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" long have you been fishing?" Essay on a Lifetime Journey

"All other divisions aside, I think in the end there are but two kinds of anglers--those born to fishing and those not. It has nothing to do with expertise or determination or enjoyment. A born fisherman has a soul that wiggles, and though he may be temperamentally inclined to this species or that method, beneath it all is the simple, overriding compulsion to be connected to a fish. If need be, any fish, any way."

Ted Leeson

river camp

After morning greetings and getting settled on the water, one of the first things my clients usually ask me is “So, how long have you been fishing?” I answer with a lighthearted, “I was my father’s only son.” That answer, although true, is not the entirety of the story. One of my earliest memories is with my dad and grandpa, in a camper, in a waterfowl camp, while still in diapers. I don’t remember a time when hunting or fishing was not present, in some form, in my life. My dad loved to hunt birds, turn a wrench and ride motorcycles. But fishing was my grandpa’s passion. From bass fishing, trot lines and trolling in Missouri Lakes, to redfish along the South Texas Coast, we fished.

My grandpa woke each morning with the South Texas sunrise; he ate a banana, slipped on a guayabera and without pausing to button it, was out the door to fish.

We loaded the boat with our rods and boxes of tackle. The smell of the sun and salt water filled my head as we motored away from the pier, past the South Padre Island jetties, out where the shrimp boats traveled. The day quietly slipped by as we caught our fish. When it was time to return, my grandpa instructed me take the helm as we entered the quieter water of the bay. “Set your focus on a point on the horizon and and don’t take your eyes off of it. Keep the bow of the boat heading straight toward the object that you chose and don’t make any drastic changes;” would mean more to me later in life than just learning to steer that small boat in the Gulf of Mexico.

My grandpa gave me my own shrimp traps to catch both bait for our next day of fishing and shrimp that my grandma would cook for dinner. I would rush out to the pier before breakfast to haul up the traps with the long rope that held them to the floor of the bay. What mysteries had the tide replenished my traps with? Flounder, shrimp and any number of crabs and fish greeted me there. Each day’s bounty was different and beautiful. The traps would be re-baited with grandma’s kitchen scraps and cast back to their underwater home at low tide; with the expectation that when the tide returned, the wire baskets would be once again be filled with the secret and unseen inhabitants of the bay.

After a full day of fishing, the boat was cranked out of the salty water, rinsed with fresh water; fish were filleted and showers were taken before dinner. My grandpa always ate his strawberry shortcake before his meal. Something I couldn’t convince my mom was acceptable when I arrived home to Missouri. At sunset, we once again returned to the pier to fish throughout the night under the lights.

The truer, more complete, answer to, “So, how long have you been fishing?” and how I began my fishing journey, was that of a barefoot girl following her grandpa. Living on the Mexico border, he insisted that I learn Spanish and would often speak to me using simple Spanish words. He would tell me that there was no acceptable reason not to be bilingual. He loved to travel, and a good Tuscan Chianti. The kind of traditional Italian red wine that came in a straw basket. He shared it with me on occasion as we sat together on the couch waiting for dinner. He brought me to New Mexico for the first time; a place I would return to and later reside for most of my life.

My grandpa died of cancer when I was in middle school. It would have been years since I had seen him. As an ugly and unrelenting sickness took over every aspect of his physical body, he didn’t want us to see or remember him in such a way. No goodbyes were ever said. I can’t remember the last casts we made together.

tying on a fly

Fishing with my grandpa has been rendered down to a few hazy memories. After many years of growing and changes, I have found my way back to fishing. I speak enough Spanish to get by, and strawberry shortcake is my favorite dessert. I remember the smell of the salt water air and know that somewhere amongst my belongings, I still have the fillet knife that even as a young girl, he trusted me with. I hope to one day return to the South Texas coast and catch a redfish on the fly. I wonder how holding that fish will feel after a lifetime of pursuit. I still think of my grandpa when I see a man in a guayabera, or feel the tug of a fish….and feel the excitement of a little girl wondering what it could be at the end of her line.


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David Haggard
David Haggard
Jun 01, 2022

Great to read your blog for the first time, Kelley! Keep it up!


Wonderful read! One of my grandmothers favorite sayings was "Eat dessert first because life is uncertain." ...I think our grandparents would have liked each other!

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