The pristine angling conditions are those seldom sprinkled into even fleeting dreams.
The setting sun hugs the coastal horizon and throws a million shimmering sparkles onto the sandy shallows as it creeps toward inevitable slumber. The slight wind aids the release of plastic imitations into the distance and cools the trio wading knee deep on the ebbing grassy flat. The occasional winged onlooker passes overhead curiously sizing up the scene and hoping the commotion stirs up hiding bait fish one last time before nightfall.
The anglers each tow a hefty stringer of saltwater bounty including a pair of nice redfish, a handful of sparkling trout and even a robust flounder – an always welcome bonus – while hoping for one last cruising red to cap off the great day. As usual, there is chatter on a variety of topics in between casts, stretching from discussion of how things have changed on the coast and what remains the same to how friends and family are faring.
There also are tales of days long past offered up by the weathered men to my left and to my right, dating back to when they were much younger than me and up through their middle years when they had families of their own.
The man to my left from San Antonio talks about the heroes he served with who never returned home from military engagements in Europe and Korea, and speaks about the days when his boys first were learning to hunt and fish. He again admits that he isn’t a big hunter, but talks about making sure his sons and brothers had opportunities. He even interjects a few humorous tales from his Lone Star beer-brewing days and how the love of his life would have delighted to see this sunset.
The man to my right from Houston speaks about the years he spent flying military jets and working with fledgling NASA to help train astronauts for the rigors of space travel, including the somber tale of his first Apollo crew – friends who were taken much too soon. He lightens the mood with a few amusing anecdotes about his younger days chasing waterfowl with his Model 12 and his passion for flying, his exuberance for both winged pursuits beaming behind glistening eyes.
In the radiant distance, a pod of luminescent tails materializes out of nowhere, the gaggle of redfish giving away their position as they nose around in the sand while gulping down unlucky mullet and crabs in their gaping mouths. The three of us slowly shuffle forward hoping not to spook the wily fish in the tranquil shallows, and just as we make it into casting range, they disperse in a violent rush of bronze and white.
Without saying a word, all three of us shake our heads and smile, the pained effort understood by all anglers: That’s why it’s called fishing.
Deciding that we’ll fish back to the beach and make a few more casts, we turn around and shimmy away from the sun. Then, like clockwork another pod of spotted tails rises in the waters we previously had strolled through. These fish aren’t as spooky even though our silhouettes are well-defined by the decreasing sun and as we get into range, my fishing partners lob casts on either side of the gathering, cautiously retrieving lures into sight of the hungry fish.
Simultaneously, a robust red slams each bait, and the rods smash down in glorious fashion. Each brute peels drag for a few minutes, sending thick wakes in their efforts before succumbing to the constant leverage, and as each man leisurely bends to corral their fish, the luminous hues glow as brightly as the sun.
The blissful anglers turn to show me the catches of the day, healthy grins draped across their smiling faces.
“Nice fish grandpa,” I say with a forceful laugh.
Then, as usual, I’m jarred awake only to rub my eyes in disgust, the momentary delight replaced with dim reality.
Lee Leschper Sr. and William Calhoun are gone — they left this earth far too soon and I miss them every day. My biggest regret is that I never got to share more time with them outdoors or do other things that doting grandparents so much enjoy with their kid’s kids.
However, they left a legacy that I’m proud to say includes me. They passed on a passion for life and hard work, which their children in turn handed down. The pair also enjoyed the outdoors and passed on the pursuits whether they knew it or not. What I have gained through others from them is a respect for the animals we hunt and the fish we catch, and it’s not simply about what we bring home from an outing.
More than anything, it’s about what we leave for others, and more importantly, what we give back.
We all can be better teachers and stewards, passing on what we have learned through hard work, determination or even luck, and it isn’t solely reserved to outdoor pursuits. We’ve all got something to offer whether we know it or not. Sometimes all we need is a gentle nudge in the right direction or even a hearty push, but no matter how you get there never forget the people who helped you see the best of who you can be.
With Father’s Day this Sunday, I am grateful for those teachers who are still with us and those who I will see again down the road. Thank you daddies, fathers who became grandpas and granddads who became even greater for showing us the way to live.