Just around sunrise over a bridge out east at a place called Shinecock canal, I imagine myself with The Old Man. The sky is laced with clouds holding the various colors of morning and the winds are cool. I imagine this as it was, my first fishing trip with The Old Man.
We woke early. The Old Man dressed me as warmly as possible. My little body was stuffed in a combination of long johns, a warm long-sleeved short to go over this, a pair of jeans over my little legs, mittens to cover my fingers, two pairs of socks to keep my toes warm in a pair of boots, and a pair of mittens to protect my fingers from the bite of a cold November’s breath. I wore a blue and orange cap that was knitted by my grandmother. The cap was pulled down over my ears and the orange section folded upwards around my head. I wore a puffy blue down jacket that was zipped and snapped to the top. Once dressed, The Old Man decided it was time to go, and together, we quietly headed towards the eastern end of Long Island.
My memories of this are extremely quiet. We drove in The Old Man’s big Dodge truck, which to me was larger than anything at the time. Upon entry, I remember the chill in the car and the coldness I felt as I sat on the gray leather seats of The Old Man’s blue, Ram Charger.
Eventually though, the car warmed, but the cold could not outdo the warmth of this moment. I was a boy with his father. I was a child, and of my childhood, this memory is one of my most cherished.
We arrived at the canal and stopped at the bait station. I was too young to know the baits of choice. I was too young to tie, rig, or bait my own hooks. But The Old Man knew how to do these things. As I saw it, The Old Man knew how to do everything.
The water in the canal moved quietly. There were no boats passing through, and due to the early cold spell, there were few if any fisherman at the sides of the canal.
I remember, the water seemed flat. There was slip spaces for small boats in a nearby marina , which we traveled passed, until The Old Man decided where we should set up.
I sat next to a small gray-sided house at the side of the dock. Near me was the emptied marina with fingers at empty boat slips, floating alone like an old friend waiting for a visit. There was no one around, which was good. It made this moment my own, and this moment could never belong to anyone else.
Ahead of me was the open canal, and across to the other side appeared as far away as another country to me. We were there for hours with little action. There was the sound of gulls crying to the morning air. They flew overhead and looked for food. The gulls landed in the water or perched on top of lampposts, or on the pilings near the bulkheads.
I could smell the aroma of an oncoming winter; it is the smell that always reminds me of an upcoming snowfall. The autumn leaves had vacated their position in the trees and branches were like lifeless arms, crookedly reaching from the base of their home.
Canadian geese flew overhead in scatted V-shaped formations. And it was quiet enough to hear the geese honking as they flew passed. There was nothing else but this; a canal, a father and son, a white bucket, half filled with water to keep our catch fresh, and two fishing poles.
This was flounder season. We were late in the season, but The Old Man heard stories about good catches at the canal. I recall feeling as if my grandfather took my father to this place as well. I remember thinking that our adventure together was a continuation of that tradition. And this may or may not be so. However, The Old Man never confirmed it. Then again, I never asked him either. In truth, there was no need to ask him about anything. What more could I ask for? It was just me and The Old Man, together, and doing the one thing I always asked to do.
I remember this day as special because it was not only the first fishing trip with me and The Old Man.
This was the day I caught my first fish.
We sat in quiet for a long time. I concentrated on the top eyelet of my fishing rod. I was huddled because of the cold. The Old Man stood, lifting his rod and then lowering it back to move the bait up and down to attract a hungry fish.
Every so often, The Old Man instructed me to reel in my line to check the bait. I would do as I was told. I reeled in my line to find the dull silvery weight which the line to the bottom and a fishhook, which was still covered with bait.
“Lower it back,” said The Old Man.
He was so intense in thought. I remember looking at him and admiring him. The Old Man stood with salt and pepper hair that was parted to the side. Then the wind crept up and blew his hair in wild strands.
He never wore jackets. He never felt cold. He had no gloves on because the cold air could not affect him. The Old Man wore a flannel shirt over a t-shirt, blue jeans, and work boots. His hands were the most capable I had ever seen. And more, he was the most capable man I had ever seen before. To me, The Old Man knew everything. He was my hero. He was my father, and I called him Pop, which was the same as he called his father before his turn at the position.
I watched The Old Man stare at the canal. I could see there were thoughts on his mind. His eyebrows folded down in concentration. His deep breath described a troubled worry. Perhaps, he was thinking about the government. Maybe he was thinking about the price of gas or the bills he had to pay. Maybe he was thinking about the employees of his company and how he would pay them. But whatever he was thinking, Shinecock Canal and the fish in the water, the rod in his hands, and his youngest son by his side were all cathartic aspects to a therapeutic relief.
It was beautiful . . .
I just wanted him to be proud of me. I wanted to be as quiet as possible because I wanted The Old Man to be pleased. I wanted this to be an easy adventure instead of labor intensive because I was afraid I would never have this feeling again. I was afraid The Old Man wouldn’t enjoy himself, and if he didn’t, then I would never have another moment like this.
In a break of silence and intensity, The Old Man turned his attention to the top eyelet of my fishing rod.
“Wait a minute,” he said.
The Old Man tugged on the line with his hands to check something, which I was unaware of.
“You got a fish,” he said in a surprised voice.
I could have sat as we were, quietly satisfied, and this would have been sufficient.
His voice raised in volume, “YOU GOT A FISH!”
“REEL IT IN!”
I began to reel. I felt the fish do its best to pull back and resist me. The rod bent in a half-circle. It felt heavier in my hands, and though the depth was somewhat shallow, I felt as though the fish I reeled in was several fathoms deep and perhaps the size of a large monster.
The Old Man encouraged, “Reel, reel!”
“That’s it,” he said.
“Just keep reeling it in.”
I was set back on the dock and told to be cautious of the edge.. I could not see the fish as it came to the surface, but at last, I could hear the splashing of its tail as I lifted the small winter flounder from the canal.
The fish was not big at all—but it was the biggest I have ever caught. As The Old Man lifted the line, he showed me what I had accomplished. He cheered for me, and all that was previously silent had erupted with the cheers of a father for his son. The seagulls in the water fled after The Old Man’s outburst of excitement. There wings flapping at their sides and water splashing sounded as part of my victory.
“You did it, kid!”
“YOU DID IT!”
I made The Old Man proud.
I could have quietly sat there all day and it would have been sufficient. We could have gone home empty-handed and this would have been sufficient. However, on this day in a colder time of year, I experienced the warmest celebration a boy could ever have, which only comes with the words from a father.
You did it, kid!
There’s a lot going on right now. But fortunately, I’ve learned how to bait my own hook, so to speak. I suppose now I understand why you looked at the water the way you did on this day. I suppose I understand more of your fears and concerns. I understand more about your moments of short temperedness, but just so you know, this was one of the best days of my life. I’m not sure of you knew that —
now you do.