For many years, this image was a fixture on our refrigerator, as our son grew up from a second grader to high school graduate. Faded and stained, the print-out finally bit the dust in a clean-up one year. I rediscovered the original image on a floppy disk(!) and it triggered memories of another great day fishing with my son.
(originally published July 19, 2008)
“Hey Kendall, let’s go fishing at the keiryu and tsuribori place!”
“Yeah, Daddy, let’s go!”
Family vacation day in Tateshina, a mountainous area a few hours by car from Tokyo. Mimy’s relatives own a besso vacation home, and we’ve rented it for a weekend.
My job keeps me traveling constantly, an exciting life but not quite what I hoped for in terms of time with my family. So a weekend away in the mountains sounds like a great idea.
Just a walk away from the cabin, which is more of a house, is a tsuribori, the Japanese version of a trout farm, where you buy what you catch. The pond, of course, is filled with experienced old trout who’ve sort of figured out that the bait on the hook is something to ignore.
This place, though, has keiryu or stream-fishing. Kendall’s only in the second grade so this ought to be a fun way to spend the afternoon.
We get settled in on the banks of a stream. I spot a gentle-looking oji-san carrying a bucket upstream, then dumping out a half dozen fingerling trout.
Ah-so, very clever these Japanese.
Salmon eggs on hooks tied to string tied to a bamboo rod has to be the most primitive yet unfair gear you can use. This shouldn’t be too hard.
We’re just fooling around to start – tossing in the baited hook and hoping for the best.
My father’s image pops into my head.
“Fish like to hang out in the swirling pools, where currents kick up stuff to eat.”
When you look closely, you can actually see the fish hanging out.
“Hey, Kendall, put your hook in the water by the rock in front of you. A little to the left. Okay, there!”
Two seconds later, boom!, Kendall’s hooked a six-inch rainbow trout!
Yes, fish barbeque tonight!
“Wow, daddy, how do you catch fish?”
Life as a man begins, I think, when your son asks you how to catch a fish. I realize my father spent many hours taking us fishing to prepare me for this moment.
I explain the theory of trout behavior, lighting variance depending upon time of day, and how rushing water forms swirling currents beneath the rocks.
My son, the second grader, says, “huh?, I don’t understand, Daddy!”
Shifting gears, I say, “Look for the fish beneath the rocks where the water is swirling and stick your bait right in front of his nose!”
I’ve never felt prouder of my son, the fisherman, grandson of the old man of the sea, than when he spies a trout, plonks his hook right in front of the fish, and settles down to wait.
The trout, being somewhat limited in intelligence, gulps down the bait, hook, line, and sinker!
“Daddy, Daddy, I’ve got a fish!”
Kendall hauls a nice trout out of the water, grabs it, unhooks it, and puts it on the line with the other one.
By this time, other kids, bigger kids with their dads, are starting to wonder why this little kid is catching all the fish.
But me, proud father, I smile because I know my son had learned something today.
My son has discovered the meaning of fishing as a metaphor for life — fish where the fish are, make it easy for the fish to bite the hook, and slow yourself down to the pace of the fish.
The afternoon slips by as my son, my little dude, catches fish after fish.
Later that day, fresh trout gutted and cleaned, salted and ready to be barbequed, Kendall poses for a photo with Daddy’s newfangled digital camera.
In that moment, I captured my son growing up, the birth of a fisherman, and an image that reminded our family for many years of the day Kendall caught fish like his grandpa.
Fresh trout never tasted as good as it did that day.
And probably never will again.