. When I was not working, I fished. They sacrificed their time for me. They never complained. I am the luckiest guy on earth.
The thrill of the bite, and the anticipation of what might be struggling on the end of the line, never leaves me. Now I have lots of great equipment, 2 boats, and the time and money to continue the adventure. I have fished lots of great places and caught lots of cool fish. It is all good. But I always remember that Mulberry tree.
Tim is gone now and so are many of others. I have not forgotten them, those whose names I remember, and those whose names I have long forgotten. Thanks Mom and Dad, Max, Tad, Clyde and all the others.