The Last Fishing Trip
Alzheimer’s grew like an algae bloom in my father’s brain. He couldn’t be left alone, much less drive himself to the lake. I took over his place. The next spring, during the spawn, I brought him to the lake. Even in his best years, to be honest, he wasn’t a very good bass fisherman. This year, especially for the spring spawn, the fishing had been slow, so I didn’t have any expectations. Late on a warm, cloudless Saturday afternoon, I helped him walk slow and unsteady the length of the dock and then slowly into the boat and then put him in the back seat. The boat was new, shiny, fiberglass, sleek, carpeted with padded seats and an engine that could propel its occupants over a smooth surface at 70 miles per hours. But that isn’t the way it started.
We came to the lake when I was 9 years old. My father bought a waterfront lot full of brush and trees. Many weekends were spend clearing the land and moving in a mobile home. Then we built the first pier, which has been torn down, rickety with age and replaced by another, it also torn down from age and the current pier built. The mobile home is long gone too and a house, guest cabin and a garage now stand on our land. Back in the summers of my youth my father and I would fish the brushy shorelines in the only boat he could ever afford. A sixteen-foot aluminum Jon boat with a 5-HP Johnson. I was in charge of navigating the brush and flooded timber and mats of Hydrilla with a paddle while my dad taught me the excitement of top water baits. When I wasn’t fishing from the boat, wearing nothing but blue jeans shorts, my skin a rich brown from endless summer days, I hunted the tall grass by the water for crickets and grasshoppers. I didn’t want the crickets or grasshoppers, I wanted to use them for bait to catch perch around the pier, which would be used as bait for a trotline to catch catfish. Once a good number of perch were caught, and in the bait bucket, my father and I went to the middle of the lake, the summer sun fierce, the seats of the aluminum boat too hot to touch, both of us sweating as we pulled the boat along the trotline, baiting each hook with a live perch from the bucket and letting the line sink back down to the dark depths. We would be back the next morning, after the bass fishing was done, to check the line and take the hooks from the catfish’s mouth and let the fish, angry and flopping, fall to the metal bottom of the boat. In the late afternoon, after the work was done and the heat of the day abated, and the shadows of the tall pines stretched out into the cove, before we went fishing, we would put on your swimming shorts and jump off our pier into the clear water. Close to the shore it smelled like hydrilla and mud but out in the middle of the cove, where we floated on old lifejackets, the water was clean. Small perch swam curiously around us. We could smell the fried catfish and hush puppies mom was cooking for us to eat before we went fishing. We rinsed the day’s dirt and sweat off us. Making us feel fresh and baptized in nature. I let go of my lifejacket and swam down, cool, deep cool, then cold. Then back to the surface. My father waited there for me, his hair black and wet and slick to his head, holding my life jacket in place.
“Did you reach the bottom?”
“Yes sir,” I showed him my handful of mud. “It’s cold down there.”
“It should be, that’s probably over 17 feet.”
My mother has been dead over 25 years. Now he sat in the back seat of my bass boat looking confused, a bit unkept and grouchy. Again, he casted his plastic worm towards the shore and silently stared at the smooth water.
I tried this plastic worm and then another and then another. I tried all the old favorites, searching to find something the finicky fish would like. The old tried-and-true weren’t being reliable. I dug deeper into my tackle for something new. Motoroil. Who names a worm color, Motoroil? Let’s try it.
I caught a fish, then another, then another. I put the new worm on my dad’s line. He caught a fish, then another. I caught a five-pounder. I caught more. My dad caught more. We laughed and joked, and I netted all his fish. We caught fish until it was too dark to see.
It was perfect.
Back on the porch at the lake house, I put the landing net, full of fish, down so I could get the camera. My dad sat in a chair. I called my wife, from inside. She came out to see what we had.
“Holy cow, look at all those fish!” she said.
“Yes,” I said. “We had a pretty good afternoon.”
She turned to my dad. “How many of those did you catch?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I didn’t catch any of those fish.”
That was our last fishing trip.