I suppose it was a question worth asking.
For that reason, I shouldn’t have been so off-put when fisherman after fisherman asked it of me.
“Why would you leave Alaska to go fishing here?” they would inquire in a half-snippy tone.
The first time I was posed the question, I smiled and informed them that my grandfather and I had booked the fishing trip on Delaney Lake and the English River system in Ontario, Canada more than six months ago, before I knew I would be moving from northwest Colorado to Kenai.
At first, it honestly didn’t make sense — why would anyone opt for walleye, northern pike and smallmouth bass fishing over salmon and halibut? Canada over Alaska?
The more the question cropped up, I began to really wonder. But, I found my answer on the last evening of fishing out on the lake.
Grandpa and I pulled into a cove — the sun was fading into the hands of the tree line, but I could make out the rock structure under the water I knew would be rich with smallmouth. I kicked the motor in reverse and put us right on the fish.
By the time I had selected a lure to throw out, Grandpa had already hooked up, pulling a nice one out of the bed of rocks. He caressed fish to the side of the boat and pulled it aboard.
I glanced down and noticed he still had the piece of paper in his pocket — it was a printout of a photo taken many years ago. A decade ago, to be exact.
In the photo are the two of us — fishing buddies on one of our yearly trips to Lake of the Woods in Ontario. I’ve got my arm around him with a big grin on my face and he is holding our stringer of mediocre-sized walleye.
Although I can’t clearly remember having the photo taken, my expression seems to be of shear delight and his of fatherly pride.
My father left my mother when I was young and those coming of age experiences — catching your first fish, learning to ride a bike, and playing catch in the back yard — were all left to Grandpa. Needless to say, he’s more of a Dad to me than anyone else by a mile.
He brought the photo — his favorite, he’s told me over and over again — on the trip to update it by getting a stringer of walleye and positioning us in the same manner to show 10 years of change.
We had our guide snap the photo update earlier that day and I guess I wasn’t surprised that he hadn’t taken the old photo printout out of his pocket.
In fact, he had it in his shirt pocket since we arrived at the airport in Nestor Falls five days earlier, showing it off to most anybody he could strike up a conversation with while I smiled and shook my head, slightly embarrassed.
Suddenly, I realized I didn’t need an answer about why I would choose Canada over Alaska — he was sitting right in front of me.
Grandpa — who’s official name is Thomas Smith — is getting to the age where I notice changes more and more, both mental and physical.
I realized the photo and its modern re-creation meant a great deal to him, probably more than I could ever understand.
There was a time when I didn’t really care if I spent time with him — a mistake I think all teenagers make. But now, I wish I would have paid more attention to his wisdom and learned from his experiences.
Certainly I wish more of his fishing skills rubbed off on me, if nothing else.
The thought that crossed my mind as he cast out to the shore again, sunset now giving off shades of purple, was that when I really needed him for fatherly advice, there would be a day he wouldn’t be there to supply it.
Suddenly, I was glad I made the trip.
At that point I was just content to watch him fish and admire the scenery rather than to cast a lure.
A quote came to mind as I shifted the motor into neutral, one by Henry David Thoreau stating, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
Many conclude it is the thrill of the chase, or something along those lines, to which Thoreau is referring.
As I watched Grandpa’s second catch of the night dance on the water to his delight, I realized then that interpretation wasn’t true for me.