Fishing has nothing to do with catching fish

I wrote this story specifically for my Dad on Father’s Day.  I told him that it was not meant to be posted, but if he wanted it posted I would.  He told me that it would be fine to post it, but before I did to make some corrections such as put in some commas where they were needed, and some words that were left out.  Like the dutiful son I am, I ignored his advice, and posted it as is.

My Dad and I have this history of fishing.  It’s called not catching fish.  Well that is not entirely true.  There are lots of times we have caught fish, but most of the time we don’t.  We used to catch all kinds of grief about it.  “Why do you guys keep going fishing?  You never catch anything,” was the whine of my Dad’s second wife.  If I was her I wouldn’t have whined so much.  Let’s look at this way.  If it’s hot, sticky, smelly, and the fish aren’t biting, and yet we are still going, what does that say about how much fun it would be to stay here you?   That’s what I thought.  Keep it moving nothing to see here.  It’s a good thing we never paid any attention to her when it came to fishing, because we generally enjoyed going fishing, and still do, no matter how hot, sticky and smelly it might be.  However these days if it’s hot, sticky, and smelly we don’t stick around as long as we used to.  But since it’s Father’s Day, 2015, I thought I would relate a “fishing” anecdote about me and my Dad.

Our history of “fishing” really goes back to my grandfather, my Dad’s Dad, Pop, and the times we went fishing on the Potomac River somewhere in the backwater of Virginia.  To this day I could not tell you where it is.  All I know is we drove from Richmond, over the Rappahannock River, what I used to call “big water” when I was little, and then we turned left and drove for about an hour down roads that were barely paved.  But when we went fishing we caught fish.  I can remember the boats being filled with Blue Fish, Rock Fish and Perch.  Just slap full.  I can never remember going fishing then, and not catching a lot of fish.  But something happened when I got older.  The fishing never stopped, but the catching fish did.

The first thing you have to know about “fishing” with me and my Dad is there are certain hors-d’oeuvres that must be taken or it just ain’t “fishing”.  The staples are as follows, beer, sardines, mustard and regular flavored, but preferably mustard, sometimes hot and spicy,  Van Camp’s Pork and Beans, Oreos and Club Crackers.  It has to be Club Crackers, and the ones in the green box, because if you use saltines the sardines just hang down over the sides.  There is an art to this stuff.  Oh sure you can take, sodas, water, sandwiches, and whatever else some “hangers on” might want to take, but if you don’t have the proper hors-d’oeuvres you might as well just not go.  Because after all, when you get home you want to be able to share the experience with the whole family.  Why should you be the only ones to put up with sticky and smelly?  Dad is sticky, I’m smelly.

My best story of me and Dad “fishing” is the time we packed up about lunch time in the fall of 1989 and headed out to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  We headed to Nags Head and then dropped down to Hatteras and Ocracoke Inlet.  The Outer Banks are just gorgeous, and if you have never been you need to go.  However, if you go, I suggest you get a hotel room.  Dad and I were going to rough it.  That’s right, stay up all night on the beach fishing.  Never stop.  Just being men and “fishing”.  We’d sleep in the Jeep if we had to.

I had just bought a Jeep Cherokee after finishing my MBA at Wake Forest.  4 Wheel Drive baby!  That’s the big 4WD.  I had me a Jeep!  4 wheeling and never going to get stuck.  How could you get stuck driving 4WD?  So let’s go to the Outer Banks where they let you take the Jeep out on the beach! You never know when we would get a chance to go “fishing” again.  (We’ve been a thousand times since then). That was unheard of on the other North Carolina Beaches, South Carolina too for that matter, taking your vehicle, excuse me 4WD, right on the beach.  But we could on the Outer Banks if we wanted.  We could take all the gear we could and more, all the coolers, all the rods, all the reels, plenty of clothes, food, drinks, ice, chairs, the works.  And the best part was we didn’t have to walk it all over hot sand, or cold sand, or deep sand, or for ½ a mile, then forget something and have to walk back to the parking lot to get it.  We could just drive right up to our fishing spot and park.  And if it started raining or got too cold we could just sit in the big 4WD and not have to run for cover, because we drove the cover.

We started out on a Thursday right after lunch.  Figured to get there about dark and set up shop, get the bait in the water, rods in the sand and just snooze until dawn.  We hit I-40 and headed East.  I love cruise control.  I have never been one to speed, Dad either for that matter.  Other than the fact it’s illegal, and dangerous, I hate worrying about getting pulled over and then the subsequent expense of a ticket and inevitable insurance hike.  If the speed limit is 65 I set the needle to between 65 and 70 and hit the button and don’t sweat the troopers.  I did just that.  About the time we hit Raleigh Dad made the comment that when he drives, if the speed limit is 65 he’ll set the cruise to between 70 and 75 because the “fuzz” will only pull you over if you are going 10 mph over the speed limit.  I told him when it was his turn to drive he was welcome to it.

About 4 hours into it, it was Dad’s turn to drive.  He took over, the speed limit on Highway 64 between Raleigh and Nags Head is 55, so dutifully he set the cruise to between 60 and 65.  Guess what?  Turns out the “State Fuzz” will pull you over for going 8 mph over the speed limit and Mr. Smoky Bear did just that.  I’m sitting in the passenger seat trying not to laugh because how often do you get to be proven right about something when your old man has told you different. Hardly ever, am I right?

“Can I see your license, registration and proof of insurance please sir?”

I pulled out the registration and insurance card from the glove compartment, handed it to Dad who handed it to the State Trooper.

“Would you step back to my cruiser with me please sir?”

“Sure officer.  But how fast did you show that I was going?”  I know Dad was trying to angle for my speedometer being inaccurate.

“63 in a 55 mph zone sir.”

I thought I was going to wet myself right then and there.

Dad went back to the cruiser and came back 10 minutes later without a ticket.  To this day I don’t know why he didn’t get a ticket, but what I do remember is that when he came back he said that he almost got a ticket for having an expired insurance card.  Oops.  I had forgotten to take the old one out when it expired and had handed my Dad the wrong insurance card.

We proceeded onwards.  Dad still driving but cruise control set to 55 mph.  None of this in between stuff anymore.

We got to Nags Head, turned right and headed down the Outer Banks looking for an access road to the beach.  It was kinda dark and hard to see the access roads seeing as how it was after sunset and they don’t exactly put up street lights in National Parks.  This is where most writers would say this should have been our first clue.  Well it was our first clue but we didn’t think anything of it.  We found an access road, put it in 4WD and headed in.  Man was it dark.  Good thing we had headlights.  Cruised right up on to the beach which literally was about 100 yards wide, I made a left and we started looking for a place to park and set up for the night.  It was so dark we finally just stopped because, why not?

We got out of the 4WD and began to set up.  Man, not only was it dark but it was windy.  Really windy.  We got out the chairs, the gear, the bait, the rods, the reels, the coolers, all the stuff we hauled in and began “rigging up”.  We each got one rod ready, walked out to the front of the 4WD and cast out into the surf.  We assumed we were casting into the surf, because the direction we were casting sure was making noise like it was the ocean.  That was how dark it was.

We set the rods in the sand sticks and went back to where we had our other rods and began rigging those also.  You need to have two lines in the water at all times, and cast at different distances.  So we set those up, cast those out and set down and turned off the lights.  I don’t know how many of you have been to the beach before, and at night, but I have.  However, the beaches I have been to have been pretty will lit with the houses that line the beaches, and also the boardwalks, arcades and piers that inhabit the beaches that I frequented.   I had never been to a beach that didn’t have those things at night.  I now had.  When we turned off the lights of the car and the flashlights you would have thought someone had dropped a bag over our heads and were taking us to a fraternity hazing.  Man you could not, literally see the hand in front of your face.  And the wind.  The wind was something else.  Probably 20 mph, in the dark, in the fall, on the Outer Banks.  It was cold.  And we were going to be here for the next 48 hours roughing it?

To our credit we did stay for probably an hour, but when it came time to check the bait, we both kind of looked at each other and said, “You know, I can’t even tell if the lines are in the water.  They could be behind us for all we know.  And we were serious.  We were not exaggerating.  It was literally that dark, and so windy we couldn’t tell where the lines were.  “Let’s head up to the pier we saw a few miles back.”  Not much point in fishing, if you can’t tell if your lines are in the water, you can’t see the coolers to get at the food, and it’s so windy and cold you can’t get at the hors-d’oeuvres.  So we reeled in and in the dark, wind, and cold, packed up and headed for the access road.

Remember when I said we had trouble finding the access road from the highway because it was so dark?  Try finding it from a beach with absolutely no ambient lighting.  We must have driven up and down the beach for an hour looking for the road between the bazillion or so dunes that were flanking our escape route.  Dad was hanging out the passenger side window with his flashlight, this was before you could buy a spotting scope that could shame a light house for $20 at your nearest Lowes, trying to find the outlet.  I thought we were going to have to camp it on the beach and wait for “sunup”.  Wasn’t that the plan to begin with?

We finally found the outlet, which by the way was not the original one.  I think we ended up 5 miles further down the road than where we originally entered.  We landed on Highway 12, which is the main road on the Outer Banks, and headed back North to Nags Head and the “Outer Banks Fishing Pier”.  We fished on the pier for a couple of hours and talked about our camping fiasco.

“You know what we need to do?” I said.  “We need to go down to Ocracoke Inlet and see my buddy Mike Waters who has a condo on the Inlet! We can stay with him.  He’ll go fishing with us and we won’t have to put up with all this darkness!”  Problem solved.

So after fishing for a couple of hours, not catching anything, again (which goes without saying), we retired to the 4WD, reclined the rich Corinthian cloth upholstery and conked out for 3 hours.

We woke up about dawn and headed to Ocracoke.  The rest of the trip is memorable but not as interesting.  We met Mike at the Ferry that morning, and headed to his condo.  We set out the fishing nets in the Inlet, in the hopes that if we didn’t catch anything that day, we would at least have supper in the nets when we got back.  This is where fishing has nothing to do with catching fish.  We sat out there all day, at least 10 hours, and didn’t even get a bite.  And this was the Outer Banks, in the fall, which is some of the best fishing in the country.  But the weather was nice, the sun was out, it was cool, but not cold, and we just sat in the chairs, changed the bait every now and then, ate sardines and pork and beans and thanked the good Lord above that fishing was an outdoor sport.

We got back to Mike’s condo about sunset, but in time to go check the nets.  Smelling blue fish in the pan before we pulled the nets, my mouth was watering.  We pulled the nets.  No fish.  The streak continues.  Guess what was for supper.  Pork and Beans and Sardines.  Umm boy!!

Dad got the couch, I got the floor and I don’t think I have ever slept better than I did that night, in or out of a bed.  We got up the next morning, had some cereal, took Mike back to the Ferry, and headed back up to Nags Head and the bridge.  The option was to either take the Ferry or drive and since it took the same amount of time either way we decided to drive and see the scenery.  And man did we see some scenery.   You have to go to the Outer Banks someday.  I am just not a good enough writer to do the Banks justice.  Go yourself.

We caught the Hatteras Ferry and I saw my first Mazda Miata.  How I remember that I don’t know, but the car wasn’t much bigger than me.  We hit the Washington Baum Bridge over to Roanoke Island, then the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge to the mainland, and we were off for home.

We didn’t catch fish.  We hardly ever catch fish.  Catching fish is not the point.  Fishing with your Dad on the Outer Banks in the fall with a 4WD and a cooler full of Sardines and Pork and Beans is the point.

Bet you thought when I said “you never get stuck with a 4WD”, that we were going to get stuck”.  We did but not this time.  That’s another story.