Everybody Has a Story: Great fishing brings back great memories of grandparents
It is the most beautiful of mornings for an adventure at sea. Warm sun spills over the clear horizon as Roger and I head out, our fresh bait and trusty poles at the ready. The air is calm and the water glass-smooth. The anticipation is palpable — the first salmon fishing trip of the year!
Soon, the glint of sun on boat windshields helps us find the fleet about 8 miles out of the mouth of the Columbia River at the entrance buoy. We quickly bait up, drop our hooks and divers in the water — 12 pulls of line, and we’re fishing! The feeling of excited uncertainty never changes — are we where the fish are? Are the hooks baited just right? Do we have the right amount of line out? Are we trolling fast enough, slow enough?
Almost immediately, I see the distinctive succession of quick, small jerks of the rod tip and — patience — then the hard jerk that signals the diver is tripped and the hook is set. I yell, “fish on!” and pick up the rod, careful to keep the tip up. Roger drops the engine to an idle and scrambles to join me on the back deck where he reaches for the net. I reel quickly, adrenaline pumping, forgetting that it’s hard to stand on the rolling deck, not giving the silver that I can see dancing across the water toward me any slack — I don’t want him to spit the hook and disappear in the clear green water.
Soon, I have him at the side of the boat. Roger dips the net straight down into the water. I bring the fish to the net and scoop — we have a glistening, fat, wriggling and slapping silver salmon on the deck! An almost involuntary yelp of delight escapes me — we have our first fish of the season, indeed, our first salmon of several seasons. We remove the hooks and Roger slips the fish into the fish well while I put an already-baited hook set on my line and quickly drop it in the water. All is right with the world.
Now there is jerking on the other rod, but the fish isn’t ready to be ours and I reel in empty hooks. Then we rock and bob on the gentle summer swells, looking for the rips where salmon like to feed, breathing the fresh air, watching nets flying on boats around us, hearing the yells of triumph and delight of other fishermen floating across the sparkling water — and, for me, remembering fishing with Gramme and Papa Vernon.
As a child, I caught my first salmon on Papa Vernon’s little boat, Deo Juvante. I remember Gramme’s excitement and pure delight while playing a fish and landing it. I can smell Papa Vernon’s coffee and taste the seemingly endless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies he made for us. I can still feel the pride of accomplishment when I was allowed to steer the boat by myself!
My mind skips to my last visit with Gramme and Papa Vernon on a bittersweet mission. Health changes required them to move to a nursing home and practicality required that they sell their long-time home. My visit included packing up several things that they gave me and my family out of their love for us. Each of those things holds sweet memories and will be always treasured.
My reverie is disrupted by more jerking on the rod tips. Soon we have our limit of fish, and head for home before the afternoon wind rumples the water. We stop in a small bay after we return to the Columbia and clean our fish to the serenade of seagulls’ raucous cries. Finished with that messy job, we hose down the deck and return to the marina. Before long, we are safely moored in our slip, our boat is cleaned and we can relax and savor the experience. We have fish to share and enjoy, just as Gramme and Papa Vernon always did.
Why do I tell this story? What has fishing to do with Gramme and Papa Vernon’s gifts to us? Therein lies the answer to a mystery, it seems.
For several years, salmon fishing has been disappointing or downright unsuccessful. What’s different about this year? Why so bountiful? I think it may well be the new hickory shirt Roger is wearing at my insistence. His own lucky hickory fishing shirt has long since seen its best days. The new hickory shirt is the one Papa Vernon gave Roger on our last visit.
As I write this, I hear the melodious sounds of wind chimes Papa Vernon made for me years ago. I am mindful of many, many things he and Gramme gave me over the years. But most of all, I realize, they gave me wonderful memories as well as unconditional love and guidance that helped shape me and continue to enrich my life.