An angler for life, hooked from the start

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two men fishing in a canoe

Grandson Josh Miller was three years old when I wrote this…

It was a spring evening for angling, chilly but otherwise calm and full of new life. Spring peepers, turtles and fuzzy baby geese. Neat stuff.

A pair of mallard ducks flushed from the quiet closeness of a nearby marsh but my fishing partner had neither the time nor inclination to divert his attention from the business at hand. He studied the bright orange of his bobber with the intensity of a hungry barn cat at a mouse hole and he shushed my chatter about ducks like a stern librarian.

‘You’ll scare the fish.’

“Shhh,” he said, finger across his lips and the quickest of glances. “I won’t catch any fish if you make noise.” If he had been a judge, I’d have confessed right then and there.

I wondered how such a young person could know that noise might frighten fish. He balanced the little rod in his tiny hands, making sure the line was still connected to the bobber with a twitch of the line.

“I’ll try to do better,” I mumbled, indicating the international sign for zippering one’s mouth.

“I think we ought to try over there,” my fishing pal, Josh Miller said, as he pointed down the beach.

That’s typical of a youngster, short on patience and quick to feel the need to move, to stretch, even to toss a stone or kick a piece of driftwood. So we move 10 feet to the right and cast our red worm out again. It lands right where it was before but that’s all right as long as it seems like we are fishing new waters.

20 questions

Where are the worms? How come they live under rocks? Are worms cold? Can we use that big worm yet? How do you know those birds are catching insects? What’s an insect? Do worms eat insects? Can we move over there?

“Please fish, find our worm and take a bite. Save me from this interrogation.”

And then it happened. “Josh, look at your bobber. See it move. That means that a fish is testing it. He’s going to take your bobber under and when he does, reel him in,” I said.

I was tense with anxiety. Josh was cool as a shark. “Now!” I yelped.

The fish was hooked and so was Josh. He reeled and squealed and reeled some more. His brand new rod and reel passed the stress test against the finest game fish in all the land, the chunky bluegill.

First catch

Josh’s first fish was hoisted with all the pride associated with a halibut or blue marlin. The king of the sea was in Josh’s grasp.

“Grandpa, I got a monster bluegill, a real monster bluegill,” he said, surely by now a confirmed angler for life.

The flash of a camera and then Josh learned about catch and release, about being careful to treat a fish, a living creature, with some respect.

Josh, like every child, was determined to take the prize home to show his parents, but he agreed that a picture would do just as well. That was generous of him. His grandfather was proud. The boy will be a good fisherman. He’ll be a good partner. And because he will be a good fisherman, I believe he’ll be a better person.

It works that way and it starts with a bluegill and a lot of questions on a fine spring evening.

Note: Josh is now 23 years old and continues to be a skilled fisherman who dearly loves the sport of fly fishing with his own hand-tied creations.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.

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