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Teach a boy how to fish …

Last week I had dinner with some folks who were — hold on to your hats — native — Sarasotans and Floridians. It was such fun to hear their stories of “old” Sarasota — a place called Byrd’s (hope I got that name right) that used to be a great place for a burger as you headed over to Longboat Key. Smacks — a drive-up restaurant downtown that used to be the absolute in spot for anyone and everyone. Old-style, hand-crank drawbridges; half-built buildings (was it going to be a Ritz?) out on St. Armands where, for years, kids got into a little … and a lot … of trouble; stories of young kids rowing out to the islands near the North Siesta Key Bridge … camping out, drinking beer, and torching up dead palm fronds … just sounded like a simpler, slightly naughty, but somehow more real, time in Sarasota’s history.

Here’s a story of my own … thinking about simpler times.


A while back, I was sitting in my yard watching the sun set when a young boy – thirteen or so –stepped onto the corner of my lawn and politely asked if it was possible to cross over my property to access the narrow strip of land that juts out into the small pond nearby. He was neatly dressed, well-mannered, and he was carrying a fishing rod.

He had a friend with him; they had ridden their bikes to the pond where I often watch ducks and turtles and an inky black Anhinga snaking through the water or basking outstretched wings in the sun.


I didn’t know kids did that anymore. I didn’t know I was even missing the idea of fishing, but the sight of those boys intent on getting to the “good spot” was somehow reassuring. I’d just assumed, I guess, that every young person these days is surgically attached to a cell phone or an iPod or a computer mouse. I honestly thought children fishing had gone the way of catching fireflies or playing Red Light, Green Light.

My grandparents loved to fish and they passed that gene on to my older brother, Geoff. I have photographs of them proudly displaying the fish they caught while taking a couple of days off at some swampy Florida lake. They thought they were living the “good life” with their campfires and freshly-caught fish. And they were.

They instilled a life-long love of fishing in my brother. As teenagers, he took me “horn pouting” at midnight on Dick Brown Pond at the base of Bridgewater Mountain in New Hampshire, where our family took summer vacations sometimes. My stepfather, an avid fly-fisherman who always teased my brother for being a “worm-soaker,” tied his own flies: intricate, iridescent, gorgeous flies, some with feathers or flashing metal to attract fish. I sometimes went with him on his fishing expeditions. He never seemed to tire of casting and I tired too quickly of mosquitoes and the moratorium on talking. But I absorbed a lot in those quiet moments. I learned to spot a rise, watched beavers build dams, tracked tiny footprints – raccoons? possums? – to the water’s muddy edge, while my stepfather waded on, waist-deep into the murky pond.

Writing this makes me miss those quiet moments when time stood still for fishing. Makes me miss my brother, the closeness we shared as children; makes me miss the extraordinary innocence of childhood. I’m grateful for these two boys showing me that fishing – and all that it implies for them – still exists.

Soon they will build houses in front of this pond. They’ve cleared the land of trees and put up a big sign detailing the new subdivision with its coming attraction of million-dollar homes. My view will be lost and these neighborhood boys will no longer have a place to fish.

It’s the old conundrum of a fish on a hook: the fish — desperately flailing for life, and the fisherman — having the time of his.

Isn’t that the way it goes.

Posted on December 23rd, 2008Comments RSS Feed
One Response to Teach a boy how to fish …
  1. Always love reading your personal stories Mary Catherine…Wonderful reliving your memories with you..Thank you for sharing:-)

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