My First Catch with my Father
From the time I could walk and talk until I turned six, I would exclaim, “I AM FOUR!” whenever someone asked, “How old are you?” I pretended to be many things as an imaginative child, including four. There wasn’t anything magical about four – it was just my favorite number for some unknown and random reason.
During the several years when I was four, I often saved the galaxy from the dark side, trained to play football for the “Bear,” fought pirates while hunting for treasure, and hid beside the cross ties under the plum tree in the back yard while waiting to hear the screaming of the worn belts on Dad’s old brown Ford as he turned into the driveway so I could scare him and hopefully convince him to join me on an adventure.
Dad worked on the railroad throughout my childhood. The work was difficult and the hours were long, especially with the overtime he worked on nights and weekends to provide for our family. Even though he was often gone, Dad always found or made time for our family. While I truly cherished every second I spent with him as a child, I will never forget one special afternoon with Dad in late summer when I was four.
I was desperately trying to save mankind in an epic space battle beside the closet in my bedroom when I was startled by the loud creaking of our old red back door opening. Mom was in the other room, and it was too early in the afternoon for Dad to be home. I sat in the floor petrified with terror strategizing on how to defend and protect the house, especially the toys, from the intruder until I heard Dad yell, “HEY COR!”
Relieved, I jumped up, ran through the room dodging the toys in the floor, and hurdled through the door jamb onto the faded vinyl floor in the kitchen, just barely missing Dad. He was standing by the back door grinning when he looked down at me, grabbed my shoulder, and asked, “Do you want to go fishing, Bud?”
I had always fantasized about joining Dad on a fishing trip and could not believe that the dream was actually coming true. I immediately yelled, “YES!” For the first time, at four, I felt like a man and could not have been prouder or more excited.
Dad had filled the minnow bucket and the cricket tube, packed snacks, and taken care of everything for our adventure. We told Mom and my sister Sunni bye and took off to a spot Dad had found near Crybaby Holler on Flint Creek that was a short walk off of the railroad tracks down a gravel bank.
My excitement grew with each passing second as we drove to the fishing hole. I jabbered the entire way and was ready to pop when Dad finally put the Ford in park on the gravel path. As soon as the dust cleared, we jumped out, unloaded the car, and started walking down the railroad tracks toward the creek.
Dad carried all of the gear as I balanced on the rails and scanned the area for pirates. When we finally arrived at the steep gravel bank, Dad somehow held me, the minnow bucket, the crickets, a Zebco rod and reel, and the rest of our gear as we slid down what felt like a rock mountain to our fishing hole.
Dad spent the day showing me how to fish, which consisted primarily of skipping flat rocks, catching dragonflies, and fending off pirates. It was my day, and Dad did everything he could to make and keep me happy. He showed the patience of a saint and didn’t mind that we weren’t catching fish, which was likely a result of me scaring away every fish in a ten-mile radius.
Photo Credit Corey Jenkins
The blue sky was showing hints of the violets and oranges of dusk when Dad turned to me and said, “Get ready for the last cast.” With Dad’s help, I baited the hook with a cricket and made a cast downstream just past the point where the creek bent to the right.
The ripples on the surface had just settled when the red and white bobber bounced slightly and then ripped to the left. Dad scrambled to help me set the hook and then coached me through the fight. I screamed with excitement as the fish tested the limits of our equipment and my fishing skills at four.
After a long and draining fight, Dad stepped into the edge of the creek and landed the small bream. I will never forget the look on his face when he turned, held up my first catch, and said, “Good job, Son.” I will also never forget the deep and complete pride, excitement, and satisfaction that I felt after catching that first fish and making Dad proud.
Dad showed me how to hold the fish and take the hook out of its mouth while standing by the creek as the sun disappeared for the day. He then patted me on the back and said, “Let’s let him go.”
Through all the excitement, I had not realized that Dad was planning to release the fish. I unsuccessfully attempted to hold back the tears as I looked up at Dad and pleaded, “Dad, can’t we keep it?” Dad explained that the fish was too small to eat and that we needed to release it. Devastated, all I could do was stand on the bank of the creek and cry.
My emotional pleas to keep the fish eventually changed Dad’s emphatic “No” to an “OK, Son.” We put the bream in the minnow bucket to keep him alive and headed back to the brown Ford to go home.
When we arrived home that evening, everyone made a big production about the fish. I wanted the night to last forever. When Mom asked, “What are we going to do with your fish,” I immediately responded, “Can we put him in the bathtub… please?”
Mom and Dad looked at each other with concern and skepticism and discussed whether to put the fish in the bathtub. After begging, “Please Mom” and, “Please Dad” for some time, they reluctantly agreed to fill the bathtub in our small bathroom with water so the fish could swim around.
I sat by the edge of the bathtub watching the fish swim when I looked back at Mom and Dad and asked, “Can I keep it as a pet?” Mom and Dad attempted to gently tell me no, but I wouldn’t stop the pleas until I was given a good reason. Mom lightly patted me on the back in the way only a loving mother can and said, “I’m sorry, Baby, but you can’t keep the fish because the water is too dirty.”
The tears that only a four-year-old can cry poured out at the realization that I couldn’t keep the fish because the water was too dirty. Mom and Dad left me in the bathroom with the bream to say goodbye. I was furious, devastated, and heartbroken that the water wasn’t clean enough for the fish.
As I sat on the floor between the toilet and the bathtub staring at the fish, grieving, and coming to terms with the loss of the fish, the realization that all I needed to do to save the fish was clean the dirty water hit me like a ton of bricks. I scanned the bathtub and the rest of the bathroom desperately looking for something to clean the water. I was about ready to give up when I looked up and saw the answer to my problem.
I nearly hit my head on the underside of the porcelain sink when I jumped up to grab the bottle of Dawn dish soap sitting on the edge of the sink. I figured that if Dawn could clean dishes, it could also clean the water, allowing me to keep the bream forever.
I proceeded to dump the entire bottle of Dawn in the bathtub and turned on the water. Mom and Dad came running into the bathroom when they heard the water running and me shouting.
To their surprise, the bream had gone from swimming in a tub to floating upside down in a bubble bath. They simultaneously asked, “What happened?” I looked up at Mom and Dad and said in an exasperated and confused tone, “I cleaned the water with the Dawn soap to save the fish, but something went wrong.”
Mom and Dad ran out of the bathroom as quickly as possible. At the time, I thought they were figuring out how to revive the bream. I found out later they had left so I wouldn’t see them laughing.
That evening, we buried the bream beside the cross ties under the plum tree in the back yard. It was an emotional night to say the least. I shed many tears under that plum tree, both that night and later as other beloved pets joined my first catch.
As I sit here many years later, I can still smell Dad’s old brown Ford and hear the screaming belts that needed replaced. I can still see the drooping fabric on the roof, the microwave in his back seat, and the mismatched golf clubs and tools in his trunk. I can still feel the wind in my hair as we drove down the road with the windows down, which was necessary since the air conditioner never worked. I can still remember the pride and excitement that I felt because Dad took me fishing when I was four. I will never be able to thank him enough.
Photo Credit Corey Jenkins
Thanks to Dad, my love for fishing was born next to a creek alongside railroad tracks in North Alabama when I was four. On the same day, I also experienced my first loss and learned how not to clean water. Most importantly, Dad taught me at four the fulfillment of spending time with others in the outdoors and the importance of making time for your children.
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Corey Jenkins recently published his first outdoor book, Lines, Tines & Southern Pines. He spent his childhood fishing the many lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams of North Alabama and hunting the adjacent woods. After finishing school, he returned home to work and be close to the woods and waters of his youth, which he now shares with his wife and two young daughters. Visit him at www.linestinespines.com, on Facebook or on Twitter at @linestinespines.