Friday, September 5, 2008

Gone Fishing

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO — Alexander the Great caught a boisterous little bass on his very first cast off a pier on Lake Coeur d’Alene. Within a few hours, his catch-and-release total had mounted to 32 and I began to wonder if my grandson’s birthday rod and reel would be permanently bonded to his right arm.
I had planned family activities like hiking, canoeing, kayaking, swimming and maybe even horseback riding during my long-awaited vacation in the Pacific Northwest.
But once son Ryan presented Alex with his fishing gear, it was all over. They joined me for meals, a trip to an amusement park, an occasional swim or hike to festivals and art galleries, but if there were any opportunities to cast a line, the boys were there.
The fishing gene is clearly dominant in our tribe, and seems to get stronger if it skips a generation.
If my trout-frightening proclivities are less impressive, it is not for want of trying. I was the seventh granddaughter on my mom’s side of the family, and I think Grandpa was pretty disheartened in those years before his three grandsons finally got around to being born. As a result, I, along with any of my other sympathetic girl cousins he could recruit, got a basic education in archery, canoeing, shooting and fly fishing. My dad’s family were avid fishers, too, so I spent a lot of weekends rigging gear, wading through rivers, cleaning creels and gutting trout.
Frankly, I would rather have been playing with dolls, swimming or reading, but I tried to be a good sport. I feigned enthusiasm when happy campers shouted, “There’s a hatch on!” and deserted a warm and cozy campfire at dusk to attempt to fool hungry fish with graceful casts of hand-tied flies.
Then one day, it occurred to me that gutting a live trout is really very icky, for both me and the fish, no matter how quickly and skillfully it’s done.
This revelation was followed by an epiphany: Fishing is just an excuse for meditating around water, and I didn’t need an excuse. I filled my creel with wildflowers and waded home to enjoy the rest of my life.
I predict that my son and grandson will never have such a moment. The fishing force is strong in Ryan and young Alex. Their Jedi Knight quests in lakes, streams and oceans will continue as long as they draw breath in this life and, I suspect, if heaven is truly a place of dreams we design ourselves, in the next life, too.
There is no mistaking the reactions of a born fisherman: the thrill of the hunt, the cool evaluation of a likely fishing hole, the quickening pulse at the sight of a bent rod, the willingness of even a creature of the night on summer vacation to willingly rise at 6 a.m., if the fish are biting.
And there’s no question in my mind that the whole fishing thing is a matter of nature rather than nurture. Without any fish fanatics in his nuclear family, Ryan as a toddler still managed to rig his own gear with a stick and string, so he could fish in plentiful Oregon mud puddles until he was able to communicate to his parents his deep need to stalk salmon in the wild.
Alex, who spent many of his formative years in high desert country, recently turned 12 in the fecund fishing territory of Northern Idaho, and he’s making up for lost time.
Hanging with Alex in Coeur d’Alene put me in mind of my own days as a free-range child, back when relatively young kids could disappear for a whole Saturday or after school with no cell phones or angst, as long as we were home by dusk.
And that’s another thing that fishing is all about: freedom. More than dinner, conquest, sport or the thrill of the hunt, I think fishing is about saying goodbye, if just for a little while, to work and school and stressful relationships and urban problems, to movies and TV and iPods and PCs and video games and quests for material success.
When it comes to opportunities to commune with nature, with no demands or foes other than wily sparring partners with fins, I suspect there are all days when we all yearn to post a sign that the free-range child within us all lives on.
Gone fishing.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

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