Gray Matters — Fish stories
Belfast — After my son Shane spent the past couple of months practicing casting with one of my father's fishing poles, he could barely contain his excitement when the time finally came for us to head to the north woods of Maine for the first half of our summer vacation.
For an eight-year-old, I have to say he did a great job enduring the three-plus-hour, 150-mile trip to the campsite where my family spent much of my childhood, a little spot just off Golden Road.
We set up camp on the afternoon of our arrival, but the very next morning, we set out for a favorite fishing spot known to us as the ledges, a place we don't typically catch anything other than the chub, also known as the common sucker. While the weighty fish always put up a good fight and are therefore fun to catch, they aren't really all that tasty.
But dad thought Shane might get the chance to hook his first fish there, since those big old fish are almost always biting.
So Shane, Dad, myself and my boyfriend Mark drove about a mile up the road from the campsite and made our way down the steep embankment that led to the ledges. Within the first 15 seconds of casting his line, Mark got a bite, and soon after, caught the first of many suckers of the morning.
Some were quite sizable — one of the suckers I snared bent the pole to the point I sought backup when trying to real the monster in. Shane caught three of them altogether, and he was thrilled.
And throughout our four-day trip, that was among Shane's many firsts. He also learned how to paddle a canoe, how to clean a fish (gross but necessary) and how not to react when you get a fish hook stuck on the end of your fingertip (hint: immediately flailing your arms in an outward, panicky motion is not the way it's done). We taught him how to use the river as a playground, floating down a good distance of it on a giant inner tube that was attached to one of us grown-ups by a short piece of rope.
He learned how we cook outdoors, how to find firewood for the campfire, and how to make a bow out of a perfectly arced length of driftwood he found on the shore.
He learned to appreciate days without any electronic stimulation (the television, DVD player or the game console), and he is already looking forward to a longer trip to the north woods next summer.
But it was his fishing experience that I think made the biggest impression on the boy.
That's because in the minutes it took to remove the hook from the mouth of the first fish he caught, he went from being new at the sport to what can only be described as a seasoned fisherman trapped in a child's body. He started saying stuff like, “she's a real beauty,” every time someone else caught a fish, and each time he got a bite on the end of his line, he was sure it was “the big one.”
Then it became more evident when we returned home and started telling people the story of how he caught that first fish. Without any coaxing or demonstration from the adults on the trip who have surely told a fish tale or two, I noticed something that is quite common among fisherman relaying their adventure to others after the fact — the fish kept getting bigger each time he told the story.
At this point he's recounted his experience about a dozen times, and that fish is almost as big as he is now.
Not only that, the story of how the fish struggled, and how he fought to reel in the mighty creature, gets more descriptive and dramatic each time he tells it. I never get tired of hearing it, but maybe that's because I'm his mom (I am a little biased in that respect).
I hope these kinds of experiences make enough of an impression on Shane to make outdoor activity something he enjoys and looks forward to each year. I hope it will inspire him to choose a fishing pole over a video game, and to appreciate quiet nights by the campfire without the interruptions of modern life (work, school, etc.). All those things will be there when you get back from camp, after all.
And I hope it will help nurture his creative side, even if it means he grows up to tell some pretty wild and crazy fish stories.