Nearly 60 years ago, I got my fondest wish for my 14th birthday, a fiberglass fly rod. I hadnít a clue how to fish with it, though; neither did Mom or Dad. Across the street, fortunately, lived a quiet widower named Mr. Watson. After he spotted me clumsily trying to make a cast, I came to learn he was a terrific warm water fly fisherman, at a time and in a place (metro east St. Louis) where the sport was pretty much unknown. Not a relative, at the time not even a close acquaintance, he launched me on a path toward becoming the modest, legendary angler I am today. While we all struggle to find something to be thankful for in 2020, I have no trouble being thankful for my friend Mr. Watson.
To make a long story short, not easy for me, Mr. Watson took me to a local bait store, bought me a handful of homemade, blackened cork spiders with long rubber band legs, and asked: ďCould you be ready to go fishing about 3:30 tomorrow morning?Ē With Momís help, it turns out I could. Off he and I went to Staunton (IL) City Lake, a pond really, 45 minutes down the road. We pushed a 10-foot wooden jon boat into the water, he rowed, and I began flailing about in the predawn darkness.
I couldnít see a darned thing. But all about me were the unmistakeable sounds of bluegills sucking mosquitoes off the surface film, mixed with the croaking of unseen bullfrogs and the occasional splash of something even bigger, lurking out there in the dark. Under his quiet direction, almost immediately I caught my first big bluegill on a fly rod, then another, and another, the start of a lifelong addiction. A short time later, one of the biggest bass Iíd ever seen inhaled my spider, then foolishly dived into a big patch of coontail. Mr. Watson patiently winched the big girl to the surface with an oar. And I can still recall peeling back all those weeds to reveal a really annoyed largemouth.
God, I miss taking kids fishing
Of the many things Iíve lost these past nine months, one of the toughest is taking kids and old timers fishing. In particular
On the first weekend in June, the annual Loveland Police Kids Fishing Derby.
In July and August, trips to Colorado Youth Outdoors with ridiculously enthusiastic little Girl Scouts.
And in September, the Loveland Fishing Clubís annual derby for the residents of assisted living centers. And other opportunities, large and small.
Mr. Watson was killed in an accident at the steel mill while I was away in college, or I suspect I would still be thanking him for that unforgettable fishing trip. Though come to think of it, thatís what Iím doing right now. Besides I suspect he enjoyed it as much as I did.
Mr. Watson didnít have to get up at 3 in the morning to go fishing with the backward, freckle-faced kid from across the street; he just wanted to. And Iíll bet heíd like knowing Iím still trying to pay that gift back, more than half a century later.
As soon as we can, letís all take some kids fishing.