When I look back on it, I really didn’t have much of a choice on whether I wanted to be a fisherman or not. From the time I was just days old, there was a photo taken of me sleeping as I adorned a hat that determined my fate — ‘Grandpa’s Little Fishing Buddy.’
It was a fate that I quickly embraced, as it was the perfect chance to sit out with my Papa and learn the ins and outs of life on Rainy Lake, my home away from home. Armed with a little pink rod (that to this day I can’t recall ever feeling the weight of an actual fish on) I was going to live up to the reputation that hat preceded over me.
Each summer visit “up north” yielded a trip on the boat, rain or shine, morning, afternoon or night. So much time was spent on that boat that last summer Papa surprised me by putting red lettering along the side and naming it ‘Cakes,’ his nickname for me.
As I grew up, so did my fishing experience.
One summer I was reeling in my Papa’s line — something that continued for many years and still happens to date — another I was baiting my own hook and filleting a fish. He taught me how to tell a proper fish story — “it’s always a good day for fishing and they are always biting no matter what anyone asks” — and the best spots to catch them and with which bait. To this day I will only use shiners (mostly because I can’t stand leeches, that’s another lake story) and hammered gold spinners because, “that’s what Papa uses.”
I can even remember my “I love all animals” phase, where I would release the minnows from the bucket and beg papa to let that freshly caught and beautiful walleye go; and he did, without so much as a flinch.
Even as I got older and I drifted off in to teenage years, the trips hardly slowed down. Instead of a stuffed animal and a lunch that my grandma packed for us, I had my CD player and a cellphone, somewhat defeating the purpose of escaping on the lake to go fishing but it didn’t matter — I was still there with my Papa.
Because being ‘Grandpa’s Little Fishing Buddy’ was never really about the fishing. It was about the Papa/Cakes time, and that’s a fate I would have chosen anyway.