I think it’s fair to say that for all of my life, I’ve considered my dad to be my main fishing buddy. Fathers, sons, fishing … ’Merica. It was my dad who taught me how to cast a rod; my dad who would dutifully hand me his rod in exchange for the glorious mess of tangled line I’d present to him; my dad who encouraged me to go fly-fishing, especially after I was inspired by Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It.”
But sometimes, fishing with my dad isn’t very easy. It’s never a clash of methods — the “new school” versus the “old school” — or disputes regarding technique or tackle, though I do think that has happened once or twice.
It’s more the waking-up-early part. My dad loves to sleep, and throughout my childhood, there were many times when the “Yeah, we’ll wake up at 5 a.m.!” statements turned into groans as I tried to drag my dad out of bed at 4:58 a.m.
The promised early morning trips turned into mid-to-late-morning trips, as I spent an hour trying to wake my dad up from his hibernation and get him going. Inevitably, we’d have to get coffee and maybe a McMuffin, so that would also delay the process.
But on a recent fishing trip to Putah Creek near Winters, California, it occured to me that lately, I undervalued another lifelong fishing buddy — a fishing buddy who exhibits the most excellent qualities in a fisherperson: my mom.
My mom’s relationship with fishing dates back to her youth. She grew up in Istanbul, and in the summers, as her family cruised the Aegean Sea in a sailboat or stayed at their beach house along the Sea of Marmara, my mom fished. She caught them without poles or reels, just handlines: Turkish style.
She’d catch these fish, and if she was unsure of whether or not they were poisonous (content warning: You can skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to read about a fish getting bonked on the head), she’d bonk them on the head, thinking that the poison would be harmless after the fish was dead. I always have this image of my mom as a curious little girl, staring down at the mud-colored fish lying limp on a rock and examining it.
In 2000, my Turkish grandmother visited my mom in Los Angeles, where my mom was attending art school. My dad had just started dating my mom and was flabbergasted that she needed a recommendation not for a high-end restaurant or show, but for a good fishing area. My dad recommended June Lake. So my mom, Asli, and her mom, Rezan, set out for the Eastern Sierras. They loved it there.
I imagine them now, two Turkish ladies sitting in a boat in the Sierra Nevadas just fishing alone. Badass.
Fishing is in my mom’s blood.
During our fishing trip to Putah Creek, in the middle of my first semester at UC Berkeley, my mom and I stayed two nights in Winters for my birthday. I was determined to catch a notoriously fickle native trout from the creek.
After we arrived, we went out to dinner, and after a reassuring conversation about my homesickness, I asked my mom what time we should wake up. “Five a.m.?” she suggested. I almost choked on my steak. For the first time, I was the one suggesting a later wake-up-for-fishing time. “Six,” I said, hardly believing my own words (I think we even ended up leaving about 7 a.m.).
The fishing was tough — very technical fly-fishing with tiny flies and swift currents.
But my mom was patient. If one spot didn’t produce any fish, she’d drive us to the next. I prepared a rod for her, which she used occasionally throughout the day while we explored the creek. But what makes my mom an amazing fishing buddy is that she was more interested in me catching a fish than her catching a fish; she is an incredibly unselfish person.
Towards the end of the day, my mom all but abandoned her rod. In one leafy, calm section of the creek, as I tried to wade through the fast currents and deep pools, my mom sat perched on a rock, coaching me, gesturing to any rising fish or promising holes.
At one point, my mom was urging me to reach a boulder toward the middle of the river: “Go! Go there! You could fish from that rock!” I gently had to remind her that the 20 feet of fast-moving water between me and the rock was probably too risky. My mom shrugged. “It still looks like you could catch a fish over there.”
Throughout the afternoon, I fished dutifully, and my mom coached me. Toward the end of the day, I caught a fish. I didn’t have a net and was trying to wrestle the trout with my bare hands back to the bank to show my mom (Disclaimer: no animals were injured in the making of this experience). I whispered the Turkish word for mom: “Anne. Anne.” I didn’t want to disturb the fish with a shout, but she wasn’t there.
As I reached the bank, the fish wriggled out and fell with a “splonk” back into the gurgling creek. My mom came crashing through the underbrush, rod in hand. “What happened?”
Empty-handed, I told her I caught a fish. We were both very happy, although it was a very fair irony that the one time I caught a fish was the one time my mom was fishing for herself.
Dusk descended on the creek, and we gathered our gear. Suddenly, we heard a bunch of splashes. Fish were jumping; native trout here and there were vaulting like gymnasts out of the water.
“Go! Go! Go!” my mom enthused. I clumsily broke out a rod and cast a fly through the jumping trout. I got several strikes, but the fish seemed distracted. There was something else in the water.
Slowly, through the splashing, we saw the furry heads of a family of otters. They were going to town, ravaging the jumping, terrified trout.
My mom and I laughed. We spent all day with our human gear and machinery to catch one fish. It was clear to us that nature was making a statement. One fish was all we needed; one fish was all we got. The rest would go to the otter family.
Together we walked up the path to the car. I thanked my lifelong fishing buddy for being so selfless, and we talked about the dinner we would have in Winters.
And all the while, the otters kept on feasting.