Fishing

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I don’t remember when I didn’t fish. In fact, when I was only about six years old, my mom would pack a lunch in a paper bag [complete with milk in a Skippy Peanut Butter jar – which always tasted a little suspicious and was consequently thrown out] and all the kids in our entire neighborhood would be off to the park for several hours.

This adventure was always preceded by some very taxing work on my part. My work consisted of making a “fishing net” out of a wire clothes hanger, the end of an old nylon stocking, and sometimes a long piece of wood, or a stick. The hanger was cut and straightened out, then a loop made from one end and the wire twisted around to secure the loop. The next step was to cut off the foot of the nylon stocking and carefully turn the cut edge around the wire loop and whip stitch the stocking toe and wire loop together. The result was a crude, but effective, fishing net. If time allowed, and a proper stick could be found, I would nail the long end of the wire to a stick, which increased my ability to reach further into the pond at the park and catch the “big” guppies that were more than a few inches from the bank. The peanut butter jar served as a “live tank” into which the unfortunate guppies were dropped from the net.

By the time I was about eight or ten years old, my fishing adventures had changed considerably – including the preparations, which were much more sophisticated. By this time in my life, my parents had purchased a lot on a lake in northern Utah, called Bear Lake. This was a magic place to a young tomboy of my age. The edges of the lake just had to be fished and explored. While my father spent his time building our cabin, I spent my time gathering left over lumber and nailing and tying boards, planks and logs together to make my own raft. That was a great raft, and it lasted the entire summer! I don’t have a photo of it, but I think it was about six feet long and maybe 3 feet wide, which was plenty room for me, a long pole to use to punt the raft along in the reed beds and a cinder block tied to a rope to use as an anchor. Other necessities included a bucket of worms, a fishing pole, a line to string the fish, and my lunch, which was packed in the usual paper bag and placed in the worm bucket to keep it safe from falling into the lake. I can’t tell you how much ribbing I took about that in subsequent years!

I never went out that I didn’t catch fish – mostly carp and chub, but occasionally a trout was dumb enough to bite my worm. I even remember catching a few bullheads, which always made me stop fishing so I could inspect the prehistoric- looking fish.

In my family, catching meant cleaning, so I cleaned all the fish I caught. This was a time of incredible interest, as the cavity of the fish was filled with a wonderful – and sometimes colorful – combination of entrails, all of which were inspected and identified. My best girl friend at that time, Jeanne Braithwaite, would wrinkle her nose in disgust and find some less odious occupation like roasting marshmallows over the burners of the old gas range. In the end, the fish were either eaten by us or the local cats, and I always had an adventure and an elementary lesson in ichthyology.

About the time I was fifteen or sixteen years old, my father was my fishing partner. We weren’t fancy fishermen, but we loved the sport. Surrounding the lake were plentiful rivers and beaver ponds to which we eagerly hiked and fished, but most of our attention was centered on various modes of lake fishing. Those times were magic, and served to form a strong bond between father and daughter.

My parents both enjoyed fishing, and as my own children grew old enough to be interested, it became a multi-generational activity, usually including camping, camp fires, cooking and fishing. Some of it must have rubbed off on my children.

Sarah, my youngest daughter, often went fishing with my parents (her grandparents) during the summers she spent with them at the lake. She still talks of those precious memories and the fun they had together. Their summer rituals involved driving down Logan Canyon in Grandpa’s camper, selecting a likely spot by the river, setting up camp and spending a night or two. Fishing was the main event during the day time hours and, like me, Sarah followed her Grandpa along the river, or pond banks, from hole to hole.

My oldest daughter, Melissa and her husband, John, currently live in the cabin my father built. They love Bear Lake and they are both avid fishermen. John, my son-in-law, who is the current Mayor of Garden City, sends regular e-photos of their fishing adventures in the same spots I fished as a child. They are more high tech than I ever was, but the technology seems to pay off on a regular basis. I have included a couple photos and a letter John sent me.

My son, Jeff, is a Coast Guard credentialed captain of large commercial fishing vessels in the Bering Sea. He is married to an elegant lawyer who crewed on his boat last summer. Turns out, she loved it, and they loved being together! Jeff not only makes his livelihood from fishing, but also is a fabulous cook, who can do wonderful things with any fish he happens to have on hand. He also taught me the “proper” way to skin a large salmon, and made it look easy.

Fishing, and being around the water, is part of my soul. As a child, it was an adventure that provided freedom, wonder and curiosity. As a teenager, it was like a glue that tied me to my family - especially my father. As a mature woman, it continues to be a glue that binds me to my children – hence, it binds them to each other, to me, to their grandparents and to their Scandinavian heritage.

There’s something exhilarating and calming in fishing that helps me find a quiet center, bonds me to my family, and also helps me find the mirror that reflects who I was and who I am now.

Photographs of Susan Kempter's Bisiach courtesy of Robertson & Sons Violin Shop