It was March 2016 and we were sitting in the living room when my daughter asked me to take her fishing. She was 2 1/2 years old. I felt I had done something right.
To be clear, I wanted a daughter first and have no intention of raising her as a surrogate son. My desire from the beginning was to show her the joy and wonder that fishing has to offer in the hopes that one day she might ask her daddy to take her. I want her to know that girls fish, too.
The moment she asked me to take her fishing, I immediately purchased for my daughter her very own pole. When I returned, we made sure to make this moment a lasting memory. Daddy’s girl paraded around the living room proudly with her fishing pole. Shortly after the parade, we started practicing how to reel. As soon as I was confident she would listen to instruction near a body of water, we set out for a nearby lake. Kids may remember more than we want them to sometimes but they do have short attention spans; start casting when the water boils.
As of this writing, my daughter is nearly seven. She has had four seasons of fishing, camping, and, more recently, scouting for deer. Her understanding of the natural world expands in concert with a love most things outdoors. A $1 net in hand will entertain her for hours and a hot dog roasting on a stick over a campfire is one of her favorite meals (along with fresh walleye, crappie, and perch nuggets). She is as comfortable in a dress as she is mucking the stalls at the local stable. And her little brother adores her.
A family legacy
My son is now the same age as his sister when she started fishing. He watches all that she does and often imitates. And it does not always make life easy (she is daddy’s girl, but also rather independently spirited and precocious for her age) but he couldn’t ask for a better role model.
The sight of wildlife excites him and few things make him happier than our version of a “deer drive.” Like his sister, he has taken to an outdoor life like a moth to a flame; fishing included.
As a family, we have been extremely fortunate during the pandemic. Everyone has remained healthy, but we have missed two family vacations. Among the missed trips was fishing camp in Maine. The best-laid plans had come undone and my work schedule made it difficult to get the kids on the water much this summer.
Luckily my work schedule changed. On a Friday after the workday had ended, we put the kids in the car and drove to a local reservoir. The first location was taken by another family so we moved north. When we arrived, we agreed that each child would take turns due to the lack of space. The panfishing was hot and a plastic container of garden worms purchased from a pet store unlocked a universe of memories. A red and white plastic circle dipped under water resulting in an eruption of joy. Stabilizing two tiny hands against the rod and reel was as special that day as it was the first time I was gifted the opportunity. We all congratulated him and of course, took a few pictures. However, no photograph will capture the memory of his big sister, feeling her brother’s happiness, turning to me and saying, “It’s okay Daddy. He can have my turn.”
He knew what she had done and gave his sister a hug; she kissed him on the forehead.
I do not have the words to adequately describe how I felt in that moment. But the indelible mark left in my memory palace will be felt forever and hearing, “Take us fishing, daddy,” will always open that door.
Gary Maerz is an adult-onset hunter residing in New York. He enjoys volunteering with multiple conservation organizations, writing, hunting deer, and taking his kids out on freshwater fishing trips.