I owe Gov. Sonny Perdue an apology. I thought his pet program, "Go Fish, Georgia," was a bunch of hooey. Thanks to my young friend, Carter, I don't feel that way anymore.
Carter was my partner recently at a little fishing lake on the grounds of the Cochran Mill Nature Center, an exquisite nature preserve south of Atlanta. The fact that its executive director is my daughter, Maribeth Wansley, only increases my admiration for the place.
I was commandeered to be an adult presence with a group of kids attending a summer camp at the center, which among other activities included a morning of fishing. My job, among other assorted duties, was to bait hooks, release fish - assuming any were caught - and keep the kids from spearing themselves with a fish hook, snarling their fishing lines, getting bored or falling in the lake.
As Yogi Berra would say, it was dejà vu all over again for me. It had been many years since I used to accompany my son and his grandfather on their Saturday morning fishing trips. This was their time together, but I was allowed to tag along, as long as I stayed out of their way.
As the years rolled by and life became more complicated, those Saturday mornings became distant memories. True, I had done some fly-fishing with my son and later with his son, but as challenging as fly-fishing is, there is nothing quite like taking a plastic container of worms, a rod, a reel (preferably a Zebco) and plopping a float down on placid water and waiting for a nibble.
My fingers are a bit more arthritic than when I last tied on a fish hook, but somehow I got Carter's line baited and float correctly placed, and I showed him how to cast just as my father-in-law had shown my son and me, lo, those many years ago. It all came back in a flash. I was amazed. Carter was impressed. It helped that we nailed a huge catfish on one of our first casts.
We later caught a nice bass and got another whopper on the bank before he spit the hook and slid safely back into the water. Carter and I decided we would count that as a catch. The fish play by our rules.
While we were fishing, Carter asked if I liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. "My favorite," I said. He then informed me that his mother made the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the world and one was awaiting him in his lunch bag after the fishing expedition was completed - and before he went home to tell his family of his singular accomplishments with rod and reel.
My official duties done, I was preparing to leave the center when I heard a small voice behind me. There stood Carter with part of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his little hand. "This is for you," he said. It was as delicious as advertised, but I had a hard time swallowing with that big lump in my throat.
That is why I owe the governor an apology. Oh, I know that the main thrust of his legislation is to promote bass tournaments and get professional fisherfolk to our state, but maybe it will also inspire a granddaddy to take a grandchild fishing and create a bond like the one between my son and his grandfather, or allow some old man who has been away from fishing ponds too long the high privilege of helping a young man experience a special day in his life.
There is no doubt in my mind that this would be a better world if we all went fishing more often. You can't fish riled up. It is against the laws of nature. You also can't fish in a hurry. The fish won't allow it. Fishing will bring you peace, patience, an appreciation of the wonders of nature and a brief respite from all the meanness in the world. In short, fishing is a wonderful way to spend a day. The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are simply a bonus. Just ask Carter.
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