It was bound to happen, and it finally did. Twice, in fact, this past winter.
Within the course of a week, on different lakes on different afternoons, my young son and I left the water without getting a single bite. We tried for all we were worth, too, once for 10 minutes and another for 15, and straight-up struck out.
The mistake we made both times happens routinely to fishermen of all ages and levels of experience. We relied on history rather than current conditions and made one - well, two - too many trips to what I clearly knew to be fair-weather spots. We grew entirely too comfortable using the same techniques that produced time and time and time again through all three warmer seasons.
Wed taken other children and their parents to these holes all summer, and theyd been amazed at how easily we caught fish until everyone tired of doing so. Wed shared the locations with still more friends, each of whom reported similarly good outcomes.
I fully expected that those swarms of little fish eventually would even the score for all the times wed yanked them from their underwater homes. What I didnt expect is that they could coordinate the effort.
In warmer water, there were hundreds of palm-sized fish stacked into the washtub-sized space beneath a footbridge at one spot and alongside a short pier at the other. And they accommodated us nicely in exchange for the free meals. When the season changed, however, so did our luck.
I knew in a dimly lit corner of my brain that the chill of winter would present a challenge, but I wasnt prepared to be utterly embarrassed by fish that love bologna bits and wouldnt cover a slice of bread.
The least they could have done is tack a note to a stump: "Too cold. Were out of here. Go pick on some rainbow trout. P.S. They like corn kernels soaked in vanilla extract."
The smartest thing I did, of course, was pull the plug quickly. Fishing with children, Ive written often, is about action. And we werent getting any. That first time, we stowed the cane and switched to (always close) golf clubs for a chipping and putting session. He likes the game almost as much as fishing, and the practice area is close to the lake. The other time, we came home and played catch. While we tossed the ball, we talked about why the fish didnt bite and about golf and about manners and about his domination of the T-ball field this past fall.
Still on standby in the "skunk-trip distraction quiver" are a walk down the bayou that flanks our neighborhood to search for dinosaur bones, free throws on his new basketball goal, and a rubber-band powered airplane.
Every time I leave the house to fish with my son, there is a secondary activity at the ready. Until recently, Id never needed them. At present, at least through winter, Im adding to the list.
Fortunately for me, by design and with carefully chosen words before and after our fishing trips, my son already understood that the fish dont always cooperate. The water hauls got his attention, but they didnt bother him nearly so much as they did me.
Alone on the same water with the same rig and same bait, I might have given the exercise another hour. Or two, just to prove - to nobody in particular - that I could catch a fish even under dreadful circumstances. Instead, during that backyard game of catch, my son taught me the lesson I thought Id been teaching him.
As we tossed the baseball and talked about the world and how it works, I apologized for having not been able to produce a fish earlier that afternoon.
That was OK, he said. Maybe the fish went somewhere else because it got cold. Maybe to another lake, or to the beach.
And, he added in words far beyond his five years, catching fish wasnt so important as going fishing with me. Wed try again soon, he concluded, and next time wed do better.