By Brent Frazee
My dad and I had a complicated relationship.
We were just different people. Dad liked to boast, and tell everybody around him just how much he knew.
I rebelled against that. Looking back, maybe too much.
But I loved the guy. And I know he loved me. At no time was that more evident than when we were together in a fishing boat.
Dad let down his guard when we were fishing and so did I. We were equals, and we bonded.
We did plenty of other things as father and son. He took me to major league baseball games in Chicago and Milwaukee, he coached my Little League team, and he and my mom took my sister and I on great family vacations.
But for me, the best times always came in a boat. Even in his later years, when we were having difficulty coming up with something to talk about, Dad would start rambling about our fishing trips to Canada.
He laughed about our first outing when we stayed in a rustic cabin. I asked where we would be going to the bathroom and he pointed to an old shack with a half-moon carved on it. I went in and quickly came back out, gasping for air.
“It really smells in there,” I said. “And there’s no place to flush.”
I got my first lesson about an outhouse that day, one I still remember.
We also talked about our old Native American guide, Arnie, and how he led us to giant northern pike. I caught fish that I later told my mom and my sister were as big as I was. I guess that’s when I learned to tell a fish story.
We went back to Canada and later northern Wisconsin to fish. Later, Dad bought a cabin in the north country and when we were there, we would get up early every day and get on the lake before the girls would wake up.
We had a routine back in those days. We would stop at a bait shop in a small town on the way to the cabin, and Dad would buy a coffee can full of worms.
“Only bait you need to catch fish,” Dad would say.
Though my dad certainly wasn’t an expert, he always managed to guide our boat into spots where we would catch fish. I remember one day when the wind picked up and we started fishing a bank where the waves were rolling in. We caught largemouth bass on nearly every cast for a while, and some of them were big ones.
Of course, Dad boasted that he knew those fish would be there, but I let him have his glory. We were both excited about our find.
Years went by and we fished in Door County for smallmouth bass and yellow perch, in Florida for saltwater species, and in Cape Cod for a variety of fish.
As Dad got up there in his years, I wanted to take him on one last trip to Canada. I would be paying the bill and doing the driving this time, not him.
We went to Lake of the Woods and stayed at a resort on an island, much like the time we first travelled to Canada.
I would love to say that it was one of those perfect father-son moments, but I have to be honest. Dad complained about the food, and how he couldn’t order off a menu. The lodge had one choice for dinner, and it was take it or leave it.
Our guide got us into some great walleye fishing, but Dad complained that we weren’t catching northern pike.
Still, I could tell he was having a good time, despite his grumpy demeanor. On the drive back, he turned to me and begrudgingly said, “You know, that was really nice of you to do that for your old dad.”
Never have a few words meant so much to me.
My dad eventually became too frail to travel and all that was left were the memories. But we often talked about fishing, even in his dying days.
I’ll never forget one of our last conversations. He was dying, and he knew it. We struggled to find anything to talk about, and out of nowhere, my dad said, “You remember Arnie?” referring to our old guide.
Yeah, Dad, I remember. We had some great times.