May 21, 2024

Farm & Food File: Fishing and following the Lord’s advice

While my father milked cows and farmed for almost 50 years, I never heard him say he loved — or, for that matter, even liked — either cows or farming.

I did know he loved to fish and it may have been that great passion that gave him the quiet patience to endure the days and decades of machinery breakdowns, sick Holsteins, six children, and his not-always-helpful Uncle Honey.

I knew this because it didn’t take much to get him to talk about his fish-centered youth: vacations with neighborhood friends to northern Minnesota in the 1930s; creekside camping and fishing under the stars with high school pals in the early 1940s; his 1950 honeymoon on Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks so he, well, could fish.

Later, fishing kept those carefree, cow-free days alive. Most times it was just a couple of hours on slow, lazy Sunday afternoons with me and a couple of my brothers when, after his post-dinner, noon nap, Dad would ask, “Who wants to go to the river” — meaning the just-over-the-levee Kaskaskia River — “to see what’s bitin’?”

Usually it was the slow nibbles of toothy alligator gars or the slamming hits of a fish we called drum. Dad wanted neither so we usually went home empty handed. “Ah,” he’d say, “it’s more about gettin’ the fever down anyway.”

In the late 1960s, Dad bought a V-hull, 16-foot aluminum boat with a 40 horsepower Scott-Atwater outboard motor. It “needed work” of course, so my brothers and I were recruited to replace dozens of leaky rivets, fiberglass its exterior ribs and bow, and sand it smooth and bare for a recoat of snappy azure blue and bright white.

A couple of years later, I was in that refurbished boat one summer morning with my father and a longtime camping friend, our congregation’s pastor, crappie fishing on Kentucky Lake. When the morning heat built, however, the crappie bites cooled.

My patient father, who had never had a bad day fishing no matter the results, kept his feathery jig dancing and the conversion moving.

Pastor Holstein — I kid you not — wasn’t entertained by either and soon he, who insisted Dad call him “Bob” when not in church, launched into a no-fish dirge that sounded like a reading from the bitter Book of Lamentations.

When he finished, Dad looked at him and said in a firm voice, “Well, Bob, remember your Bible: ‘And the Lord said to Peter, ‘Peter, you dummy! Cast out on the other side!’‘”

I didn’t know whether to laugh out loud or jump into the lake to keep from laughing out loud. Pastor, however, guffawed so hard it shook the boat, but he quickly followed the Lord’s advice.

As my brothers and I got older and more able to take over the milking and fieldwork, Dad traded his “alumatub” for a quieter, better equipped, fiberglass boat. Soon he and Mom, an avid fisher, too, would spend weekends fishing and camping at state parks and local lakes.

Then, after the cows went in the late 1980s, Dad acquired a new, 18-footer that had more conveniences and luxuries than any house he and Mom ever lived in. “There’s no law that says you can’t be comfortable having fun,” he said by way of explanation.

The last time I fished with Dad was in that comfortable boat. Always wanting to get to any fish first, Dad claimed the bow seat, I was in the stern, and my two older brothers — in a 40-year-old replay of those sultry Sunday afternoons on the Kaskaskia — were parked in the swivel seats in between.

It was an achingly beautiful spring afternoon and we were fishing on a small, private, spring-fed lake hidden in the southern Illinois hills. The fish were hitting, the beer was cold, and the love was honest and unmentioned.

Alan Guebert

Alan Guebert

Farm & Food File is published weekly through the U.S. and Canada. Source material and contact information are posted at www.farmandfoodfile.com.