Today, I bring you another guest post from Peter Cammann. He knows a thing or two about fishing as his articles in in magazines like Field & Stream, Fly Fisherman Magazine, On the Water, Outdoor Life, and Vermont Life Magazine can attest.
Peter’s post is a work of nonfiction about his own Dad, Fred Cammann. Like me, Peter is from his Dad’s second marriage.
This story is of the Father-Son category. I’ll be featuring more of these from an assortment of guest authors in the weeks to come. Interspersed, naturally, with a few of my own as well.
Copyright 2008, 2013 by Peter Cammann
I did not grow up in a family that fished together. It’s true that my mother taught me the basics of the double haul cast during the summer I turned 12 (she handed me a seven and a half foot, five weight fly rod and bade me cast it into the heavily chlorinated waters of my grandfather’s backyard swimming pool, until I could do so without injuring myself or anyone within a thirty foot radius). In spite of this, “my people” were not of fishing stock. My two uncles were quite different stories. My father’s brother, George and I fished together quite a bit in the summer of 1969, when our family and his visited Montana, which was a real pleasure, although strangely enough, I have only fished with him one other time. My mother’s brother, Albie and I did a little surfcasting and hunting together when I was a kid as well, but again, infrequently.
My father, Fred had no real interest in the fishing, although he always encouraged me, in his own way. I remember something he once told me. “The secret to surfcasting,” he said when I was about 10 years old, “is that no one ever catches anything.”
While this pronouncement may seem to have been somewhat cynical advice to give to a boy, it was also accurate. Surfcasting is a most unlikely exercise. An angler walks the beach and from time to time, he stares out at the vastness of the ocean, looking for some imperceptible sign that a fish, any fish might be swimming by, close enough to the shore that it could conceivably be reached by the length of a cast.
Those were long, long odds indeed. It was a wonder I didn’t give the whole damn thing up right then and there.
That is not to say that no adult I knew as a child ever fished. One of Fred’s friends, Terry bought a half share of a boat that he kept at Three Mile Harbor. It was a beautiful craft and I was lucky enough to ride in it once or twice a year with Fred and my brother Philip (who also had little interest in piscatorial exploits), bottom fishing for scup, blowfish and flounder in the calm waters of Long Island Sound. My mother, Nora often joined us, as she actually was a pretty good angler. This was always a good time.
Every so often, Terry would convince Fred that he needed get out on the open ocean without the family and put in a half-day of real fishing. My father would rise on these rare occasions at the appointed hour, shortly before dawn, a time of day he did not particularly love, except when it was bird-hunting season. He would attempt to quietly sneak out of the house, although he always awakened my mother with his rustling about. But as my brother and I slept through thunderstorms, we were totally oblivious to his departure. Most of those times, the only way we were able to tell that my father had been out fishing at all though, was that he would be sleepy all afternoon. There was, however, one remarkable day.
I woke up on that morning, a couple of hours after Fred gone to meet up with Terry, headed out to the ditch that I’d dug next to the barn, and tried to eke out a dozen or so earthworms from the dirt so I could go fishing in Sagg Pond for white perch. I enjoyed a pleasant day there and returned in the middle of the afternoon. My father’s car was out front, so I figured he was probably grabbing a quick nap after his nautical adventures. Nora and Philip were nowhere to be seen, and only the family dog was there to greet me as I walked into the kitchen. My mother had left a note, telling me to rummage through the refrigerator for lunch.
After snagging a bite to eat, I wandered down to the other end of the house to the bathroom nearest my parent’s bedroom. You couldn’t exactly call it their bathroom, since it was located along a common hallway in the house, but it was the one closest to where they slept, so my brother and I always knew it basically was their turf. But because it was in close proximity to the living room as well, everyone used it. I opened the door and was immediately overwhelmed by a strong and familiar smell.
No, it wasn’t the septic system backing up. The odor that so thoroughly pervaded that little room, even with the window opened wide, was of fish! Like the little boy in the old joke who dug through the pile of manure his parents had shoveled into his bedroom as punishment, searching for the pony that he just knew had to be buried there, I whipped my eyes around the room, looking for the fish that was sure to be in this most unlikely setting.
And then I saw it.
Lying along the length of the bottom of the bathtub was the largest striped bass I’d ever seen in my short life. It was half covered with ice and the one eye that was exposed appeared clear and black. Fred had caught this monster just a few hours before!
My father could fish! Who knew?
Decades later, I gave Fred a fly rod and reel for his birthday. He was a bit confused by the gift, but he politely went out trout fishing with me whenever he and Nora came to visit my family at our home in Vermont. He would catch and release his fish and seemed to be fairly happy with the whole scene. I knew he might have been more at ease playing golf, but for him, going fishing had always been about him trying to connect with his overly obsessed son.
After reading this story, I realized that fish are to Peter as patents are to me. What is the “fish” in your own father-son relationship? And, this is key, are you able to catch the thing and put ‘im in your bathtub?
Peter also wrote a great book about weird jobs. Slipnot is a fictional account of someone working in sales selling hair pieces. Great beach reading!