My father taught me how to fish, on family vacations up to the cold waters of northern Minnesota, land of a thousand lakes. My parents would rent a log cabin heated by a wood stove, under the fragrant pine trees along the lake, and fish every day for a week. My father and his mother, my mother, myself, and my two siblings would get up just before dawn, then all six of us would fit ourselves into a small wooden rowboat powered by an outboard motor, with our fishing gear tucked around us; fuel can, backup oars, first aid kit, live bait (quick, pretty, doomed minnows and sometimes fat, vigorous Night Crawler earthworms, also doomed), casting rods, and warmer jackets and hats for if the weather changed, which it often did. Off we would roar along the shore or even out into the lake with my father driving the boat, my grandmother looking for the best spots to fish as the sun came up, and my mother relaxing in the spray reminding father not to go too far into the lake. From the age of about four or five each of us children had our own little tackle boxes with red and white bobbers, assorted hooks, lures, and lead weights. Father had the fish net, stringer, reels of extra fishing line, maybe a spare fishing rod, and the crimping pliers for replacing lead weights or unhooking fish. Mother managed the fishing-strainer bucket, a less damaging way to keep the smaller, tender-fleshed fish that we caught, like Rock Bass, Perch, Sunfish, Crappies, and Bluegills. The larger, firmer Northern, Pike, and Walleye (Father’s favorite) were threaded onto the stringer, through their mouths and out their gills, as gently as possible to keep them fresh alive, and to minimize their suffering. We released the rough fish like fine-boned Gar and hard-to-skin Catfish back into the lake. We rarely fished to our limit, taking just what we would eat.
We learned to keep low and hang on when we entered the boat so as not to rock it. From an early age we cast those sharp fish hooks out into the water without snagging anyone in the boat. My father must have been an amazing instructor to teach such young children how to competently cast our child-sized fishing rods, which were exactly the same as the adult fishing rods, just much shorter. It was easy once you got the knack of it. I liked being competent at fishing. But I loved being out on the lake even more, the sounds and smell of it, the motion of the wind and waves, the sunlight glinting. I baited my own hook as was expected of me, and I even learned how to clean fish. Father taught me the humane way of doing that difficult task without getting too sad or cut. (Pith the brain-spine first so that the fish feels nothing as it becomes food, and always cut away from yourself.) He said cutting the brain-spine could make it a little harder to clean the fish but that it was the right thing to do.
My father was the only one strong enough to pull the cord and start the outboard motor, but sometimes after he had it started, my Grandmother took the proverbial helm and drove the boat back to the dock. She was a very capable woman. She could row the boat quite well too, even into her fifties.
We had delicious fish for lunch, maybe for dinner too. Fresh fish is not at all fishy tasting, it is sweet and good, a special treat. In those times before the popularity of sushi and sashimi, the only way to get such fresh fish was to catch it yourself. Mother’s pan-fried fresh-caught fish, her homemade potato salad, and a vegetable is one of the best meals I have ever had. A morning of fishing out on the lake gives you a good appetite.
Caption: Artistpiscis à orange, by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018.