Warning: This is not your usual fishing report.
I started fishing again. It had been a while. Fishing is a contemplative activity and for a long time, I wanted only to run from my thoughts.
I was a military brat growing up. My father graduated from West Point Army Academy and we moved often as he pursued his dreams. I hunted snakes and fished freshwater in AL, where I was born, went crabbing in MD, and loved living near the salt on the southeastern coast, running through the woods and into the surf of VA and NC.
Then my father was killed in an aviation accident. My life changed. At 14 years old, I lost my role model and hero. I lost those formative years when a father imparts knowledge and skills unto his son. I no longer enjoyed the serenity of quiet outdoor pursuits. Instead I rebelled and raged. I burned fast and I went hard, down many dark roads.
Here is my dad's USMA obit, if anyone wants to read about him.
It took me a long time to come around. I began to find peace again in the outdoors, at the age of 26, with rock climbing. I still played and partied hard, but at least I was trying to sustain happiness. Then I met my wife, and from the moment I committed myself to that level of love, my mind started to settle down. We had a child and I settled even more into a place of contentment.
We moved to Farmville and I began working at ARC. I'd been in the Appalachian Mountains for 8-9 years. I wasn't sure what to do in Central Va without mountains, climbing and whitewater. I attended some kayak fishing events for work and liked the folks I met in the angling community. I started to fish again.
May was an emotional month. My mother, sister and I gave speeches to a room full of Special Ops Unit commanders, White House Foreign Policy bigwigs, ex-CIA directors, 3 star Generals, Ambassadors, and big donors, for a special Fund that is very close to our hearts. The fund helps the families of certain "quiet warriors" who die in active duty and they had helped us. Then my father's birthday arrived on the 25th, followed by Memorial Day.
My wife, ever the understanding woman she is, let me get on the water a lot in the days surrounding these emotional events. I needed the time to ruminate.
I didn't have much luck, but had fun paddling around. My wife harassed me about the size of my lures and tried to convince me to fish smaller. I wasn't having it.
This past weekend, the family and I (including In-Laws, Sister-in-Law and kids) headed to Atlantic Beach, NC for a quick vacation before ARC's Big Demo Day on June 8th. I was psyched to try some inshore salt fishing. Mark Lozier of 1st Landing Kayak Fishing Services told me to stop by Chasing Tails Outdoor Bait & Tackle Shop for some local 411. Great shop!
When we arrived in NC, my wife noticed my fishing quiver had grown by one. "This new hobby is getting expensive for someone who has yet to catch any big fish", she jabbed.
"I needed a saltwater rod, darling. Â I'll try and catch something this weekend", I replied with a wink.
She smiled. "I want to see either a fish or a picture of a fish," she shot back and gave me a kiss as I headed out the door.
I went to Beaufort that afternoon. My objective was to fish around Carrot Island. I took out the Jackson Kayak Coosa.
It was a peaceful paddle, but a demoralizing day fishing. I spent a lot of time thinking about the evolution of my life. I had gone from an idyllic youth, to angry teenage years, to depressed twenties, where I rued my teenage actions, and now to my thirties, a happily married father of one beautiful daughter. I no longer carry as much baggage. I am married with a family and have never felt more free.
I went back to the condo with no fish to show my wife. I set plans to head into the Bogue Sound behind the condo in the morning for one last attempt to catch a fish. I still needed to justify my new rod.
I got up at 5:45am and put in behind the condo at 6:45. Paddling the marsh, first thing in the morning, was amazing. I cast lines as I rolled with the tide towards the causeway. I explored a lot of little pockets, had a bunch of bites, even lost one at the kayak, but landed no fish. Around 9 am I explored a little marsh island with tiny little crabs and got this photo.
I paddled up near the causeway, then turned back into the current and fought back up the other side of this big marsh island. I knew I was on borrowed time, as I was supposed to be in the car with my wife by 11 and headed to a surprise, early birthday lunch for my father-in-law. As I paddled, I noticed a swift moving cut through the marsh. It was too shallow for motored boats and I hoped to catch something feeding in the current at the edge of the grass. I beached the kayak and waded in. My fourth cast landed and boom! I got a hit.
There it was, a 20+" speckled trout. The day before I bought a measuring board from Chasing Tails. The guy warned me it only went up to 18", but I assured him I probably would not catch anything larger than that anyway. There ya go. This guy measured off the board by a fair amount.
It was a beautiful fish and I released it back.
After I watched it swim off, I reflected upon the experience. I realized that I was so excited about my first big catch that I mishandled the fish. I used my Fish Grips but I should have supported the trout more. I also botched the hook removal and took to long getting the fish back in the water. A pile of rookie mistakes. As I paddled hard against the tide to get to my rendezvous point to meet my wife, I started beating myself up about it. I thought about all those years I beat myself up over how I handled my father's death and what it did to me. I lived with a lot of regret and shame for too many years. My wife still cautions me about self-chastisement. I decided to let this mistake go and learn from it.
Catch and release is a popular fishing habit and becoming efficient at it is a skill. Being on the water, kayak fishing this past month, I had a lot of time to think about my life and about fishing. Catch and release is a good strategy. When you make mistakes in life, catch the lesson and work quickly to release the regret. We all make mistakes. It is how you respond to those errors and the actions you take in the future, that continue to define your character.
I feel like I am finally becoming the type of man that would make my father proud. My father was taken too soon, but he did impart in me certain characteristics that reemerged in the years since I got married. I no longer run from those old memories or try to suppress his voice inside me. I embrace the strength, both mental and physical, that he passed down to me. It is through his example that I learned how to be a good family man and I endeavor to enjoy time with my family with the same level of presence he demonstrated in his life.
In the past I would have let the memory of my father overwhelm me with sadness, now it just emboldens me to be better. Kayak fishing has given me a chance to reflect upon these seminal events and life lessons, through a peaceful pastime, and granted me an example of how to handle future mistakes. Like that big speckled trout, I just release them.
So, I started fishing again, and I finally got that photo to show my wife.