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The Old Plaid Shirt

I have been a guide at a fishing resort for many more years than I care to remember. This is a story about one of hundreds of days I spent on the water. While you might think it’s about catching fish it’s not really. That’s only part of the story and most certainly not the most important part.

It begins on one of those indescribable Canadian summer mornings. It had rained the night before and fresh smells of wet pine and green moss permeated the clean, still morning air. The sky was clear as the sun barely rose above the treetops, glistening off the lakes shimmering surface like lights off of a mirror. I readied my boat as I waited on the dock for my party who had never been to Anderson’s Lodge or Canada for that matter. It was their first day of a four-day trip. I was anxious to meet them and wondered about how the day would go. All I knew is that it was a father, a nine-year-old son, an eleven-year-old daughter and old gramps. Our office told me the first day they wanted to fish Walleye.

They soon arrived on the dock, we introduced ourselves, I set up their baits and we were on our way. As we cruised down the lake to my first “honey hole” I was in deep thought trying to read them and figure out their needs. Each group is different and has different expectations from their fishing vacation. They were not experienced fishermen and it was their first Canadian trip. The kids were excited, dad seemed sceptical and old gramps was a little crusty and definitely quite grumpy!

It was a perfect morning as I stopped at my first honey hole. Three days ago I had a group here and we just nailed Walleyes, both numbers and size! I knew with the two kids numbers would probably be more important than size to start. I didn’t want them to get bored if there wasn’t a lot of action. I also felt the fathers’ scepticism may have come from how good I told them the fishing was before we left the dock. I was pretty sure he didn’t believe me when I told them how good I expected we would do. From what the kids said, I knew their past adventures with Walleye fishing on their home lake was likely 5 to 6 fish all day for the whole boat. It’s very tough to make people believe off the hop we are going to be light years ahead of that.

I put the two men in the front of our 21’ boat on pedestal seats and kept the two kids at the back close to the trolling motor and me so I could coach and help them. They were keen and listened intently to everything I told them. The first pass produced – nothing. Second pass and the girl got her first fish on. We landed the fish and I threw it back, too small. She was surprised I threw it back and so were dad and gramps from the piercing looks they gave me. The third pass gramps got hung up and we didn’t have a hit either. I watched the enthusiasm dwindle in the kids and the scepticism increase in the adults. It was obvious the Walleyes had moved for now and I had best do the same.

At our second stop, the father and son both had fish on our first pass. Both were nice fat Walleyes, perfect size for shore lunch. The mood changed in a heartbeat and now everyone sat intensely working their rods. We worked the area hard and just hammered the Walleye – two and three on at a time. The kids were going crazy and I’m sure you could hear the screaming and yelling for miles across the water. I was so busy running the boat and taking fish off I hardly had time to see all of the high five’s. The little boy had so many pictures taken with him holding fish he started to smell like a Walleye! The morning passed so fast no one could believe it was lunchtime already.

I pulled to shore and started lunch as the kids explored the island we were on while dad helped me collect firewood. Gramps sat calmly casting from the shore as the kids came back and joined him – all three casting like mad things. Soon the hot fire had fresh Walleye snapping to golden brown in the pan and lunch was ready. Everyone couldn’t believe fish could ever taste that good and they don’t anywhere else! An open fire, brand new fresh Walleye with the special breading made by the lodge takes Walleye to a place you can never duplicate in the finest restaurants in the world. Everyone ate their fill, I cleaned up and we were ready for the afternoons fishing.

As we made our way to a new spot, unfortunately I could see dark clouds moving and the wind picked up. I stopped and put the canopy up knowing we were in for a storm! One thing for sure if you don’t like the weather in the Canadian Shield, wait a few minutes, it will change. We have some of the prettiest country in the world and some of the best summer weather you’ll find anywhere but no matter what anyone tells you it can get nasty at times. And this was going to be one of those times.

We got hit hard for a half hour with high winds and a huge downpour. The good part is we were all dry under our full top as the big Bowrider handled the storm in perfect style. I love these boats – specially designed by and for the lodge, the safest in the world and the best I have ever been in. I could see concern and fear in their eyes but I calmly assured them the safety of our boat with confidence. The storm passed quickly and we were soon fishing again, boating and releasing fish as fast as we had been in the morning. The afternoon passed quickly and too soon we were cruising, top down, back to camp on a beautiful sunny evening.

Old gramps was sitting behind the windshield beside me as we sped down the lake. All of a sudden the little boy came from his seat at the back of the boat to his gramps side, he threw his hands around his gramps neck and buried his face in gramps chest. I heard the little gaffer say ”thanks for taking us fishing gram-pa” his little fish smelling hands squeezing his gram-pa as hard as he could. I watched the old man’s eyes fill with tears as the wind swept them from the corners, to the sides, to his furrowed temples and into his white sideburns. As he looked at me over the curly locks of his grandson he winked at me. I winked back smiling as best as I could, my chest heaving and a lump in my throat, as I wanted to cry with the old man at the sight. The sounds of that little boy still ring in my mind to this day.

Soon we arrived at the dock and began unloading the boat as the kids ran up to the cabin. On the dock the old man held his hand out for me to shake. As we did, he put his second hand over the back of mine holding and squeezing my hand with both of his. With his first smile of the day he said “thanks for giving me a wonderful day with my grandkids, I will remember it for the rest of my life”. I said “no thank you and your family. But you know your plaid shirt will smell like fish for the rest of your trip from your grandson’s hug”. He said, “yes and I’m not washing it till I bring him back next year”.

As I walked up to the fish cleaning house to clean and freeze their catch of the day I realized it’s not about just catching fish! There is a magic that happens when you take kids fishing! A bonding between families easier to achieve in the wilderness than in busy city life. No TV, computers, video games, cell phones, Ipods, or Blackberrys. Just you and them.

What I gained that day was worth hundreds of times more than the wages I was paid. It made me realize it’s not just about catching fish. Take a kid fishing it’s worth it!!