Life Lessons From a Cane Fishing Pole
By on March 1, 2018
Some of my best life lessons came from my granddaddy teaching me to fish with a cane pole. For those of you not from the Midwest or South, let me explain the magic of a cane fishing pole. A cane fishing pole is simplicity at its best. It’s a long sugar cane or bamboo fishing pole that doesn’t have a reel or anything fancy but some fishing line, a bobber and a hook. My first cane fishing pole was my Papaw’s, so it was a little bit long for a 5 year old – somewhere around 8’ feet long. To get the colossal pole out of the lake house garage took a lot of effort and teamwork. The giant 8’ pole had to first come off the hooks, then slowly be lowered without hitting the other boat, ski rope or numerous skis hanging on the walls and then backed up into the gravel parking pad to turn around and head towards the lake. Turning around was another feat, you didn’t want to hit a tree or have the hook come loose and hit you in the eye! As a Midwest kid, everything was likely to hit you in the eye. Poke your eye out, hook in your eye, black eye, go blind from a firecracker…it was all about the fear of losing an eye.
Cane pole in hand, the next lesson had to do with worms. Don’t just stick a worm on the hook and let it dangle in the water. Too easy…make the fish curious and work for it. Wrap it around the hook –sewing the hook with the worm so that the fish can see the worm but it’s not too easy to get off the hook. You want the fish to really want that worm. They have to be interested enough to commit to that hook, then they get that worm! As I’m writing this I realize there are similarities here to dating…hmmm…my ‘Papaw’ was a smart man!
Next, don’t ever put your fishing line over a fish ‘bed’. The place fish make and lay their eggs looks like a mini-football field and is sacred territory. It’s also the “cheaters” way of fishing according to my grandpa. I learned this lesson, because there was a cute little Blue Gill and a big circle of sand it was swimming over. I thought this is the perfect place to fish – I could see the fish I wanted from the pier just swimming out there in circles. I caught that fish once. Just once. When I told my grandfather why it was so easy to catch Mr. Blue Gill, he gently told me why it was wrong to take the fish that was just protecting his homes and babies. The easy to catch fish are not always the best. Fishing takes patience and perseverance and it’s all about what you can’t see on the surface. Trust in that red and white bobber and seeing it dip below the water’s surface. Then have patience in getting that fish out of the water.
Finally, be respectful of all life. My grandfather had a magical way of soothing the fish and getting it to lay down its gills before removing the hook. He made sure I knew that you NEVER yank a hook out of the mouth of a fish. You always remove it gently and if you’re not keeping it to eat, you gently place it back in the water and even help it along if need be. What a great life lesson for people! Take care of one another, be kind and help someone who has stumbled and fallen down.
Last summer I took my daughter fishing for the first time since she was a toddler. I wanted her to love the experience like I had as a kid, but she’s a different kid and the love just wasn’t meant to be. She wore the hat, held the pole and stared out at the fishing pond. Finally, after a long and quiet 10 minutes she exclaimed that she was done and ready to go. What?? She was of course very polite about it, but she said she was bored, the bugs were biting her and a fish or turtle kept taking her bait. We baited the hook again and stayed another five minutes. Something was pulling and tugging on her line, she gave it a good go but the fish won that round and took her bait and will to keep fishing. We packed up and 30 minutes after the adventure had started said good-bye to our fishing spot.
We may not live in a cane pole type of world any longer, but the lessons are still alive and well. I don’t know about you, but when I think of that one happy place in my childhood, it’s always my grandparents’ lake house. It’s the place that if I had Dorothy’s ruby red slippers that I would click my heels and go back to. It’s the place of cane poles, snapping beans, shucking corn and listening to the frogs at night. There is no iPad app that can mimic that sound, smell or experience. My hope is that I may not have the cane pole but that I can still give my daughter memories that make a lasting impression. It’s obvious though after our short lived fishing trip that it won’t be with a cane pole.