And so there are so many memories of so many great times with my dad. And so many fishing trips. My father took me on countless angling expeditions from the time I was young right up until he passed away far too early in 1987.
I can think of at least a hundred fishing trips, each with its own special memories, but one in particular never fails to bring a smile to my face: the time our fishing club went on a four-day excursion to Lake Chautauqua in New York.
I was 16 or 17 years old at the time and was excited to fish a lake that was known far and wide as one of the best muskie fisheries in the world. Muskies are freshwater barracudas long, slender and powerful fish capable of lightning-fast runs and magnificent leaps from the water, armed with a mouthful of nasty teeth and razor-sharp gills, and reaching more than 50 pounds. I dreamed of landing a muskie from the first article I’d ever read about them.
The first day on the lake, though, fishing was tough. Only a few small bass and walleye were caught. Not a muskie was to be found. The same was true the second day, although the bass and walleye were a bit bigger and more plentiful.
Day 3 brought rain. No storms, just steady rain throughout the day. After a few hours of fishing in the morning, I’d had enough. We came in for lunch and I told my dad he could go back out, but I was staying in the cabin. So my dad paired up with another club member and they went out for the afternoon.
By evening the rain had slowed to a constant drizzle and I was anxious to get back on the water. But now my dad was exhausted, so I went out by myself for awhile. I was trolling near the lake’s main causeway when I felt a bump and my line suddenly went slack. I thought I’d snagged a rock, broke my line and lost my bait. So I was reeling in the line when in a split second it tightened and the rod was nearly ripped from my hands. A moment later a huge muskie leaped clear of the water. My bait was in its mouth.
I fought that fish for all I was worth, but I was no match for the muskellunge. It went on a blistering run, peeling most of the line from my reel, then turned around and swam right back at me, faster than I could reel. The fish surfaced right next to the boat, looked me in the eye and gave the slightest twitch of its head. My lure fell from its mouth into the water.
My father later told me that my mom must have heard me all the way back to Cleveland when I screamed, “NOOOOOO!!!!!!” The biggest fish I’d ever had on, the fish of my dreams, and I’d blown it. On top of it all, it began to pour.
I knew when I was licked. I went back to shore and into the cabin to sulk. That’s when my dad asked me if I had any dry clothes for the next day. That’s when I realized I probably should have packed a few more clothes. I had shirts and underwear, but no other pants.
And that’s when my dad got his brilliant idea: I can dry my son’s pants (the ONLY pants he brought for the trip). I’ll just stick ‘em in the oven and turn it on low for a bit.
It might have worked, too, if it wasn’t an electric oven. And if the pants hadn’t somehow slipped through the oven rack to descend directly upon the red-hot filaments. And we might have burned the cabin down if we hadn’t smelled and noticed the smoke pouring from the oven.
My dad tried to get my pants out of the oven before it was too late, but the charred cloth kept disintegrating when he tried to grab it.
My dad spent a few hour of prime fishing time the next morning shopping in town for a new pair of pants. Of course, he hadn’t bought clothes for me in eons, and had no idea what size to get. At least I could get the pants all the way up my legs, even if I had another 2-3 inches to go before I could button them. Thank God I had a few long T-shirts I could wear over my ill-fitting pants.
There are so many more stories I could tell, so many more memories I could share.
But of all them, the one I treasure most is one of the oldest, back when I was maybe 4 or 5 years old.
Every Friday, my parents would drive to visit my uncle and his family on Cleveland’s near east side. On the way home, I’d fall asleep in the backseat of the car. When we’d arrive home, my dad would gently lift me from the seat, cradle me in his arms and carry me into the house to my bed. Then he’d tuck the blankets around me, kiss me on the forehead and tell me that he loved me. I will be 57 years old in September and that memory still is as clear as if it happened just a moment ago. My dad may have died 27 years ago, but the love he had for me and the love I have for him will never die.
Happy Father’s Day, dad.