2015-03-11 / Opinion

BACKROADS AND BOBTAILS

WHEN OUR FISHING BUDDY “GROWS UP”
by Bob Kornegay

When our children are chubby, innocent little cherubs, outdoors-loving fathers long for the day we can take them fishing. That first fishing trip is a heart-warming rite of passage, and, bless their little hearts, our angels incarnate are so dadgum cute in their busted-out blue jeans and way-too-big hats. And aren’t they just plumb adorable when they clumsily snatch that first three-finger bluegill from the water with Daddy’s fishing pole?

Oh, my. There are a zillion photo ops and countless pleasant memories made on a kid’s first fishing trip.

The pleasantries continue unabated as the child grows and becomes consistently, if a bit awkwardly, adept in the finer points of angling. He learns to bait his own hook, make his own casts, and he manages to boat a few bream, crappies, or catfish all on his own.

“Click-click,” goes the camera. You shower your young charge with praise. You brag to your grownup buddies. Just look what a fisherman the little man’s becoming.

By age 12 the boy has become a trusted angling partner, every ounce your equal. You are proud. You beam when others pay him compliments. You have taught and he has learned. Often, he even catches as many fish as you. Sometimes they are even larger. Life is good.

Then the kid hits 13. Thirteen, as most adults know, is the beginning of that hellish period during which parents evolve from gods to the stupidest creatures in the universe, all within a few short months. We watch with worried trepidation the transition from angel to fullblown devil-child.

Thirteen is bad any way you cut it. Thirteen is an absolute horror if the new teenager has become a better fisherman than his old man. Not only is he no longer afraid to rub it in, he relishes and looks forward to every opportunity to do so.

“Six,” you reply to a fellow angler’s “how-many-basshave you caught?” question.

“And just how many of those did you catch, Dad?” asks the demon-child in the back of the boat. “One, wasn’t it?”

“No, two,” you lie.

You smile a proud angler’s smile as you pull a fat whiting from the surf. You hand the fish to your boy who, unimpressed, nonchalantly tosses it into the ice chest.

“Nice whiting,” he says. “Of course, it’s not quite as big as the 4-pound speckled trout I caught earlier. And wasn’t it a mile or two offshore from here where I caught that 135-pound tarpon last summer? Didn’t you tell me one time that you’ve never caught a tarpon, even a small one? Devil-children are even more demonic when blessed with a good memory.

“Yeah, I believe it was,” you resignedly reply, as you ponder the relative merits of 13-year-old human flesh as shark bait.

At this stage of the game, you no longer bother to take photographs of your fatherand son outings. Said son is either too cool to pose or else insists on sarcastically holding up your very small catch alongside his very large one.

But there are redeeming moments as well. Thirteenyear olds are still clumsy. They sometimes make casts that wind up in the treetops. They slip and slide down muddy banks, humiliating experiences for children suddenly “grown.” And, yes, they continue to spill Gatorade in their laps on the way home.

You can cherish these little victories, but you can’t rub them in. New teenagers dish out ridicule much better than they take it. You just keep suffering and write it all off to hormones.

But what the heck? As long as he still wants to go fishing with you, things must be pretty good, right? And if you listen real closely, you might still hear an “I love you, Dad” once in a while.

Yep, things could be a whole lot worse. Just wait until he turns 16.

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