Wednesday was the 79th anniversary of D-Day, and to remind myself of the sacrifices so many men and women made so long ago I watched a couple of hours of footage that chronicled that important moment in history. Perhaps my interest was piqued because I had stumbled across some old photos of my dad, who was a kid in the Army at the time, in Italy and moving north, having been shipped there with his unit after serving in North Africa.
In the same bunch of photos were a few shots of my dad and mom on Gunflint Lake in northeast Minnesota, after the war. My dad was a good guy and as a kid I always took pride in knowing that growing up in Fargo he played pool and rode motorcycles. Also he fished, mostly in the Detroit Lakes, Minn., area, and I figure that's how he met my mom, a preacher's daughter from nearby Frazee.
Fishing was what connected these thoughts, and how it has run through our family, a common thread over many years. Dad died young, and I never did ask him what he was thinking, honeymooning on the Gunflint Trail after he and mom married following the war. They wouldn't have had much money, and the roads couldn't have been good. The adventure must have been the draw, and the fish.
My brother and I played team sports as kids, but fishing was what we did with Dad. I have no idea whether my dad's dad fished. But fishing stuck with my brother and me, and now our kids, the attraction of water and what's beneath it being a mystery, and one that never really is solved.
You can overthink these things, and Ernest Hemingway seemed to say as much when answering critics who saw in his novel "The Old Man And The Sea" a treatise on the value of perseverance and determination, and the dignity that attends throwing in with nature. "There isn't any symbolism," Hemingway said, referring to the book that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. "The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish."
Which was Hemingway the writer speaking, about literature. But it's likely Hemingway the fisherman believed something quite different, agreeing in that respect with Zane Grey, also an angler and man of letters who said, "If I fished only to capture fish, my fishing trips would have ended long ago."
I've considered quite often the question of how various people come to fishing, and whether it's required to have a parent or other mentor lead you to it. As a young parent I didn't want to take a chance that our two boys would miss out, and I took them fishing often, or their mother did. Watching Bob Nasby, a St. Paul friend, fish with his grandson, Bobby, and Dick Hanousek, also from St. Paul, fish with his kids was an inspiration for me, turning the pastime into a lifestyle as they did, and I wanted to have in my family what they had, that connection.
Not many years ago it was still legal to fish from the old draw bridge over the St. Croix in Stillwater, and on occasional warm summer nights I'd sidle alongside some of the kids who swung fishing lines into the river below. Once in a while they'd catch a crappie or a sheepshead, but mostly they caught nothing, and when dark came they'd hop on their bikes and pedal home, a bucket with their gear swinging from their handlebars, their fishing rod in one hand. This was perhaps as good a time as they could imagine, and I was enthused by their enthusiasm.
One day, wanting to hang out with similarly young anglers, I rode my bike from Wirth Lake in Minneapolis out to Medicine Lake in Plymouth, fishing along the way. I ended up on piers alongside kids of all ages, throwing a bobber that carried with it a bare hook and a worm, hooking the occasional sunnie. Sometimes parents accompanied the kids, but mostly they were alone. It was great fun, and I made it back to my truck at Theodore Wirth Park just before dark.
Abetting youth fishing in the metro is a program called FIN, or Fishing in the Neighborhood, sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources. The idea is to get kids fishing, and their parents, too, and each spring scores of Twin Cities lakes and ponds are stocked with panfish, and rods and reels are available to borrow. It's another way to get kids fishing, and a good one.
My sons and I still fish together, and a couple of years ago we flew to Alaska, where in September we fly-rodded for silver salmon. Both boys worked through their college summers guiding in Montana, so these days I'm often the one seeking advice from them.
One day on that trip I was downstream, and when I ambled back in the boys' direction I asked how many fish they had.
"Three, but just one now,'' the older boy said. "A bear stole two off the stringer we had tied to a log in the river."
The boys never met their grandfather, but they knew from stories I had told them that we had shared many good times, fishing.
A generation later, this was another.