I rise early, anticipating the first father-son fishing trip ever with my thirty-one-year-old son who has traveled alone here for this visit. He drove over from Little Rock to Ark City on Friday afternoon, driving his high-rise black ops Ford truck and towing the small john boat he has personally converted to a bass fishing boat. In the dim light of dawn, I let him sleep a while longer while I run a couple of errands.
Back from WalMart, I get my fishing gear from the back room and take it out to his truck. I pack a small cooler with Mountain Dew and honey buns and then go to his room and wake him. “Hey, Bud,” I murmur, rubbing his back lightly, “You ready to rock ‘n’ roll this morning?” He rolls over, leans up, “Yeah.”
He dresses simply and quickly, and we head out. After filling up the boat’s small gas tank, we head out east to Cowley Lake, fifteen miles out 166. Even early on a Saturday morning, there are already seven or eight boats on the water, a quick indicator of the fishing pressure on this small reservoir nestled into the Flint Hills. A very light wind sends slight ripples across the reflections of dark banks and light sky. Cattle graze on the ridges south and west.
We move past the other boats and ease up toward a run of reeds. On my third cast, I bring in a nice-sized bass. Picture taken, fish released. We fish this spot a while longer, then move out around the point and over to the long finger channel in the southwestern corner. Working the weed beds along the line of the creek, I catch another and Jeremiah asks if it’s a smallmouth or a largemouth. “Largemouth,” I answer, and show him the lateral line of darker scales, “Some people call them ‘linesides.’ The smallmouth is darker and has vertical lines.” I forego the temptation to add something about the difference in the size of their mouths.
While fishing, we talk about the sorts of things that fathers and sons sometimes leave out of conversations, the pains that run both ways after a divorce, how things work in marriage and what matters in how you treat people. We watch a Red Shorthorn push her way through the bank brush and out into the water a hundred yards away.
Jeremiah starts up the motor, I pull in the small anchor and he moves us over to a small cove we wanted to fish earlier. “If that guy’s moved out of there, let’s start right up at the back end,” I suggest. We fish there a while then troll out to the middle. In a few minutes, Jeremiah sets his hook in a good fish. His pole bends that deep arc that stirs the imagination. I get the landing net ready. A minute later, an eighteen-inch bass is in the boat.
“That is the biggest bass I have ever caught in my life!”
Jeremiah is as proud and excited as I was when I caught my first three-pounder fifty years ago. I’ve only caught three or four that size since then so I know how big this moment is. For both of us.
No matter what pains may lie in the past, no matter what mistakes we have made, there is always good ahead for those who choose to let go of their hurts and angers, their wounds and woundings. If we decide to love and forgive, life will always bring us the good that we give to others. And we may find ourselves in a better place than we ever imagined possible.
A place of good reflections.