And he said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:19

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Give a Man a Fish, He Has a Meal. Give a Man the Recipe, He Can Make the Dang Thing Himself

As the temperatures have been bitterly cold for the last couple weeks, and the snow that we had earlier in the week is still on the ground, I haven't been fishing for quite a while, and may not until a potential mini "Boys Weekend" in January.  But meanwhile, with Christmas near, it was time to do some other things....

My deliveries of Homemade Eggnog to friends and neighbors are complete.  But no matter how much I make, it is never enough for everyone who wants some to enjoy.

I must first of all confess I never liked eggnog.  It was gross.  That is, until 24 years ago, when I was fresh out of college and finally in the working world.  The manager of the firm I worked for, John Miller was his name, came in the day before Christmas with some to share with all of us.  I tried it (to be polite) -- and was surprised to say I loved it!  I had to have his recipe.  He was kind enough to share it with me, verbatim.  He didn't skip any secret ingredients, and I have been making it ever since -- to give away as a Christmas gift, and to enjoy during the holidays.  So in the spirit of the season, and in honor of John, here is the recipe for ...

 "The Best Daggum Eggnog Yule Ever Drink".

6 fresh eggs
2 pints heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 gallon whole milk.  (Don't use skim, it's Christmas... this is not the time to worry about calories.)
1 fifth of bourbon (I prefer Virginia Gentlemen as it is a little smoother than many, but I also use Jim Beam)
1/4 cup rum (lately I've used dark rum, and I like it!)
1/4 cup cognac ( Not brandy.  The better the cognac, the better the nog.  I use Courvoisier.)

Separate eggs, pouring whites into blender.

Add 1 pint whipping cream and sugar to blender.

Blend on medium until the mix starts to thicken well, but do not let it get solid!

Pour mix into extra large pot or bowl.

Add yolks and 1 pint of whipping cream to blender.

Blend on medium until it starts to thicken.

Add mix to the pot.  (But do not add pot to the mix.  Oops.  Sorry, I guess I've been hitting the eggnog.)

Pour in milk, while pouring in bourbon, rum and cognac, folding it with a large spoon the whole time.  (This is where it helps to have a 3rd hand.)

Continue to fold and stir for several minutes.

Pour nog into bottles, jars, containers and let set for 3 days... (Good luck with that as I never can make it without trying a sample early.)  The 3 days allows the liquor to become infused with the nog, to where you can barely tell it's in there.

Pour into a glass, and top off with a sprinkle of fresh ground nutmeg.  And enjoy!  Do not drive anywhere once you've started drinking this stuff, as it is potent and delicious.  Merry Christmas!
I absolutely did not like Eggnog until I tried this recipe!  If you don't like eggnog, try some of this... I bet it will change your opinion of the stuff.  Enjoy!

And Now, since it's Christmas time, and it's cold outside, you can only drink so much Hot Chocolate when you come inside from the snow.  In honor of the season and the snow currently outside, I'm going to give you a BONUS RECIPE for the perfect Alpine Warmer-Upper....

When we lived in Switzerland, my parents would make this recipe.  It followed them to the States, and then when I had a semester in Vienna, I enjoyed this stuff, too -- especially after skiing.  I know you will love this, too.  An added treat is just how wonderful this will make your house smell...

The Recipe for "Gluwein"  (pronounced "Gluh-vine")  or Hot Mulled Wine.

1 large bottle of inexpensive red wine.  (I usually get something like Carlo Rossi Burgundy.)
1/2 gallon real apple cider (the cloudy stuff in a plastic jug; do not use apple juice.)
1 - 2 cups of sugar (to taste....)
Sliced apple pieces
Sliced oranges.
Whole cloves
Whole cinnamon sticks
 *Bonus ingredient I started using a few years ago -- 1 cup Rum

Get large pot and pour wine and cider in.
Add fruit slices
Add sugar
Add cinnamon and cloves
*Add rum (if you want.  It is not called for in the original recipe, but I like it.)
Let pot simmer, but do not ever let it come to a boil.

Pot can simmer on your stove all afternoon, and will make your home smell "Christmassy".

Ladle into mugs when you are cold, and sip by a roaring fire, snuggling with your loved ones....
A hot, steaming cup of Gluwein is the perfect way to warm up from the cold and snow....  And it makes your house smell terrific, too.  It's better than any Yankee Candle!

If there is any leftover at the end of the day, the pot may be stored outside (in the cold) and then reheated the next day.  I don't know how long it can last, as it's never made it past a weekend in my house....

So there you go.  A couple of my favorite recipes -- from me to you.  Merry Christmas.
If you try either of these, let me know what you think. 

Oh, and I wouldn't advise giving this stuff to your kids....  Leave the hot cocoa for them. Enjoy.

And until next time,

Drink on!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

A VISIT FROM "ST.RIPED BASS", (with my apologies to Clement Moore, and anyone else I may offend)

T'was the week before Christmas, when out on the river
My line wasn't moving, not even a quiver.
The waters were calm; there was a nip in the air.
And our hopes were that stripers would soon be running there.

The boaters were all nestled back in their slips,
While they each had visions of owning bigger ships.
Parke and Mike in their kayaks, and me out in mine,
Were content in our plastic boats, casting a line.

When all of the sudden, my line quickly grew tight
And I firmly set the hook, preparing for a fight.
Away, the line ran, as I put down my paddle,
And rechecked the drag, preparing for battle.

The sun setting red, while the full moon rose low,
Gave the river a lustre of colors aglow.
When what to my wondering eyes should I see,
But a monster rockfish jumping out of the sea.

With my little old jig hooked well in its lip,
That I knew right away I was in for a trip.
More rapid than dolphins, it towed my kayak,
And I whistled and shouted for the guys to stay back.

It pulled to the north, to the south, to the east,
It pulled to the west, this massive scaled beast.
From the mouth of the creek, through the docks on the side,
It gave me a wandering, rapid sleigh ride.

As the last dry leaves, before the mid - winter fall,
With the sun finally set, and the moon -- a full ball.
So up to the surface the fish finally rose,
With a swirl and a splash, and a shake of its nose.

And then as the sprinkling dripped down from my face,
I felt the cold water sprayed all over the place.
As I pulled out my net, and was dipping it down,
The striper just jumped into my lap with a bound.

It had silver quarter-sized scales from its head to its tail,
And but for its eight stripes,  I would have thought it a whale.
Its giant-sized mouth could swallow a melon
And its stomach was full, but with what?  There's no tellin'.

The stub of my cigar, in my teeth was still clamped,
But the splashing had snuffed it, and it was quite damp.
The fish had a broad girth, and such a fat belly,
I was very surprised it was so hungry, still.  Really.

It was chubby and plump, a 40 inch fish -- or more.
And I laughed when I realized it was the trophy I'd wished for.
A flap of its tail, and a shake of its head,
Soon gave me to think of something different, instead.

I spoke not a word as I put down my stringer
And looked at the beast in my lap as it lingered.
And laying my thumb inside its big lip,
While squeezing my fingers around for a better grip,

I lifted it gently, giving one last grateful whistle.
And released it again, where it took off like a missile.
Then I paddled to shore, with the guys at my side,
And yelled, "Happy Christmas, big fish, and thanks for the ride!"

Merry Fishmas!
Never forget the ultimate reason for the season....

Until next time,
Fish on!


*P.S.  There is a lot of wonderful striped bass art available online and elsewhere.  I highly encourage you to look for these artists, and consider purchasing a piece, if you like any of these examples shown in this poem.  Thank you.   

A Special Thank you to Parke for the first piece shown.... which was a piece he made for me a few years ago.    

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Tribute to my Trials and Triumphs with Trout

As I walked around my neighborhood early the other morning, a light snow had fallen the previous night, leaving wintery highlights on the trees, grass and rooflines.  It was breezy and cold, but I wanted to get some fresh air while waiting for my coffee to finish brewing back home.  I walked around the corner to the point of the lake where we fish and launch kayaks (in warmer weather), and saw some ducks, and one of the resident swans resting in the cove, all curled up and fluffed up, posing and keeping warm in the brisk morning air.  It was beautiful.  I stopped and just looked at it for a minute, as it paddled around nonchalantly.  The ducks seemed preoccupied with looking for food, and irritated by my presence.  The swan didn't seem to care at all.  But seeing that swan, surrounded by a little bit of snow brought back some memories I hadn't thought of in years....
The swan didn't seem to mind my presence too much.  Perhaps the fact that the neighbors feed the waterfowl fairly regularly in cold weather has made the swan a little less cautious than the migrating ducks....

Some of my first memories of fishing, involve fishing for trout.  Rainbow trout, to be more specific, in freshwater -- not the saltwater speckled trout (which really aren't in the "Trout" or "Salmonid" family, anyway) that are native to where I live now.  No, my very first experiences fishing involved trout....

When I was two years old, my father was transferred from Charlotte to Geneva, Switzerland, and we lived there for five years.  We lived in a small subdivision outside the city, in Collonge-Bellerive, within view of Lake Leman, and the snowcapped mountains of the Alps way off on the horizon.  It was a beautiful and idyllic place to grow up, and I look back at some of the things I did then, and realize it was a much simpler time, too.
The Jet d'Eau in Geneva, Switzerland....  The landmark which immediately identifies the city.  We lived outside the city in Collonge-Bellerive.  Lake Leman, a large glacial lake, had two things I remember well -- lots of swans and lots of trout.

I learned to ride a two-wheeler at the very young age of three; and I'm convinced part of the reason was that I wanted to be able to hang with my brother Ted, who is five years older than me.  Ted would get his fishing rod, and together we'd ride our bikes down to the lake, and fish for trout from the shore or off some of the docks of the businesses that lined the lake.  Numerous swans and ducks swam freely around the lake, and I would often bring old bread to feed them if the fishing wasn't any good.  While my memories of the fishing, itself, are understandably foggy and limited, I do recall a time or two when we brought back a stringer of fish.  And I also remember one very unusual event.
If the fishing wasn't any good on Lake Leman where we went, there were always swans, ducks and gulls to feed.  Kind of like where I live now.  But we have panfish and bass in Lake Meade, no trout....

Geneva is a very cosmopolitan city with a lot of wealth.  And Lake Leman, the largest freshwater lake in Western Europe, was quite a draw for those who love the water.  Sailing and yachting are two of its biggest activities.  One of the businesses we would go fishing near, was a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating.  People could dock their boats, and enjoy a wonderful meal on a patio overlooking the lake.  And they could watch a couple of young brothers fishing.

But one time, the smaller of the two boys noticed that one of the restaurant patrons had a pet he had never seen before... a monkey.  It was causing quite a stir, and finally became too tempting for me to resist.  I went up to the patio with Ted, and started watching from a distance as the monkey went around from its owner to other people around him, who were feeding him small treats.  He was chattering and jumping from person to person, looking for more and more food, as the owner watched, smiling.  I couldn't take it anymore, and moved close enough where the monkey would see me.  I held my hand like I also held a treat, and sure enough, the monkey eventually worked his way over to me and jumped on my shoulders.  I squealed with delight, as the monkey went for my hand, opened it to find the (non-existent) treat, and promptly bit me right in the palm....

I don't remember a whole lot after that, except it hurt.  It was bleeding.  And Ted helped me ride our bikes back home so Mom could look at it.  She took me to the doctor, who treated it and where I think I got some sort of shot, and then we went back home and I rested.  And now, more than 40 years later, that is still one of the more prominent memories of my younger years fishing, living in Switzerland.

I do have other, vague recollections of fishing back then, both in Europe and the States -- especially in the summertime when we'd fly to upstate New York, and visit my mother's family in Ithaca.  Our picnics around Cayuga Lake were a highlight for a young boy, but at that point I didn't know there were trout in that lake....  That wouldn't happen for quite a few years....  No, at that point I only remember my Uncle Bob setting out fishing lines to catch large carp that we would then harness, and have pull us around his dock.

In the summer of 1970 we moved back to the U.S., to Wilmington, Delaware.  I no longer lived close to a body of water I could ride my bike to, to fish, so I was dependent on others who could drive.  But every spring, usually around the first Saturday in March, a wonderful thing happened around the area... the opening day of Trout Season.  None of the streams in the area of the Brandywine Valley naturally held trout, but they were stocked, and that first Saturday of March was when they were most easily caught.  I remember my Dad taking Ted and me to the Brandywine Creek State Park early in the morning, and dropping us off so we could catch some opening day trout.

Fishermen, young and old, would line the banks of the creek, and yes it is truly just a creek, with spinning rods or fly rods and wait.  People would arrive an hour ahead of time, just to find the right spot on the creek -- maybe it was a small swirling eddie, maybe it was a deeper, wider hole, maybe it was the bottom of a small cascading waterfall -- and lay claim.  And they would wait.  Surrounded by dozens of your now-closest friends.  We would wait.  The creek is so narrow in places, you could touch fishing rods with someone on the other side in some parts.  A jar of salmon eggs, or a small wad of Velveta cheese on a tiny hook was our bait, as we waited.... until 9:00 when we could finally put our lines in the water.
And boy, when that first person cast his line at exactly 9, everybody followed suit quickly!  Before you knew it, several people would have hooked up with the hungry, overstocked fish, and they would quickly put the fish on a stringer or in a trout creel, and cast again before they lost their spot.  Now that I think about it, this was really my indoctrination to the "combat fishing" that is the "conga line" on the Point at Buxton, NC, or on the Russian River in Alaska....

We would go a couple other Saturdays during the Spring, trying to figure out when the streams were restocked, to give ourselves the best chances, but there was something about opening day....  A few years later when Ted was able to drive, we'd go more often, taking our awesome 3-Speed, manual transmission  '74 AMC Gremlin to the Valley.  We'd put an 8-track cassette of the Eagles, Elton John, or Chicago in the player and roll!  "Click-click".
You had to love listening to an 8-track cassette, with its fades, clicks and continuous running....  The only thing that screams "the horrible 1970's" even more....
is this....  The 1974 AMC Gremlin.  A compact car that maybe got 20 miles to the gallon.... I drove it until it had 50,000 miles on it, and then it started falling apart.... And we wonder why American car companies haven't been a success.  The only thing uglier than this car was it's big brother, the AMC Pacer....
When Ted went off to college and I finally could drive, I inherited the Gremlin.  Woohoo!  Now my best friend Joel and I could go to the Valley on our own.  Now it was Pink Floyd's "The Wall", and Neil Young, "Rust Never Sleeps" on the 8-track. (All of my Springsteen albums were on LP's, for my stereo in my room.)

We each went to the local sporting goods store in the mall and bought identical 5 foot long ultralight rods before one season.  I loved that rod!  It cost $25.00, and that was a lot of money!  But we were ready.  (That was my primary trout and bass rod for almost 30 years.  I had it until very recently, when one of my kids used it, and lay it against the back of my car.  I got in my car, and backed up, running over it, never seeing it - just hearing a crunch.  It was a sad day, when I finally threw it away into the garbage can....)

Joel was my fishing buddy, especially now that Ted was out of the house.  We would hit the Valley frequently to fish private ponds for largemouth bass, the Brandywine River for smallmouth, and of course the park for trout in the spring.

One time, Joel went with us up to Ithaca, for a visit.  Both of my uncles had ponds that we could fish.  I remember going to my Uncle Jimmy's, and he told us to go catch some fish in one of his ponds.  You didn't have to tell us twice....  My uncle had several ponds, and he told us to fish one of the ones toward the back.  It wasn't big, but it was deep.  And it wasn't fished often at all.  We were excited, and took our rods and tackle boxes there immediately.  As my other uncle only had bass ponds, and Jimmy's other ponds were filled with bass, we assumed this one did, too, and tried rubber worms, poppers and other bass lures.  After about an hour, we had yet to have a bite!  I went back to the house and asked Uncle Jimmy if he had any advice.  That is when told me there weren't bass in that pond, but rainbow trout he had stocked.

We ran back to the pond, switched our lures to gold spinning lures and rooster tails, and we finally started catching fish!  What fun it was, too, now that we knew what we were fishing for.  There is nothing quite so beautiful as the shimmery, speckled pink sides of a torpedo-shaped rainbow, cutting through the water, and jumping clear out of it, with a tight line in its mouth....

Truly one of the most beautiful, and sought-after game fish around the world.  The rainbow trout.  It fights tremendously, with acrobatic jumps and driving runs....  And, it is also one of the most delicious, too.

And then we each went off to college.  Joel went to Vermont, and I went down into the Shenandoah Valley, to James Madison.

By the time my sophomore year rolled around, I had explored the valley surrounding Harrisonburg to know that the George Washington National Forest, as well as other parks in the region were teeming with trout streams.  The Shenandoah Mountains are truly beautiful in any season, and I took numerous opportunities to go up into them, to picnic, camp or fish.  Especially in the spring.

The streams that course through the woods and down the mountains in the heart of Virginia are picturesque and much longer, bigger and better than what I had grown up with in Delaware.  And in addition to the stocked rainbows that thrived in these waters, there also lived naturally reproducing trout -- both brown and brook trout.  They were much more elusive, tricky to catch, and smaller than their man-raised cousins, but the few times I caught one of these fish was always a treat.  I knew I had to have done something right to catch any of these wary beauties.

Early one Saturday morning in March of my sophomore year, I went into the G.W. National Forest, and went to a good looking section of a stream I had scouted out earlier in the fall.  I took my ultralight, a few gold spinners, rooster tails, and small gold hooks and salmon eggs, (as well as my license and trout stamp), and parked.  I walked through the woods to my section of the stream and was surprised that there was nobody else there.  What?  Something must be wrong.  I was used to shoulder to shoulder fishing, and couldn't believe I didn't have competition.  Was fishing prohibited that day?  No, I knew that wasn't the case.  Besides, I had seen other cars and trucks parked along the roads elsewhere.  Wow, I thought.  Oh well, just enjoy it.

Several hours of uninterrupted peace and quiet followed, and I went back to my dorm later that day with my limit of six trout.  My roommate at the time was a city boy from Washington, D.C., who had never gone fishing and had no desire to go.  But even he was impressed when I showed him my stringer of fish.
A tired but happy college kid who wouldn't have to go to D-Hall and settle for a cafeteria-style dinner that night!  Our dorm had a kitchen, so I went and fried up trout for many friends and me.  I was a popular kid that night.
I went again the next week, and this time took one of my fraternity brothers, Mark.  (Yes, the same Mark that I still go fishing with.)  We hit the same spot, and sure enough, caught another mess of fish.  We went back to campus, and Mark -- big flirt and ladies' man that he (liked to think he) was -- suggested we invite some girls who were little sisters in our fraternity for our seafood dinner.  We went out and bought all the fixings for a nice meal, bought a gallon-sized bottle of white wine (we were college kids; our pallet had yet to be developed for fine wines at this point) and prepared another excellent meal of fried trout. 
A much skinnier Mark, with two "little sisters" and a friend of the little sisters, enjoyed a nice trout dinner and some cheap wine. (Hey, we were college kids.  Finances were tight, and we didn't appreciate good wines back then.)

My junior year, I took a semester and went back to Europe to study in Vienna.  At that time, my grandfather still lived in Salzburg, and I had other family and friends that lived around Austria.  I took every opportunity I could get to travel and explore.  The streams and glacial lakes around Austria are crystal clear, and every time I passed one I'd look down into it and see trout swimming.  It only made me want to go back one day with my rod....  I did get one opportunity to fish a stocked pond with some borrowed equipment, and caught a few trout with a friend and fellow student.  But that was it.  I was over there to study and travel, not fish.

After graduating from college, I moved to Richmond to live with Mark.  I got married the next year, and my beautiful bride and I honeymooned in Wintergreen, outside Charlottesville, Virginia.  We hiked, rode horses, played tennis, explored the growing wineries, and explored the mountains.  One stream I made note of in the region was the Tye River.  It looked perfect for trout fishing in the spring....
With waters like this, the Tye River just looked too tempting not to try trout fishing in the spring....
Over the course of the winter, I talked to Mike and Mark and we planned a day trip from Richmond to the Tye on -- you guessed it -- the opening day of trout season.  For the next couple of years, we would wake up before sunrise, drive to Nelson County, sometimes driving through snowy landscapes, to be on the Tye River, rod in hand, waiting for 9:00 opening day.  It was usually cold.  I can't say we were extremely successful, but just like Boys' Weekend, the purpose of the trip wasn't necessarily catching fish to bring home, but the experience itself.

Having said that, this tradition didn't last too long, because a few years into it, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries stopped stocking trout on set days, and just started stocking fish year round on an irregular, unannounced basis.  That meant we had even less of a chance of catching fish, if we didn't even know that any rainbows had just been stocked.  We were still trying to figure out surf fishing....  We didn't have time to learn trout fishing basics, all over again, too.

Then in early June of 1990, my cousin was going to get married up in Ithaca.  There wasn't going to be enough room for everyone in town, so a few people would have to stay at my uncle's cottage on Cayuga Lake.  We quickly volunteered.  We drove up that Friday from Richmond, and finally got to the cottage in the late afternoon.  I had never been to the cottage except in July and August, so this was new to me.  (I had always been told that the cottage had only two enjoyable months.)  I went down to the lake and dipped my hand into it from the stony shore.  It was cold!  Of course, even in July and August it never gets above 72 degrees, so it didn't surprise me.  As family members continued to arrive at the cottage above me, I got my fishing rod, put on a diving Rapala lure, and started casting, hoping to catch a smallmouth.

I cast straight out as far as I could, and started reeling in.  Something hit it hard.  Something big.  Definitely not the panfish or smallmouths I had been used to catching there through the years.  My rod, yes my same little ultralight, was bowed in half as the fish came to the surface, thrashing the water.  I saw a massive silver side, and knew I had hooked a lake trout!  Now the praying began...

"Please, please, please, please, please don't break my line.   (I only had 4 pound test on that rod.)  Please don't break my rod.  (It was an ultralight....)  Please let me catch you."

And then, from up above, I suddenly heard a voice calling to me, telling me what I must do to successfully land this monster fish.

"Take your time with it.... Let the fish tire itself out....  Don't try to horse it in....  Bring it around the dock and beach it on the shore.  Don't try and lift it up onto the dock since you don't have a net." 

An angel?  No.  St. Peter offering some fishing advice of his own?  No.  (There was no heavenly chorus.)

"I know what I'm doing, Ted, you can shut up now...."

My brother had just arrived at the cottage above, and still dressed in his tie from work, he was watching the whole spectacle from the landing 40 feet above me.  Truly, the best view around, as he could see the fish thrashing, jumping and running, while watching me fight it, below.  As I finally beached the fish, he came running down the steep steps.  And as soon as I had unhooked the marvelous fish and was holding it, my eyes filled with wonder at what I had just done.

Ted snatched up my rod, and started casting wildly in every direction, in hopes that the laketrout I had just caught wasn't alone, but was among a massive school of trout encircling the dock.  He didn't catch anything, and meanwhile I was admiring this fish so much, I was wondering if I should release it....

"Are you nuts?", Ted said.  "That fish is dinner!"

He was right.  I took it up to the cottage and showed it to everybody.  Then I took it down to the creek and started to clean it, when Ted came to take a photo of it.  We fed eight people on that fish that evening, and still had some left over when it was all said and done....  When we told my Uncle Bob about it, he said that in all the many decades they had that cottage, nobody had ever caught a trout from the shore.  Ever.  And it drove Ted crazy that I had been the one to catch one, and not him!  I would hold that honor and distinction over his head for almost 20 years.
For the last 20 years, this photo has hung proudly at Uncle Bob's cottage on the refrigerator.  It is the first and largest lake trout anybody has ever caught from the shore of the cottage.  It was delicious.  And worth every minute of the 10 hour drive each way to go to my cousin's wedding.  And the wedding was beautiful, too.

Trout are cold water fish.  Boats troll the middle of the lake, in the deep cold water, for lake trout during the course of the year.  But nobody targets trout from the shore.  Knowing trout like cold water, I surmised that they stay deep in the summer, but in the spring (and probably the fall, too) when all the lake is cold, they can come closer to the shore to stalk shallow water prey.  It made me want to go back every year in early June, instead of late July or August.  But since the rest of the family likes to swim, as well as fish, I knew that wouldn't fly with them....

Several years later, I took my family to Uncle Bob's cottage for the first time.  Parke was maybe eight years old, and he saw the fish on the refrigerator.  He was bound and determined to catch one of his own, even though I told him the season was wrong.  It was August, and I had caught that trout in late spring.  He didn't care.  During the course of the week, he and I went fishing every day.  We caught lots of fish, but no trout.  Why would we?  I had never caught one in 30 years of summers there.  What would make this summer any different?

But one day, while we were in the rowboat, he caught a fish.  We were out a bit from shore, in about 20 feet of water.  He brought the fish in and it was a lake trout.  It was only about 10 inches long, but he couldn't have been any more proud!

"I told you I would catch one," he said, with a cheesy smile that covered his whole face.  we took a Polaroid photo of him holding the fish, and placed that photo next to mine on the refrigerator.  It is also still there, to this day -- which is why I don't have a copy of it here....

I haven't taken my family to the cottage in the last several years, though my parents still go, as does my brother and his girls.  And I haven't been in the mountains trout fishing for probably close to 20 years.  But Parke and I did have our trip to Alaska to catch sockeye salmon -- which, of course, are in the trout family.  And I can't wait to do that again.

But in the mean time, my parents went up to the cottage for a week, last June.  Ted took his daughters up to visit them for a couple days, themselves.  Suddenly my cell phone vibrated with an incoming text message:  it was a photo from one of his daughters.

Ted had been fishing, and had finally caught a trout from shore.  It was a beautiful fish, and he called me shortly thereafter, to give me the blow by blow details of how he caught it.  It was a nice fight for him, and a beautiful fish.  And it fed all of them that night.  He was very happy and proud -- and maybe, also relieved.
A proud Ted, holding his trout he caught from the dock of Uncle Bob's cottage last June.  You'll notice the coloring on this fish is different, however, from my lake trout, and that is because it is a charr, or splake -- a crossbreed between a lake trout and a brook trout.  (If you take a "SP"eckled brook trout and put it with a "LAKE" trout you get a hybrid "splake".  According to Wikipedia, they are "easier to catch" than lake trout or brookies.  And it is also QUITE OBVIOUS that this fish is nowhere near as big as my lake trout.  So there!  I still win.

Parke and I each have fly rods that I bought years ago for us, and we practice casting down at the lake, and catch panfish and small bass.  It would be my other dream trip to take him up to Montana or somewhere like that, for a week of flyfishing for trout.  But that's not happening any time soon, as other financial obligations come first right now.

What is more practical, however, especially with Parke off at college in the western part of Virginia at Radford, is trout fishing on the Tye River again....  Or we can explore other streams and rivers closer to where he is at school.  I think the time has come, again, to hit the trout streams next spring.  Maybe I'll see if Mike and Mark want to join Parke and me somewhere in early March again -- regardless of whether or not there have been freshlly stocked trout.  It's been too long.  I want to be in my waders in a cold stream again, and have to work it hard for this awesome gamefish, the trout.  That way it will be that much more rewarding when I do finally get to say, again...

Fish on!


Monday, November 29, 2010

Our Fish Boy, Bunkie Doodle

A little more than 20 years ago, my wife and I celebrated our third anniversary.  I surprised her with a wonderful, romantic weekend in Colonial Williamsburg at the Inn, where we stayed in the same room that Margaret Thatcher had stayed in, back in 1982 for the G7 Summit with Ronald Reagan and other leaders of the nations.  (They weren't all in the same room.  You know what I mean....)  We ate amazingly unique, gourmet food in the taverns on Duke of Gloucester Street, enjoyed good wine, played tennis, had massages in the spa, and ... well, you know....

Several weeks later, my wife went to the stylist, had her cut off all her hair, and went Demi Moore in "Ghost" short.  I literally fell on the floor when I saw her.  She looked incredible!  I loved it.  But I also love her with her long Jaclyn Smith wavy hair, too.  She is just one of these women who is blessed to be beautiful with either long or short hair.  But that wasn't her only drastic surprise that week.  I guess she hadn't been feeling well, or something, because the next day, she showed me a pregnancy test strip -- it was positive.  We were going to have a baby!  About 2 years earlier than what we had planned, but obviously God's time schedule was a little different than what we had had in mind.

Over the course of the next several months, we did all the things that a young couple does to prepare for our new arrival.  The one thing we didn't want to do, however, was find out the sex of the baby growing inside her beautiful belly.  We wanted that to be a surprise.  Summertime arrived, and the beach ball that was now my wife's tummy was finally ready to pop!  On the first day of July, very early in the morning, it was time....  I took her to the hospital, and at 6 p.m., we welcomed into our lives little Parke William.  We had a boy!  We had a son!

We were very excited, because while Parke was not the first grandchild born on either my wife's or my side of the family, he was the first boy.  His grandparents finally had a grandson.  And I knew I would have a fishing buddy one day!

Sure enough, later that summer, Parke went to the beach with us, and went fishing with me for the first time.  He slept most of the time, and I had to help him cast, but his white little "fishing hat" was adorable.  So was he. 
He couldn't yet hold a heaver; couldn't cast very far, and had to have help reeling in a fish, but even at just a few weeks old, Parke was already at the beach fishing with me....  Well, sorta.  Actually, at this size, most of the fish I caught were bigger than him.
We have some wonderful, dear friends Jeff & Jenny, who became part of our family when Parke was born.  My wife eventually went back to work part-time, and Jenny became our "baby helper" (she did far more than just "sit").  Her husband Jeff (who is the BW "Food Man") was very involved with us, too.  They adopted Parke, and we adopted them.  Anyway, one day Jeff started calling Parke, "Bunkie Doodle".  Don't ask me why as I have no idea of it's origin, but, for whatever reason, the name stuck.  It's been his primary nickname ever since. 

By the time Parke was two and a half, he definitely liked fishing with Daddy.  We had moved to Suffolk by then, and I would take him down to the lake in our neighborhood, and we'd go fishing for bluegills.  He took right to casting, and was a natural fisherman.  The look in his eye, the excited squeals he let out, made even the smallest fish we caught feel like a trophy!  Then he'd want to hold them, let them go, and watch them kick their tails and splash and swim away... amazed at the whole wonder of fish.... 
Susan holding Parke after he caught his first bluegill.  You would have thought it was a citation bass, he was sooo proud of that fish!

Another time I took Parke down to the point of the lake, (which - for the record, has to be one of the most overfished pieces of property in Suffolk, as everybody in the neighborhood fishes there), and, just using a small rubber worm, he cast to where the beds of bluegills were (all of about 20 feet from shore), and his rod bent hard!  He squealed, and I looked to see a three pound large mouth running with the worm.  Parke couldn't quite handle that over-sized fish on the little ultralight he was using, so I squatted behind him, bracing the rod, so he could have support in reeling it in.  When he finally did, he gave it a big hug before releasing it.
Parke, in his same "fishing shirt", holding his first good-sized bass.  He had Daddy help him support the rod and reel him in, because he didn't have the technique or proper equipment to bring him in alone, yet....
A few months after that, when Parke was three, I took him to a pond where we had gotten permission to fish.  I had heard it had some citation-sized largemouth in it, and I wanted to give them a try.  While I had no luck getting my trophy fish, Parke continued to amaze me, when this time, he did bring in a nice-sized four pound bass -- this time, all by himself!  You would have thought he had just brought in a 1000 pound bluefin tuna, but he did it!
And the smile was proof in itself!  He held it for the now obligatory photo, and released it with a kiss....
A cool day still meant hot fishing for the little angling protege....  Here he is with his first bass caught solo.  And aren't those overalls under his little windbreaker just "precious"...  A "Thank you" kiss sent the fish back on his way.
During the summer months, we would go down to the Outer Banks, and enjoy the beauty of the beach.  And while midsummer fishing isn't necessarily the best, it wouldn't discourage Bunkie Doodle and me from trying.  Maybe there was a flounder near the surf... or some sea mullet... or croaker ... bluefish ... dogfish ... heck, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish!  We were going to try for whatever we might be able to get!

Towards the end of a day, Parke's baby brother Clayton, was more interested in eating sand and watching the waves, but Parke would hold that fishing rod long after I had given up on the day, sure that a fish would come along any moment to eat his offering.  Parke has always had an undying spirit for what he wants or believes in.  And he believed he was going to catch a fish -- always. 
Late summer, late afternoon by the Bonner Bridge, and Bunkie Doodle  keeps on fishing... knowing that something is going to take his bait.  Even on days when there was nothing going on, he was determined to keep trying.
The second weekend in October, Suffolk celebrates its "Peanut Festival".  From Thursday through Sunday, the Suffolk Ruritan Shrimp Feast kicks off big-name concerts (typically groups from the 70's, however, this is Suffolk we're speaking of...), great food and drinks, a demolition derby and peanut butter sculpting contest (I said this is Suffolk, already...) carnival rides, and the Midway of games-you-are-sure-to-lose.  One year when Parke was about eight or so, however, he went and won a couple goldfish, throwing pingpong balls into tiny, little fishbowls.  Great!  I thought.  More pets....  (We already had a dog and a hamster or two.)  And that was the beginning of another obsession.

The fish actually didn't die within the first week.  And when they lived, and continued to live (doggone it), Parke said he wanted an  aquarium to put them in.  The glass fishbowl we had wasn't big enough for them.  So a Christmas present from Santa was a 10 gallon aquarium with a starter kit -- everything the novice needed to have a successful fish aquarium.  A couple more bug-eyed goldfish were also in order, one of them black (which we cleverly named "Blackie".  Real original, huh.)

Actually, I have to admit, I had less of a hard time agreeing to a fish tank, than I had to the hamsters we already had.  Hamsters smell.  Hamsters are nocturnal, and make a lot of noise at night.  Hamsters can get out of their cages, and then you have to try and track them down, wherever they may be before they poop everywhere, or chew and damage something.  Fortunately our dog, a chocolate lab, named Maddie, had a nose for finding the hamsters.  We would say, "Maddie, Where's the hamster?", and her ears would perk up and she would start wagging her tail.  Say it again, and she was off, nose to the boys' bedroom floor (if she could find the floor under all the books, toys and clothes), and start tracking.  She found the hamsters in their closet; she found the hamsters in their dresser drawers (don't ask how they got there, I have no idea); she found the hamsters in the hall closet; she found the hamsters in our closet!

SIDEBAR ALERT:  Even though we haven't had hamsters in almost 10 years, if you still say to old Maddie, "Where's the hamster?" she'll perk up and start wagging her tail.  But the scent trail is long dead.  She will go outside and dig up the mole tracks in my yard, however, when I say it to her now....

Anyway, fish don't escape their aquariums the way hamsters do, and if they do, they're easy to find.  Parke once caught a tiny bass and a tiny bluegill, and put them both in the aquarium (long after Blackie and his cohorts did finally pass away and get flushed to the "great aquarium in the sky" -- I guess it's actually that "great aquarium in the city's septic system").  He found worms and crickets, and fed them for a few days, but they were restless.  He came home from school one day, only to see that the blue gill had somehow jumped clear out of the tank during the course of the day, only to land on his floor, free again at last....  and ... now, dead as a doornail.  He took the bass down to the lake that afternoon, to release it before it suffered the same fate.

Another time, I accidentally brought home a leftover live eel from Boys' Weekend in one of my coolers.  (We use them as live bait for catching stripers around Oregon Inlet.)  Not sure what to do with it (it's absolutely amazing to me how long an eel can live out of water... literally days!), I contemplated just throwing it away; but Parke wanted to put it in his aquarium.  By this time, he now had two 10-gallon aquariums (the obsession was growing).

He put whatever fish were in one, to share a tank with the other, and put the eel in its own tank.  Even though it was a fresh water aquarium, that eel lived through the winter and into the early spring, before Parke finally released it in the waters near our house.  It never did die.  It did slime up his tank pretty well, though, which was one of the reasons he finally released it.

As Parke approached middle school, and their dreaded "science projects", he struggled with what his project should be.  Eventually he decided to find out how crayfish react to light.  One Saturday morning, we went to the local fishery that supplies pond owners with bass, bluegills, and other game fish, and walked inside.  You would have thought Parke was in heaven, his eyes widened so much!  Not since our trip to SeaWorld, had he seen so many aquariums, so large, and so full of fish!  What a cool place to work, he said.  We got a bunch of crayfish, learned how to care for them, and went home.  He set up his aquarium with one side lit up, separated from a dark side with a divider, and began his observations over the course of the next couple weeks.  He not only got an "A" for his project, but he won the class Science Fair that year.  It just goes to show, that when you're doing something you love, you don't mind the work involved....

About the time of the eel in the tank, is when Parke started asking me when he could go on Boys' Weekend.  Seeing that it meant something to him, we began our own little tradition of going down to Nags Head, just the two of us, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  We would fish that afternoon and evening.  Fish the next morning, and be home by Thanksgiving dinner.  He was very excited the first year we did it.  And so was I.  We had caught a few stripers that BW the week before, and I was hopeful that Parke's first experience would be successful.  Hopefully the fish were still around and biting.

We got down to the OBX, I got my heavers and equipment together, we bought some bait, and hit Oregon Inlet.  The moment we drove onto the beach, however, I could tell it was going to be a little different than the previous weekend.  It was crowded!  And you couldn't drive around the corner to the south to get to the inlet, itself.  The tide was so high, we just pulled straight ahead, and found a gap between some other trucks and set up shop.  I set up my sandspikes, got the rods out, cut some bait, and heaved the lines out into the crowded surf with everyone else.

I was not hopeful, to say the least.  With so many people fishing such a tight space, the odds of us catching a striper were minimal, at best.  But still, you cast... and you wait... and you hope.  Surprisingly, it did not take long before my rod bent sharply down.  I picked it up, tightened the line, and... "Fish ON!"  Parke was excited watching me fight a nice rockfish to the shore.   When I finally brought it in, and up the beach, everyone around looked at us with disgust.  We had been the last ones to arrive, and we were the only ones to catch a fish.  We couldn't have been any more proud!  It made us forget about how cold it was, and Parke was feeling bigger and taller by the minute!
I love the perspective of this photo that Parke took of me with our Thanksgiving Eve Striper.  He wouldn't always be looking up at me like this....  But this day, he did; as I was the only one around who caught a fish that afternoon -- and we were one of the last trucks to arrive on the beach and find room to fish.

Bunkie Doodle grew significantly, with the confidence of seeing me catch a nice striper.  Suddenly, he could fit in my waders.  Now he just needed to catch a fish.  Meanwhile, I'm thinking "BASKETBALL SCHOLARSHIP!"
We fished until dark, then left the beach and had dinner at the local Mexican restaurant -- which was Parke's favorite place to eat.  Getting back to the cottage, we cleaned the fish, cleaned up and hit the hay early.  We were tired, and it had been an exciting day.

The next morning, we were up before the crack of dawn, and hit Oregon Inlet again.  Parke hadn't seen the sunrise over the ocean before -- shoot, I'm not even sure he had ever seen any sunrise before (he is NOT a morning person like me), and it was neat to be able to share the beauty of that with him.

Sunrise Thanksgiving morning started cold and early.  It's a shame sunrise has to come too early for most people to enjoy.  But by later in the day, it would be bright, clear - and a little warmer.
Eventually, with the receding tide, we were able to go south and around the corner to the inlet in the late morning.  So we set up shop there, after having no success on the beach side, earlier.  Unfortunately, it was another slow day, with nothing biting.  Nothing.  I began to get discouraged for Parke, as the morning turned into afternoon, and it was approaching time for us to leave.  The day had warmed up a little, and the sun was out and shining brightly.  But we had to go.  Then Parke's rod wiggled, and he went towards it and reeled it in.  A nice fat dogfish was on the end, and Parke was happy.  He had caught a fish, after all.  Even the older couple fishing next to us congratulated Parke for being the only one to catch anything that day.  Our first mini-BW together had been a success, after all.  We headed back to Suffolk for Thanksgiving dinner, with a nice striper in the cooler, and a dogfish memory for Parke.

Parke holding a shark on Thanksgiving afternoon, right before we had to head back home....  The trip was a success for both of us.  And a nice memory we would always share.

The next year, we did it again.   But the following year after that, the whole family wanted to go.  So we went down to the beach after Thanksgiving as a family.  We met up with some friends that were already down there, and hit Oregon Inlet on Saturday.  Another sunny day, another slow day of fishing greeted us on the beach.  Because it was so sunny and nice, I cast my rod and had it in its spike, while I socialized with our friends Mike, Janie and their kids.  Parke, meanwhile, was determined to catch a fish.  So I set up his rod with some bait, gave it to him, and he went on his way:  to go fish an area a couple hundred yards away, I had already told him I didn't think had any fish.  Ten minutes later, a man nearby started laughing.

"Looks like your boy caught a fish in the area that doesn't have any fish....", he said smiling at me.  I laughed.  Parke was walking back with a nice little puppy drum he had caught in the surf.  He proved me wrong, again.

Parke, doing his best Clayton "Forrest Gump" imitation with his eyes closed, holding the nice pup he just caught on the beach, where I had doubted he'd catch anything.  Shows what I really know.

Fortunately for me, I wasn't about to be outfished by my son again.  My rod wiggled, and I picked it up.  I reeled it in, and brought in a nice 29 inch rockfish.  It surprised even me, but I'll take it.  Especially when Parke had already caught a fish.  And once again, nobody else did.  Parke and I had outfished the others on the beach again.  But I wasn't about to worry about getting cocky or overconfident.  That wouldn't always happen....

I think I was as surprised by this 29" rockfish, as I was by the fact that Parke had caught the puppy drum he did.  Oh well, it was another good day for him and me, after all.  Not so much for anyone else on the beach fishing....
Meanwhile, back on the home front, Parke now upgraded his two 10-gallon aquariums for a 35-gallon aquarium on a stand.  And with the larger tank, came more and larger fish.  Yet he still kept one of the 10 gallon tanks filled, for smaller fish, too.  His room was turning into the Suffolk branch of the Virginia Marine Science Museum (one of his favorite places to visit)....

Goldfish and guppies had given way to a variety of beautiful and unusually shaped fish that I couldn't even begin to name.  I must confess there were times when all of us would just go into his room and watch the fish swimming around peacefully.  I can see why doctors' offices have fish tanks... it is very soothing to watch.  The "white noise" of the filter, the water, and the simple beauty of it all definitely reduces stress levels, and can even lull you to sleep.  It is very calming.

As Parke went through those early to mid-teen years, the tension level between him and me increased.  The "never say die", strong-willed "young bull" was growing horns, and wanted to test them out on the "old bull" of the house, me.  I can't say our behavior towards each other was always pretty, or the way I would have liked, but as a father you love, and you do your best, and you hope and pray for the best.  And as a son, you want to assert your growing independence -- sometimes far sooner than you are really ready to.  And you don't like it when you are told to do otherwise.

Somehow we made it through those years without killing each other, and one of the things that always continued to tie us together, was our mutual love for fishing.  Our trip to Alaska, too rough and un-luxurious for any woman, was just the right thing for us.  A shower in the beginning of the week, and a hot sauna and shower at the end of the week was all we needed.  Otherwise, it was all fishing, camping, and bonding....  I told Parke this was going to be a new experience for both of us; and in that sense we were both equals up there.  I was still -- and always would be -- his father; but for this trip we were just two fishing buddies sharing a wonderful experience.

Halibut Fishing out of Seward.  A float plane ride across Cook Inlet to a john boat ride to fish for sockeye.  Camping out in a tent.  "Combat fishing" on the shores of the Russian River for more sockeye.  More camping outside Homer.  And more halibut and cod fishing in Tutka Bay south of Homer.  These were some of the highlights of a trip with too many highlights to mention.
A successful day, limiting out on Halibut was just the beginning of a wonderful week of bonding and memories.  And yes, the largest halibut in the middle are the ones that Parke and I caught....  Delicious!  We ate halibut and salmon that we sent back home, for the next two years!
Beautiful scenery, flying over Cook Inlet, bears, Tundra swans, and awesome sockeye sushi were just some of the highlights of our day fishing for sockeye, flying out of Soldatna.  An incredible experience!  We limited out on whatever fish we were fishing for every day.  And the weather was unusually warm and sunny, by Alaskan standards.
Shoulder to shouder, we quickly learned what it takes to fight the fish, the current, and all the other people around, when "combat fishing" on the Russian River.  And the sockeye there were bigger than the ones we caught elsewhere, the day before.
It wasn't the "chicken" halibut that we caught in Little Tutka Bay that impressed Parke; but this nice sized codfish he caught that we ate the next night.  It was light, flaky and delicious!  But the bald eagles only wanted to eat the halibut carcasses... not the cod carcasses, after we cleaned all the fish and left the remains on the beach.
When we got home, I'd like to say our relationship was healed and perfect from that point forward.  The truth is, it wasn't.  But there was a new sense of understanding and appreciation I think we each had.  And through the next few years of high school, the tense moments between us became fewer and less tense.  There was some growing up and maturity gained -- perhaps by both of us....

And we still enjoyed fishing together.  Whether it was kayak fishing for striper or puppy drum.  Fishing in Nags Head for speckled trout, flounder, and puppy drum.  Or just fly fishing at the point of the lake for bluegill and bass again....  It continued to be one of our bonds we shared together.
Parke's first striper in a kayak was caught the first time he tried.  A beautiful fish on a cold autumn day.
Waking Parke up before sunrise is almost impossible... unless it is to go fishing.  This late Spring morning proved very successful for speckled trout.  Other mornings produced nice puppy drum or flounder, too.
Parke back down on the point of the lake, where he first learned how to fish.  With a fly rod and his young cousin... teaching her how to catch a fish.  Her first fish was a bluegill.  The cycle continues....
After Parke graduated high school, he went down and lived for the summer at the Outer Banks.  His job?  Naturally, it was at the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, where he had the wonderful task of cleaning thousands of fish, during the course of the summer....  Bluefish, spadefish, speckled trout, tuna, dolphin, wahoo, amberjack, mako sharks, croaker, puppy drum.  Whatever the headboats and charter boats brought in, he helped clean.  He ate fresh seafood all summer long.  And learned to cook, as well as clean all these fish.  Quite well, I might add.
While he didn't catch this 60+ pound mahi mahi, he did get to clean it.  He got so quick and efficient cleaning fish, he once won a bet by cleaning two mahi mahi in under 20 seconds.
But not every fish he catches is a monster, or even a keeper....  Sometimes you still have to throw them back.
This largemouth bass has a few more years to grow until he lives up to his name.  Maybe he should go in Parke's aquarium... but the Oscar would probably eat him.
Of course, as I just wrote about last week, Parke is now finally attending Boys' Weekend.  And while it wasn't much of a fishing success this year, it didn't hamper his enthusiasm for fishing one bit.

Thanksgiving afternoon, before dinner -- just like we did years ago -- we went out fishing for stripers.  This time, we didn't go all the way down to the OBX.  We just went to the Nansemond, and went kayak fishing.

The fishing was slow, but it was a beautiful day to be out on the water.  The haunting call of two skeins of tundra swans migrating south echoed above us, reminding me -- as they do every time -- of the ones we saw in Alaska.  A large skein of Canada geese flew much lower over us, migrating from the 9th hole of the nearby golf course, to the 12th hole I joked.  And we fished.

"Fish on!"  Parke said about an hour into our adventure.  And much to his chagrin, he brought in a good sized shad, he had foul hooked through the tail.  "Oh well," he said, holding it for a photo, "At least it fought well."
The shad Parke caught was held for a photo, and released.  There would be no "shad planking" for this specimen.
After a quick photo, he released it and we continued fishing.  Finally I felt the tap of a striper hitting my jig as it fell in the middle of the channel.  I set the hook.  "Fish on!" I said to Parke.  And once again, like so many times before, the joy of catching a fish was amplified and multiplied because I was sharing the moment with my son, Parke.  Bunkie Doodle.  He took a photo, and kept on fishing.
A beautiful 24 inch rockfish caught on a cool Thanksgiving afternoon, made more enjoyable because I was sharing it with my son, doing what we both love....
We fished for another hour, before giving up, realizing that the fish just weren't biting too much, and we had other obligations with family.  It was Thanksgiving, after all.

"Well, at least the afternoon wasn't a complete loss, since you caught that fish," Parke said on our way home to shower, dress and get ready for dinner.

A loss?  I thought.  Even if we had been skunked, it was never a loss to share time with Parke on the water, enjoying the beauty that is a late autumn afternoon.  We went and joined the family for a wonderful Thanksgiving feast.  We had missed out on the pre-dinner games my brother-in-law had planned for the afternoon.  But oh well, I thought.  I enjoy his games as much as the next guy; but it was worth it, for the fish and for the time alone with Bunkie.

The next day, Black Friday, I took him to the pet store.  His big Tiger Oscar and his Jewel Cichlid were getting too big for his 35-gallon aquarium in his room.  He needed a bigger one, he said.  A 55-gallon aquarium.

"I'll take you," I said, "but we're not buying anything today."

You can figure out what happened.  We got there, and they had a great deal -- only today! -- on a tank, with everything you need.  I didn't have room in my car, I told Parke.

"That's okay, I'll come back later tonight in my car and pick it up," he said.

"Okay, but that's your Christmas present.  There will be nothing more under the tree from me.  Are you okay with that?"

He nodded enthusiastically.  He was.  There was still a little boy somewhere in that 6'1" frame that was now taller than me.

And now, as I finish writing this post, he's back at college to wrap up his semester, and I'm looking at a fully functioning 55-gallon aquarium in our great room with a happy Tiger Oscar, a Jewel Cichlid, and an Algae Eater... (Yes, the other aquariums are still functioning, too.)   And I'm wondering, what's next -- a 125 gallon tank?  That will have to be at his house one day.  But I wouldn't doubt it will be.

So what will Parke be one day?  Will he be like Jacques Cousteau, scuba diving among various marine life, studying them?  Will he be a charter boat captain, taking others out to enjoy fishing?  Will he be a Navy SEAL, protecting our country?  Or will he do something else for a living?  I don't know yet, because he doesn't know yet, for sure.

But I do know this:  Regardless of how he earns his living one day, his love and respect for marine life -- whether it's through fishing, or just enjoying fish in an aquarium, will always be a part of his life.  And through it all, it is neat to see how God has shaped in him this love for His Creation.  It makes me have no doubt that long after I am dead and gone, Bunkie Doodle will be showing his family his 1000 gallon aquarium, and teaching his kids, and their kids, how to yell,

"Fish ON!"