I don't actually remember the first time my father and I went out on the family boat together, but I do remember most of the boating excursions that followed. All those lessons and memories make up the very core of who I am as a person. And I have no one else but my father to thank for that.
Our first family boat was a 12-foot Sears Gamefisher skiff we called “Old Greenie,” because of its odd-colored fiberglass. The first trip I remember was on a cold March day in 1975, when we headed out onto the Severn River for the (now almost nonexistent) yellow perch run. Our boat wasn’t fancy compared to the others, but it didn’t matter – we went home with a stringer full of tasty yellow perch anyway. When we got back to the launch ramp, my father said, “We may not have the nicest boat out there, but we still caught fish!”
Other memories revolve around our summer crabbing trips on Chesapeake Bay, which happened almost every weekend between July and October. Magic moments included flocks of cormorants flying across a burning, rising sun, and a heron’s stealthy fishing operation along the shoreline. But what really got my dad (and still chokes me up to this day) were the first cries of Canada geese piercing the early autumn fog as we pulled up the last bushels of crabs for the season. I remember him saying, “You know, you can’t get this playing Atari.”
One tradition that I still hold onto today is Dad’s “beer and a bucket” trips. This involves grabbing a sixer of beer and a bucket of Kentucky Fried chicken, hopping in the boat, and then heading up into some quiet cove somewhere to anchor, chow down, and just soak it all in. It’s something I still do a few times each year to help wash away a particularly bad day. It always seems to do the trick.
My dad taught me a lot of things on shore too, but the best lessons came from our time together fishing, crabbing, and exploring our local waterways. He taught me that you don’t need an expensive, fancy rig (and the accompanying boat loan) to get out on the water and enjoy it. He taught me that there are moments in time on the water that will shape your appreciation of the natural world for a lifetime. He showed me that sometimes you have to take a time out, just to get away from life. And most importantly, he taught me (whether he knew it or not) that one of the most enduring and important bonds we have in our lives is that of a father and his son. And there’s no better place to cement that bond than on the water.
Happy Father's Day. Beer and a bucket, anyone?