I think becoming a good angler requires a very peculiar balance of patience and impatience. You have to be patient enough to get through the first part of the learning curve but then you have to suffer just enough frustration to trigger the determination required to continually level up. This usually comes as a result of fishing with someone who’s just better at it than you are. My teacher was my uncle and I remember the season when I started to, maybe, get a little better than even he was. That’s a whole other peculiar mix of frustration and pride—but that’s a subject for another column.
I took my daughter out on the Crawdad with me the other day; she’s 7 and just so completely high on life that you can’t believe it. She’s almost always happy, she’s friendly to everyone, smart, great sense of humor…I’ll stop beaming now. But something changed on this trip, she went from looking to me for reassurance to making educated guesses, “Dad, that stone wall probably has a fish on it, right?” She went from wanting me to cast for her to making every cast herself and shooting me dirty looks when I tried to help. But she also stopped being totally happy for me when I caught a fish. In fact, I hooked up on my first cast of the day and she said, “Dad! You already have one!?”
As we poked along the western shore of this tiny pond, my score climbed steadily while her zero only got rounder and bolder in print. She started to sulk a little, marveling at how my Shimano Curado DC cast, and how I could always drop the lure inches in front of snags. It brought me back to a day on the playground when she wanted to conquer the monkey bars, she went so hard at those rungs that her hands were blistered and she did not master them. When I told her we had to leave she collapsed in tearful defeat. It broke my heart, but I loved that she was so determined that her frustration manifested in visible anguish. It wasn’t long before my wife came home from a trip to the playground and said, “you should see that girl on the monkey bars, she’s better than all the other kids on the playground!”
Lila has caught many fish in her life, but I had played some part in all of them. We came out of a cove and there was a pile of melon-sized rocks creating a hollow in the reeds. I waited to see if she’d notice, she swung the rod and zinged that little Whopper Plopper about 5 feet short of the hollow. She cast a short glance across her nose, hoping – I guess – to see approval on my face. I’m sure she saw it. But it also might have been to show me that she felt that the cast was 4 feet short. I stayed quiet as she mimicked the way I worked the lure, short bursts of varied intensity, void of pattern and looking alive. Baby herring clearing the surface all around us. The plug gurgled and spit, a bass inhaled it. She didn’t notice, I waited. The fish held on and she hooked it on the next pop.
It wasn’t a picture perfect hookup, but it was her first – completely unassisted – catch. That fish came after a pretty long bout of frustration, the type of frustration that would sideline a lot of kids her age. But sometimes she has that ability to leverage frustration against her patience to find the guttural determination required to persevere.
She also has that innate curiosity, something anglers should do their best never to lose, curiosity leads to the answers to questions we only ask ourselves. Or our fathers (or uncles), sitting in a boat on that magical summer between first and second grade.
I guess the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.