Fishing with Matthew
Matthew always forewarns me that there must be snacks, so I pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese and crackers, soda pop, potato chips, candy bars and fresh fruit in the cooler.
I check to see if there is sufficient gas in the tank for the outboard motor, life jackets for us both, adequate rods and reels and other tackle, and that the boat, boat trailer and vehicle are in order. I also must go into the backyard and dig some worms, if any can be found.
With these things ready at the designated time, I head for his house. We usually go fishing after he comes home from school. Today, I have arrived early so we will have all the fishing time possible.
Matthew's school bus arrives and I see him step down on the pavement carrying his backpack. He is 11 years old. Too soon he will be grown and will have to make that timely decision about what he is going to do with his life. I hope he will reach for a star and have a life filled with challenge and excitement. One of my worst fears is that he will settle for a dull, uninspiring existence.
I brush this uneasy feeling aside and watch Matthew walk down the street, dressed in loose-fitting, baggy jeans and shirt. As soon as he comes within speaking distance, he greets me. "Hi Grandpa," addressing me with a title that rates far above names reserved for dignitaries, such as President, General or Your Honor.
We exchange small talk, and I encourage him to move inside and change his clothes so we can be on our way. In his room, Matthew eagerly shows me his prized possessions, both old and new. I inspect these things as he chats about his experiences of the day. As we lock the outside door and proceed to the car, Matthew asks, "Grandpa, did you remember the snacks?"
We have some driving time before we make our first stop to purchase minnows. It is usually at quiet times like these that Matthew begins asking questions and sharing the high and low points in his life. I try to be alert and prudent with my answers.
Our stop at the bait shop is always a thrill. To the novice, its smell might seem nauseating, but to an angler, it is pleasing.
As I purchase a few dozen small minnows, Matthew explores all the merchandise and sees the other sizes of shiner minnows, as well as goldfish and crawdads in the shop's other wells.
Matthew carefully carries the minnow bucket to the car. Occasionally, he must open the lid and watch the lively and fast moving aquatic creatures in the bucket. I caution him to watch for spills, and he carefully places the bucket between his feet on the floorboards of the car.
Our destination is now the boat ramp. As we turn the corner off of the main road, an arm of the lake appears. The winding road we follow borders the serene lake on our left.
At the docking area, we are faced with the problem of getting the boat into the water. It may seem a trying experience for an old man and a boy, but I have years of experience on my side. I have performed this task alone many times before.
Matthew stands aside as I back the boat and trailer into the water. With my life jacket now on, I unhook the front of the boat and walk it further into the water. When it comes clear of the trailer, I jump into the boat, move to the rear and hastily start the motor.
With the sweet hum of the smooth-running engine in my ears and the enchanting smell of lake in my nose, I cheerfully motor back to the dock.
I let my grandson pilot the boat. Even with plenty of instructions, giving this responsibility to an immature lad concerns me. But I am more concerned that my grandson may grow up feeling unimportant and lack self-confidence. But the expression on his face as he moves the tiller is worth my worry. "I'm at the helm," it clearly says.
My ancient but trusty motor moves the old boat smoothly over the water to our favorite fishing hole. A concrete standpipe extends out of the lake where the water is deep. Dead trees, stumps and other obstructions serve as excellent habitat for largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, walleye, catfish and striped bass.
Today, Matthew and I are lucky. The fish are biting and we soon have some nice crappie in our basket. Just as we are about to take a break and have our snack, Matthew suddenly has a good, solid bite that bends his rod almost double. He says "Grandpa, I've got something big," and begins the life and death struggle with the monster.
I have never seen such an intent expression on his face. The drag on the reel hums as he furiously winds to bring the fish to the surface. His rod is more in the water than out.
After he struggles for several minutes, I reach far out to net a large striper. Matthew's eyes are wide and he has a grin from ear to ear. Excited and exhausted - but not quite speechless - he manages to utter, "Grandpa, it's a whopper!" He holds up the trophy and examines it for some time before placing it in the basket. His fish makes all of the others appear small.
We continue to fish for a while, but time is always too short when you're fishing - especially if they're biting. We must stay true to the appointed hours given to us by my daughter and be home on time. We put the boat in order and pull our basket of fish from the water.
Matthew inspects our catch as he has done several times previously. We then untie the boat from the tree limb, and my helmsman pilots us back to the dock. We reverse our docking procedure, get the boat back on the trailer and are soon on our way home.
Some people spend a lot of money traveling great distances to reach faraway streams, lakes and oceans in order to find fish and have a great experience. My grandson and I travel a short distance to a Missouri lake with an outdated boat and motor and two dozen small crappie minnows and have a heavenly experience.
Once at his home, we both go inside to tell fish tales. I must make my stay brief, as the boat needs to be put to bed and the fish need to be cleaned. Even so, I would not miss his version of the day for the world.