My last outing with my grandson Robby produced only a few paltry bluegill and one errant bullhead over a period of about four hours. Robby was definitely off of fishing as a suitable pastime, and was downright sullen when, a few weeks later, I suggested that we try our luck at a chain of little lakes near Sarcoxie. I was a bit unsettled by his outlook, and was about to make some crotchety comment about bad attitudes when I remembered fishing with my Grandpa Wyrick when I was Robby's age.
My Mom's father was truly a woodsy old character, more at home on a creek bank than an easy chair. He was born in 1880 in Waco, Texas, raised along the White River in northern Arkansas, and settled on land in northeast Oklahoma that he purchased from the Ottawa Indian tribe. He could live off the land and had a tremendous respect for and a never-ending curiosity about nature. Grandpa Wyrick never gave me an elaborate invitation to join him on an outing. If he were going fishing, he would gather up his possibles and ask, "Ye goin', young'un?"
I always did go, not necessarily because there weren't other things around his farm to occupy my attention, but more due to the fact that I was afraid that I might miss something. Grandpa's tone always conveyed the impression that my presence would be tolerated, if not totally welcomed. For some reason, this made his fishing trips a real attraction for me.
Fishing with Grandpa Wyrick was not an occasion for levity. He believed that the human voice, even at a conversational volume, would spook the fish. Tramping noisily around the bank or, heaven forbid, tossing a pebble in the water were grounds for discipline.
That old man could sit stock-still in absolute silence for hours at a time, waiting for a fish to bite. Even more incredible to me was that he seemed wholly unperturbed if few or no fish wound up on his bailing twine stringer. I made the mistake of mentioning this to him once, adding for good measure that it didn't make sense to me to keep on fishing for hours on end if nothing was biting. His response was eloquent, if a bit cryptic. The old man fixed me with his pale blue eyes, spat a stream of tobacco juice, and said, "Young'un, ye aught'er think s'more 'bout fishin' and not s'much 'bout catchin'."
Now, nearly 40 years later, I was Grandpa and Robby was the grandson overly concerned with "catchin'." I don't have my Grandpa Wyrick's manner and had no tobacco to spit, but couldn't resist the chance.
"Tell you what, Rob," I said to my reluctant young friend, "if you'll come fishing with me today, I'll show you something that my Grandpa showed me a long, long time ago."
"Okay, Grandpa," Robby agreed with something less than great enthusiasm; "but what is it that I get to see?"
"That's entirely up to you, son," I said, feeling properly cryptic.
On the drive to the lakes, I talked with my grandson about some of the benefits of being outdoors, things that one can miss if too intent on catching fish. Robby was obviously skeptical but, to his credit, promised to keep an open mind and try what I was suggesting.
It turned out to be a good day, and after returning home from what was the best fishing trip in my memory, Robby suggested that we write down the highlights of our day.
We recalled how the calm water reflected the sky and the popcorn clouds that passed the hours with us. We saw a mallard hen with a brood, cocky redwing blackbirds and a kingfisher intent on a meal. A muskrat swam right by our boat but never noticed us.
It was twilight as we took our johnboat out of the water and the sounds of the night were already starting up. We heard several bullfrogs clearing their throats in preparation for the evening's chorus, a pair of whippoorwills echoing one another, and an owl in the distant woods asking the usual question.
Oh, and we caught four small bass, two bluegill and a channel catfish.
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