VANCOUVER -- Our fishing mornings were limited to August days when we all gathered at the ramshackle cabin we called "camp" at Roberts Creek up the Sunshine Coast.
The game plan was generally formed the night before, when Dad would ask me if I wanted to go fishing "tomorrow morning -- early." I always said yes, because in his busy medical work life, there were few opportunities for us just to be together, away from my sisters and mother and the outpatients' department of the Vancouver General Hospital.
He'd always wake up first, and I'd hear him clattering about in the kitchen at 6 a.m., throwing together an improbable pre-breakfast of bananas and hardtack, and a chocolate bar if he could find one.
"Mom will cook us grilse when we come in... " was the standard reply when I asked if we were going to eat breakfast before going out.
So I knew we'd be hungry in the boat. I think he once told me that, "hunger motivates you to fish harder."
I'd get to carry the grub bag down the trail through the cedars to the boathouse.
At the beach, we'd get a better sense of the weather for the morning. A windless calm was often on offer, and combined with a high slack tide, was the best condition for fishing.
WE'D quickly open the boathouse doors and get out the two rods, the green plastic Plano tackle box, the oars, the big fish net, the 'fish bonker,' and the bailer made out of an old bleach bottle. My next job was finding enough roller logs to put in series down the beach to the tide line. Once they were in place, together, Dad and I would lift the yellow fiberglass Davidson dingy out of the boathouse, and roll it down, ready for launching. Holding up my side of the lifting was hard work.
Once at the water's edge, I stowed the oars in the brass oarlocks, and Dad and I made sure all of the gear was in the boat. Next he got in and carefully traversed to the bow seat. I pushed us off from the stern, hopping in as soon as the boat was afloat. Generally, I sat in the stern. Dad then moved to the centre thwart from the bow, and assumed the responsibility for rowing the 'first shift.' As he strongly pulled us out to sea, I remembered my duties: "Put the lines out, keep a weather eye open, sit the boat straight, and when it's your time to row, pull your weight in the boat." Dad always repeated these "captain's orders," just as he'd learned them from his dad, in a small boat on the same coastline some 30 years before.
I can see him at the oars now in his Jones' Tent and Awning 'salt and pepper' wool pants, a red plaid Mackinaw jacket and Romeo slip-on boots. He'd have a day's worth of whiskers because he never shaved before fishing. And he'd be visibly relaxing as the first line went down "20 pulls" into the calm morning ocean. The rig was always the same: number 3 Tom Mack chrome spoon, 18 inches of 20-pound test leader and then the Tom Mack herring dodger; another three feet and then a six-ounce Peetz lead weight. The second line usually went deeper: "Try 30 pulls," he'd say.
Once the lines were out we'd choose a tack and stick to it. There was Over to Comrie's tack, Lord Byng tack, and Straight out to Vancouver Island tack. We'd row back and forth on these ocean tracks dragging the lines and hoping for a strike. While Dad rowed, he asked me interesting questions and made thoughtful observations about life. I remember these conversations as being unique. When we spoke in the boat, it was man to man, dad to son, and what was said in the boat, stayed in the boat. Once I said to him, "Dad, we should spend more time together so that we can have more conversations like this." He looked at me for a while before responding, which he did simply by saying, "Yes we should."
As I grew older and became a teenager, I wondered why we couldn't get a speedboat, or at least a three-horse Johnson for the rowboat? Dad wouldn't have it. He was loyal to rowboats when every other family at Roberts Creek had switched to outboards. He wouldn't hear of getting a downrigger, and he never switched to fancy Lucky Louie plugs or Buzz-bombs. He embarrassed me sometimes when we went to town (Gibson's Landing) dressed in his wool clothing on hot days, and I started to dislike camp because there were no interesting girls on our beach.
Now when I think back to those August days in the early 1960s and the conversations we had in the boat, I realize they were the basis of much of my parenting skills. Dad taught me to listen to my children, to favour simple pleasures and to spend time as a family in the bush and on the ocean. He was his own man and he taught me to be mine.
Columnist Mike Robinson has lived half of his life in Alberta and half in B.C. In Calgary, he worked for eight years in the oilpatch, 14 in academia and eight years as a cultural CEO. Now back in Vancouver, he is still a cultural CEO, but also has business interests in a resource company and mutual funds.
-- Troy Media