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Fishing buddies

Three generations hone their fishing skills together and learn a little about life.

Published June 18, 2004

It's hard to explain the special bond, some might call it kinship, shared by fishing buddies. There's a certain satisfaction in hearing an old friend pull up at 5 a.m., followed by a hot cup of coffee and the friendly banter over whose turn it is to buy bait.

Knowing the next day would be spent fishing has always thrilled me to the core. No matter how old I get, I still feel like a child. It doesn't matter if I've just been fishing with my son at Bishop's Harbor or walking down a railroad track to Hawkin's Creek with my father some 50 years ago, it still feels the same.

The night before is always spent going over tackle, then making sure my boots and socks are where I can find them in the dark the next morning. Sleep is sporadic at best, never sound, and the clock is checked each hour, hoping sooner or later it will read 4:30 a.m.

As a 6-year-old, I'd dream of hand-sized red breasts or fat warmouths taking the cork under the fallen log. Then a water moccasin would slither across my path and I would awake with a new respect for Pigeon Creek Swamp.

Later, my high school pal Pete Green and I would skip class and go up to Sherling's Lake when the bluegills were bedding. Together, we stumbled through our teenage years, and it was the success at fishing that gave me the courage to face my peers.

Fueled by Vienna sausage, sardines and deviled ham, we'd blast across Langford's pasture in our Corvair 500 Spyder to our favorite beaver pond where we honed our skills with flyrods and spinning gear.

The fishing buddy who taught me the most - how to live, pray and dig fat, glistening wigglers out of an old sawdust pile - was a magical old half-Creek Indian they called Robert Lee, a man I knew as dear old dad.

When I was a toddler and couldn't keep up, he'd put me on his shoulders and carry me through the woods, cane pole in one hand and a can of worms in the other, hooks and corks in his hip pocket and a bottle of Four Roses in the back.

Years later, we'd fill our '51 Chevy pickup with the wildest assortment of gear known to man - a casting rod with a Pfluger level-wind reel, a beat-up spinner with an eye missing, a Johnson combo with a reel built into the butt and metal Ol' Buddy tackle box that had been molded to fit the old man's seat.

"Caught any yet, Robert Lee?" my uncle would say.

"Naw, but I'm expecting one any minute now," he'd say.

When I got older and had a son, we fished often with my dad and I am convinced that when he died he left the creek banks of south Alabama a happy man because of those days we spent together.

"When are you going to bring the boy again so we can go fishing?" he'd say.

The first 20 years I spent living and working around Tampa Bay, I tried to teach my son, Joshua, about fishing and the other things, such as love and respect, that I had learned from my dad. Sometimes we were lucky; sometimes we struck out, but the adventure and the memory of the time spent with my son is as vivid as if it happened yesterday.

The adventure continues today, though he's pushing 30 and I'm a sexagenarian. Last summer we fished the Atlantic inlets together and he taught the teacher, boating a 100-pound tarpon, then more snook than his old man.

He was quite the gentleman about it, never once bragging or rubbing it in. All he asked for was a picture of his prize and the two of us together.

There are no words to describe what moved between us at that moment. Mutual admiration? An understanding of each other's happiness? Or just the peaceful but mighty spirit of fishing passed through father and son.

Man becomes child and child becomes man. It all transpired while sharing together that magic pursuit of fishing. Even outfishing me, he still had the grace to lean over and offer the "teacher" a steadying hand on the shoulder.

I turned my eyes to the sky and offered a silent hallelujah for such a gift.

- Ron Taylor is an avid angler and fisheries biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Florida Marine Research Institute.

[Last modified June 18, 2004, 01:13:22]


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