I can’t remember much about my life as a 7 year old.
I can’t recall who my teacher was, who my best friends were or what we did on weekends.
But I can remember one life-changing moment like it was yesterday.
My dad decided that I was old enough to take a real fishing trip with him, so we piled into our station wagon and headed for Canada. Today, I have to laugh at the name of the lakes we would be fishing – Lake Despair, the ideal spot for fishermen looking for excuses why they didn’t bring home a cooler full of fish.
But at age 7, that was lost on me. All I knew was that I was going fishing with dad, we would be staying in a cabin in the woods, and we would be guided by an honest-to-goodness Indian (or Native American, as is the more politically correct term these days).
On the long drive up to Canada, I kept asking my dad about our guide – whether he would be like the Indians from our boyhood games, whether he would be wearing a headdress, whether he would be riding a horse, etc. My dad patiently answered that he would be no different than us, except that he knew where the fish were.
Once we reached the cabin, I received my first shock. My dad took me back to the outhouse where we would be going to the bathroom and I stared into one of the holes and said, “Hey, Dad, someone forgot to flush.” My dad laughed and answered, “This isn’t a bathroom like ours.” I remember having nightmares about falling into one of the holes and not getting out.
But the trip got a lot better from there. We weren’t due to meet up with the guide until the next morning, but there was a little row boat pulled up on the shore in front of our cabin. My dad said, “Let’s go out in this bay and just do some fishing on our own.”
He tied a red and white Dar devle spoon onto the end of my line and pointed at some reeds jutting out of the water.
“Throw it right to the edge of those weeds,” he said.
I did, and felt the jolting strike of a northern pike. The fish immediately made an acrobatic leap high into the crisp Canadian air and time froze. I had never seen anything like that before.
I got the fish in, my dad hugged me and life was good.
We caught probably a dozen more northerns that night before returning to our cabin. Early the next morning, a beatup pickup truck with little of its paint remaining came rambling down the lane to our quarters and out popped Arnie, our guide.
I immediately realized that he was a great guy, always smiling, always cracking jokes. We climbed into his truck and he issued a warning, “Hold on. That door doesn’t close.”
So we rambled down an old logging road, the door flapping open with every bump, and me holding on for dear life.
When we got to the boat, I had to pause to take in the beauty of the area. We were in the wilderness, far from the nearest boat. There was a bald eagle perched in a tree, and fish swirling the surface – a different world from Rockford, Ill., where we were living at the time.
After Arnie gave me some brief fishing instructions, we were like three equals in the boat, casting for the big one. Finally, we pulled to the back of one bay where there was a stretch filled with logs, and Arnie told me to cast to that area.
When I did, I felt my lure come to a stop, and I said, “I’m hung up.” The guide watched as my line started to move slowly to the right and said, “Logs don’t swim.”
I fought that fish for what seemed like an hour (although I’m sure it was much less). Finally, Arnie reached over to net it and we all let out a whoop.
It was a huge northern pike, the biggest fish I had ever caught and I couldn’t have been prouder.
My dad gave me a decision. “Do you want to keep it or do you want to let it go so maybe some other little boy can catch it someday?” That was an easy decision. It went back into the water.
And so it went. Three days of fishing, staying in the wilderness, eating shore lunches and listening to Arnie’s stories.
On that trip, I became hooked. And a wonderful father-son relationship began, one that I always think back on on Father’s Day.
Dad and I started fishing in northern Wisconsin and eventually dad and mom bought a cabin near Wisconsin Rapids. We were up at Lake Sherwood almost every weekend in the summer and my dad and I always found time to fish. Usually, we would wake up before the rest of the family, sneak out for several hours of crappie fishing and be back in time for an afternoon of boating and water skiing.
We would go into town every Friday evening to eat at a restaurant that was famous for its walleye fish fries, then we would spend the weekend catching our own fish. For dad and me, fishing was our bond.
I am not saying our relationship was perfect. Larry Frazee was bull-headed, an accounting executive who was used to being in charge. He was a know-it-all and I rebelled against that type of behavior.
But in the fishing boat, those differences always melted away. It was there that I knew my dad really cared for me, even though he wasn’t the kind of guy who outwardly showed much affection.
We spent the following years fishing everywhere from Lake Michigan to Florida. In his waning years, I reversed our roles, taking him to Canada.
As he started to experience health problems that led to him passing away in 2000, we could no longer get out. But we would still reminisce.
I remember one of the last times we had a conversation in the nursing home where he was staying. There was an awkward silence, then my dad said, “Do you remember Arnie?”
I smiled and answered, “Who could forget him?”
My dad smiled back and said, “Those were some good times, weren’t they?”
He didn’t need an answer. He knew.
Well-known fathers and sons at the fishing hole:
Andy and Opie Taylor: OK, we know they were just acting. But dad Andy Taylor (played by Andy Griffith) and his son Opie (played by Ron Howard) were often shown fishing on the popular old-time sitcom. In fact, the lead-in showed them walking toward the ol’ fishing hole with their fishing rods slung over their shoulders.
George H.W. and George W. Bush: The presidential Bushes liked to fish together, everywhere from Texas to their favorite getaway off the coast of Maine.
Guido and Dion Hibdon: Both father and son, who live in the Lake of the Ozarks area, won the Bassmaster Classic, the World Series of bass fishing – Guido in 1988, son Dion in 1997.
Denny and Chad Brauer: Another Lake of the Ozarks duo. Dad Denny is one of the most successful bass pros of all time, winning both Angler of the Year and Bassmaster Classic titles. Chad has found success on the pro circuit and on TV.
By BRENT FRAZEE