Does it seem that childhood memories stand out brighter and clearer than memories that might have been created just a few years ago? Maybe it's just me, but when it comes to the outdoors, the memories I had while fishing with my dad when I was a youngster just seem to hold a clarity that is almost spooky. For instance, not only can I recall the events, but I also can remember the smallest details about those trips -- details that would probably slide right by me these days.
My insatiable childhood curiosity might be why my memories of that time are so clear. I was one of those pesky kids who never shut up. You know the type of kid I am talking about. The kind who closely followed up every question with another question: "What is that?" "What makes it do that?" and "Why?"
Being the youngest of five, I can only imagine the patience my folks had to practice, especially after going through the same question and answer periods with my four older siblings. With two children of my own, I had my share of questions, but the way I saw it, their curiosity needed answering because it was crucial to the process of learning. I might be balding and a tad wrinkly but under this disguise I am about as childlike as they come -- or so I have been told on a regular basis -- and this attribute comes in mighty handy when I take kids fishing or hunting.
This past week was a perfect example of this camaraderie when I went fishing with Martin Brock, a precocious red-headed third-grader, and his father, Ron, from Gainesville, Ga.
Sporting a brand new set of state-of-the-art braces on his teeth, the kind where every other metal piece was a different fluorescent color, plus bright red hair, Martin was about as cute as they come. Every time I glanced over at him, I felt as though I was looking at a comic book character, because in addition to being a living kaleidoscope of colors, he was a pistol. Kids today seem way smarter than kids from my childhood, almost as if they're really adults who stepped in front of a shrinking ray gun. Martin was no exception.
Having cut his teeth on fishing with his dad in freshwater lakes, Martin wanted to catch redfish, which gave me a chuckle because of his hair color. I wondered if it was a kinship sort of thing, but if it was redfish he wanted to catch, so be it. I had just returned from Virginia the night before. I had visited my daughter and had a surprise visit from my son who had flown in from Los Angeles. A "kid fix" was the perfect homecoming. But because I had gotten back late, I hadn't had time to catch bait, so off we went in search of some fresh mullet and a few live shrimp.
As I pulled back the throttles at one of my favorite bait spots, I told Martin he was going to be my "bait boy." From experience, being "bait boy" is great for kids, and it entails picking up the critters that drop out of my cast net and putting them in the live well. Not only do we catch the sought-after species, but along with them come baby crabs, small flounder, squid and a host of other critters. Kids really seem to enjoy picking up and examining this by-catch and with every new species come the questions: "What is that?" "How big do they get?" and so on. It's a great learning experience for them and it gives me the opportunity to educate them on how important it is to return the small creatures to the sea so they can get big while keeping the ocean healthy. Those are the small memories I was talking about earlier; memories that will, hopefully, stick for a lifetime.
With bait in hand, off we went in search of redfish, and it didn't take me long to see a spotted broom tail of a redfish scouring the oyster beds for food. Quietly slipping the anchor overboard, we began fishing with chunks of mullet under a Cajun Thunder cork. I don't think five minutes had passed when one of the thunders began swimming away like the barrels in the movie "Jaws." I coached Martin as he held the rod, telling him to let the line come tight before reeling. Like a pro, he followed my instructions. When I finally told him to reel like crazy, he hooked into a red that instantly went haywire and began pulling out line with ease.
I knew it was a big red and as much as Martin wanted to pass off the rod to his dad, we encouraged him to finish the fight. When I finally eased the redfish into the boat, Martin's eyes were like saucers.
Red got his red, and though it was too big to keep, he will never forget that fight. For the next hour or so, we landed another five fish, all but one too big to keep. Martin was stoked.
From there we decided to go after some trout. Using live shrimp, it was a trout-o-rama. As his dad fished off the bow, Martin worked from the stern -- with my help, of course. It was dad versus lad. We caught some beautiful trout, and it was after Martin's 10th trout that he said it. He looked right at his dad and almost nonchalantly stated, "Yep, Dad. I was off my game there at first, but now I'm in the groove."
Out of the mouth of babes, I was laughing so hard my stomach hurt. So all in all it was wonderful day for Martin and his dad. As for me? I just hope that day remains in Martin's mind for all time, because it sure will for me.
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.