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Lessons That Last a Lifetime

Like a lot of people, I associate fishing with my dad. Not because it’s all he ever did (he was more of a putterer, always tinkering with something or chopping down trees). Not because he loved it more than just about anything (he liked to fish, but it wasn’t something he did whenever he got the chance).

I think of my dad when fishing mostly because he’s the one who not only taught me how to fish, but also because he’s the one who introduced me to a world that would eventually shape everything that I did.

I didn’t get off to the best start with fishing, not as far as my dad is concerned, anyway. I mean, we both loved doing it and I took to it almost immediately, but it just wasn’t the best start. I was young, probably three or so, but I still vividly remember the moment my dad taught me how to cast. We were staying at cottage, something we only did a few times in the early days, and my casting lesson took place on the dock in front.

After a few demo casts from my dad, it was my turn. I remember getting the rod into position. I remember putting all my effort into the forward cast. Finally, I remember feeling resistance.

I often joke that the day I learned to cast is also the day I learned to swear (although my dad claims this isn’t true). When I turned around again, I saw that my hook was firmly buried in my dad’s back. It wasn’t my finest moment, but the lesson I learned that day (always check your back cast) has stuck with me. I still make sure no one is behind me when I start casting.

More than teaching me how to fish, though, my dad imparted in me the sense of adventure necessary to become a good angler. We spent the better part of my childhood summers exploring all that we could. Most of our adventures were focused on the Great Lakes, Lake Huron to be specific, but it was enough that by the time I hit my twenties and was able to explore on my own. With the lessons learned from my father I happily went off into the world.

But, it wasn’t until I started fishing again as an adult that it became clear to me the impact my dad had on my life when he taught me how to fish.

He now spends his summers in Northern Ontario working at a fishing lodge, while I spend most of my time tramping through the hills not only looking for trout, but more importantly, looking for adventure. I miss being able to go fishing with him on Father’s Day (his season starts about a month before Father’s Day and he’s always at the camp by then). But, we do fish together as often as we can. Usually, we’re sneaking off for a few hours at a nearby lake, but sometimes we still get to explore like we did growing up.

One of the more memorable trips involved a lake up by his fishing lodge that hadn’t been fished for a while. The stories from people who had fished this lake were enticing. Loads of fish, all trophy-sized or bigger. And, best of all, it was a fish a cast. It was great, especially since the guy who opened the trail (and earned first dibs at the lake) told us the fishing was just as good as he remembered it being a decade earlier.

After the trail had been opened up (it was at least a kilometer hike in to the lake) and we had lugged a motor in there, we spent two frustrating days fishing out of a boat that was full of a holes and had a motor that leaked fuel (we swapped the motor out for the second day). Not only was the fishing not nearly as great as we had been told, but it seemed like every cast resulted in a snag of some kind or another.

Every time we thought we had the lake figured out, something went wrong. We lost anchors, flies, lures, patience and blood to the bugs. We did catch a few fish, but it was nothing like we had heard.

Finally, we had had enough. We picked an area for a few last casts and, of course, my dad almost immediately hooked into a rock. There was some salty language and a half-hearted attempt to get the lure free before my dad decided he was done. He gave one final pull. The kind that you give when you’re ready to say good bye to your lure (he fished gear, while I fished flies). The line went slack and my dad reeled in.

To his surprise, he hadn’t lost the lure. It was still there on the end of his line when he got it to the boat. But, the biggest surprise wasn’t that the lure was still there. The biggest surprise was the shockingly large scale that was firmly embedded on the hook.

Whatever my dad had hooked into, it wasn’t a rock or a log.

Now that I’m a dad myself, our list of fishing adventures and stories are getting more interesting. From backcountry tire changes to exploring hike-in lakes, my daughter is keen for anything and everything related to fishing. She’s even asking for her own rod.

I’m looking forward to teaching her how to fish and, to a certain degree, even how to cast. If experience has taught me anything, though, you can be sure that I’m going to be wearing the thickest coat, two or three sweaters and maybe even some coveralls on the day I teach her how to cast.  The lessons you learn from fishing with your dad last a lifetime.

By: Douglas Paton

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