There's an old quote by Henry David Thoreau that says, "Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after". When I was a kid, I could never understand what that quote meant. I fished to catch fish. Heck, as a kid, I hated slow days or those days when you didn't catch anything.
I spent most of my developmental fishing days with my grandfather. He was beyond an avid angler. His passion had started as a way to provide food for a family, like so many others that group up during that time. Then, his passion turned into a business, when he started Strike King Fishing Lures in his garage. Yes, my grandfather was the original owner of Strike King, the multi-million dollar, world-wide company. It started in a small garage in Memphis, Tennessee. He started that lure company making handmade spinner baits that he and my grandmother would form by hand, pour lead by hand, and then paint with an airbrush. Why? Simple, he couldn't find what he wanted, so he made it. That same man was also responsible for teaching many of the BASS anglers how to fish, including legendary Bill Dance. I used to sit around with all of these people, never understanding who they were, other than fisherman. I did know one thing: they all listened to my grandfather and held him with high regard in the bass fishing world.
Later, when we moved to Florida, I spent every day with my grandfather. I spent that time learning how to cast a baitcaster, perfect my angling skills, locate fish, select the right lure, and everything else associated with fishing. The days I got to spend with him, on the water, were the best in the world. He taught me how to operate a boat properly, with respect for the environment and other anglers. I owe the vast majority of my angling knowledge to him. Yes, I learned some techniques on my own, including fly fishing and fly tying, but in the beginning, it was him that provided me those opportunities and supported my new adventures. Then, like most older teenagers, our time together became less and less; school, work, and life just seemed to get in the way. I still saw him every day, but our time on the water was much less than it had been.
Fast forward a few years and I got married, moved out and had a son. My grandfather loved that boy. He would hold him in his arms, like a gentle giant protecting him. They got to spend some very special moments together and we really enjoyed the time. I was hoping he would be able to teach my son everything he had taught me. Unfortunately, God had other plans. My grandfather was taken from us, after a brief battle with lung cancer. That morning still plays in my head, like it was just yesterday. I kissed him on his cheek, as he laid in bed, looking at the river. Then, I went to work. When I arrived, my boss told me that my wife had called and my grandfather had passed away; in a mere 30 minute drive, he was gone. I was devastated, even though I knew it was coming. For almost two years, I gave up fishing. I tried going a couple of times, but I just couldn't enjoy it. Many of my grandfather's best friends, who fished with him weekly, were the same way.
As time passed, the pain eased, and I found myself being drawn to the water again. This time, I didn't have the need to go out and catch a bunch of fish. Now, I finally understood that quote! The water became a place where I could travel, alone, and relax, enjoy nature, and remember all of the great times with my grandfather. As more time passed, I had chances to introduce all of my kids to fishing, spending some great times with them and making memories that I will always carry with me. More time passed, and I started guiding, giving me even more opportunities to share my passion and knowledge, and make more memories with other great people. Each of those people came to water for different reason, but very few ever came the sole task of catching fish; even if they did, they learned that the catching was really secondary to what they were really doing: creating lifetime memories with special people.
Yes, if you stay in the fishing game long enough, you will learn that catching fish actually has very little to do with fishing. It is a way to open your eyes, your soul, your brain, your heart, and share it all with very special people.
TIGHT LINES and SCERAMING DRAGS
-Captain John Tarr