My Dad wasn’t much of a stream fisherman. I first noted his lack of angling instinct when he cast to the short end of a shallow eddy on the Walla Walla River, a place no self-respecting trout would hang out.
After he finished, I stepped in to hook a 10-incher where I thought it would be. “Good job,” he said. “Looks like you’ve got another nice one.”
I never held the deficiency against him. Not everyone wakes up with fishing on the mind.
Two earlier fishing experiences with Dad involved charter boats.
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The first was a bottom-fishing trip that he booked for himself and my older brothers out of San Pedro, Calif. Dad didn’t have the heart to say no when I jumped out of bed at 4 a.m., wide-eyed and dressed to go.
Holding a rod of my own wasn’t in the budget, but I didn’t care. Watching other anglers catch plug-slashing barracuda and dipping a toothy jack mackerel from the live well kept me entertained.
The second experience was a few years later, when I was 14. This time it was just Dad and me. We ate fish and chips, slept in a cheap motel and rose before sunrise to meet a party boat at the Illwaco dock. With ocean swells rising up taller than the boat, all you had to do was hold on to your rod and let waves impart action to your herring.
I got so seasick, I wanted to die from the pain in my gut. During one brief respite from throwing up, I managed to hook a salmon. “Big king. Big king,” the skipper yelled when the strike made the drag on my Penn level-wind scream.
We ate fish and chips, slept in a cheap motel and rose before sunrise to meet a party boat at the Illwaco dock.
Dennis Dauble, retired fisheries scientist
Two things I remember about that Buoy 10 experience: the image of a huge Chinook salmon floating to the surface hooked by a thread of cartilage on its massive jaw, and the disparaging look a well-seasoned angler gave me when I staggered off the boat with the biggest fish of the day. I still have the battle-scarred “30 lb salmon” button.
Dad also left me with memories of his big red nose. I fixated on his over-sized snout ever since I saw him rub it on the ferrule of his spinning rod when he put his rod together.
I have good thoughts about the lubricating properties of Dad’s nose every time I bring out my vintage Eagle Claw spinning rod to cast for redtail surfperch on the Oregon coast. Without me putting a shot of nose grease on its rusty steel ferrule, the rod would be forever stuck in a one-piece position.
Dad’s nose was no more red than usual in early December 2007, during a brief hospital visit where I had steelhead fishing on my mind. He was recovering from routine bladder surgery but, as I have since learned, the tipping point between life and death is not always obvious.
It was a typical bedside scene: IV protruding from wrist, heart monitor beeping, two bare ankles poking out from under a blue hospital gown. Dad joked with a pretty nurse about when he might get a steak dinner, while I sat in a padded recliner watching the Seahawks pound the Chargers.
When daylight began to fade, I remember thinking there was time to make a few casts for steelhead on the way home. Dad and I squeezed hands in a rare moment of affection as I exited, neither of us anticipating that his condition would regress and he would die from pneumonia while I was away on business travel two days later.
I must confess that a chance to fish for steelhead on my way home from St. Mary Hospital that somber December afternoon deterred me from a longer bedside visit.
My only excuse is having no fair warning Dad would no longer greet me with a crooked-tooth smile and a firm handshake. I had not anticipated not having him around to listen to my stories and protect my backside. In my wildest dreams, I did not imagine we had shared our last Father’s Day together.
Regret is a tough load to haul, but if there is an encouraging aspect to these memories, it comes with knowing that fishing provides solace when I am hurt, confused and worn out from the unfairness of it all.
Thanks for being there when I needed you, Dad, and for taking me fishing when doing so was not always at the top of your list.
Dennis Dauble is a retired fisheries scientist and outdoor writer. His website is DennisDaubleBooks.com.