Fitting Thanks

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Published on: Feb. 2, 2010

Returning the Favor

fish in his fish basket and gets back to fishing.

Ray and his wife and mom and dad are heading out to my parents’ cabin tomorrow. Mom has plans for a fish fry and has given orders to bring home fish. This pond is overstocked with bass, and the landowner wants every one under 12 inches taken out.

I start casting to deeper water. I get a strike that peels off drag, seemingly without effort.

“I’ve got a heavy fish on!” I yell.

The fish pulls drag for 30 feet, then pulls free. I check the drag. It’s set way too light. After Dad and Ray arrived, I forgot to finish checking my tackle. Oh, well.

“Hey, it’s the meat man!” Ray pipes up again as he pulls in another bass. He’s having fun.

I finally connect on a 10-inch bass. Shortly after that, Dad does the same. Ray sticks to his spot.

As a kid, fishing with Dad and Ray, I well remember Dad telling me that if I wanted to learn how to fish, I should watch Ray. “You won’t find a better fisherman than Ray Miller,” he’d say.

And I watched Ray fish. What impressed me was his patience. If he thought fish were using an area, he stuck with them.

Time has not diminished Ray’s patience, and he is doing what I’ve watched him do for years: catch fish. In 30 minutes Ray has five bass in his fish basket. I catch an 8-inch bluegill, and Dad catches another small bass. Then the fish turn off.

“You guys want to try the small pond behind the Methodist church?” I ask.

Both Ray and Dad give my suggestion the nod.

Ray sits in the extended part of my truck this time for the short ride.

At the church, I drive up to the fence that surrounds the field and pond. The fence is woven wire—not good for a couple old guys to climb. I park at the gate, which is wired shut, unwire it, let Dad and Ray in, then wire the gate back shut. The pond is only a half-acre, and cattle have it muddy, but the pond holds big black crappie. We fish hard for 30 minutes with only a 5-inch bass brought to hand. We have nine fish in the cooler but need more for the fish fry.

I check my watch—not quite 11 a.m.

“You guys want to head back to my house? We could clean these fish, grab a bite of lunch, then see if we feel like heading to another pond.”

“Sounds good to us.”

No Better Reward

Back at the house I warm the chowder and pour tea for the guys. We sit and chat on the patio while I clean fish.

“Some guiding service you run,” Ray tells me.

“I learned from the best.”

With the fish cleaned, I head inside and wash my hands. As I ladle up three bowls of chowder, I think about Ray’s compliment. Ray knows I’ve put some effort into this day and wants me to know he appreciates it. That’s the kind of guy he is, just like Dad—thoughtful. It’s an example they always set for me as a kid. It’s also part of why I so enjoy their company.

Out on the patio, in the warm October sun, we enjoy the chowder. For dessert I plate up pumpkin pie I made the evening before.

“Mark,” Ray tells me, “even if we don’t catch another fish, I’m ready to book another trip.”

Dad raises his hand and says, “Count me in!”

After pie, we give one more farm pond a try. Fishing action remains modest. For 30 minutes of fishing, Ray catches a 12-inch crappie, I catch a 16-inch bass and Dad comes up empty. Dad decides to make a lure change but has trouble threading line to lure.

“Need a hand, Pop?”

“What I need is a pair of younger eyes.”

I walk over and thread the line on for Dad. On his first cast, Dad gets a strike and reels in a largemouth that weighs about a pound.

“Fellas,” Dad announces as he unhooks his bass. “We’ve got all the fish we need. If you’re ready, let’s head on back.”

At home I clean the fish, and we enjoy a drink to toast the day.

As Dad and Ray load up to head home, I think again of my first fishing trips with these guys. Me, just a kid of 6 years, learning to fish and skip rocks, while Dad and Ray, young men in their late 20s, provided the setting. I think of all the fish we have caught and the times we have enjoyed together over the years—and the fun we still have. And I can think of nothing better or more right.

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