If you grew up in Kentucky, chances are you went fishing at one of the state’s numerous lakes, ponds or creeks. I have fond memories of traveling back to Eastern Kentucky where my parents are from and fishing at the dam at Buckhorn Lake and catching minnows in the creek in front of my mom’s old homeplace. As an adult, I have only been fishing a few times and that was more than 20 years ago, but my brothers are both active anglers and love spending time on the water. When one of them asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, I quickly told him, “Take me fishing”, and that’s exactly what he did. I thought it would just be a great afternoon activity with my brother whom I see only occasionally. Little did I know I would get lessons not only in bass fishing, but also in life. Here’s what I learned.
1) Be prepared. When I pulled up to my brother’s house, he had the boat already loaded up and ready to go. He had several rods, all organized and fitted up with lures; he had buoys, hand tools, life jackets, ropes, and most importantly, a cooler filled with snacks and drinks. All I had to do was add some Ale-8s and off we went to Cedar Creek Lake in Lincoln County. There’s nothing worse than getting out on the water and not having something you need. Your whole day could be ruined! A little preparation goes a long way, and this goes for anything you’re going to do in life, not just fishing.
2) Looks can be deceiving. Once we launched the boat, my eyes were focused on the nature all around me. The sky was a brilliant blue with fluffy white clouds. I saw grasses growing up along the edge, and there was the wide expanse of water with the occasional treetop poking up from underneath. My brother told me that this lake was manmade, meaning they simply flooded the area. He motored the boat to a specific spot on the lake and proceeded to tell me about all the things I couldn’t see that were underneath the water. He said, “This is where the old road used to go and over there are the railroad tracks.” I stared at him in disbelief, not understanding how he knew this information. I looked around and saw nothing indicating such things, just water. He told me he had been fishing that lake for a long, long time and had mapped out the topography of the lake. He also had come across an old map, so that added to his knowledge. But why is that important? Well, if you know anything about bass, they like cover, and around the road and railroad tracks are rocks. The fish will hang out above the rocks. Fish the rocks, you increase your chances of catching a bass. That’s valuable information! If you only go by what you see at the top of the water, you wouldn’t know this was a great fishing spot. This concept can also be applied to people. Don’t be quick to judge someone based on what you see. Take the time to get to know them, find out what’s underneath the surface. You may be surprised at what you find.
3) Fish with the right bait. We were fishing for bass, so we were using bait that my brother knew attracted them. There are other kinds of fish in the lake: bluegill, black crappie, channel catfish, redear sunfish. If you are fishing for bass, you want to offer up bait that’s pleasing to them. You don’t get discouraged that the catfish or one of the other types of fish aren’t hitting on your line. You don’t care about those fish. You want bass. In life, not everyone is going to like you or want to be your friend. Don’t let that take the wind out of your sails. Just go to the people that do and don’t worry about the rest.
4) Be persistent. Knowing that the bass like the cover provided by the grasses, rocks and timber in the lake, you are smart to fish those areas, but it is inevitable that you will get your line hung up at some point. After tugging on it a few times at different angles, you may be tempted to cut the line and tie on another hook, but this would be a mistake. After all, you have money invested in these lures. Some can be very expensive, or maybe they have sentimental value for you because they’re your “lucky lures”. If you are persistent, more times than not you can get unstuck. It also helps to know a few tricks. My brother demonstrated one of these tricks when he slid a sinker down my snagged line. The weight of the sinker forced the hook up and out of the crevice it was stuck in and I was able to reel it back in. The important thing is to stay with it. It seems as though these days people are so quick to give up when the going gets tough, but if you spend your life abandoning things when they don’t go your way, you will not grow as a person. Perseverance builds character and that quality seems to be lacking in so many people these days. Don’t believe me? Just turn on the news.
5) Stay focused on the task at hand. While fishing, you need to be acutely aware of the feel of the rod in your hands; it’s the only way of knowing when the fish bites so you can set the hook. You can’t be talking, looking at your phone, or worried about what the person next to you is doing. This is definitely not the time to multi-task. You must follow your line with your eyes, feel when the bait hits the bottom, focus on bouncing it gently, wait a few seconds, reel in your line a bit and repeat. When you hit rock or timber, you need to know the difference between those obstructions and a bass tapping your bait. Lose concentration and you run the risk of losing out on a nice fish. Our fast-paced society teaches us the opposite of this kind of thinking. It says you should be able to handle a Zoom meeting while taking notes, texting your spouse to pick up milk, keeping a side eye on the kids doing their virtual learning in the room next to you, and do it all exceptionally well. Truth be told, you can’t do a hundred different things and do them all at an exceptional level. Something’s gotta give.
As it turns out, we came up empty-handed at the lake that day. We had a few bites, but weren’t able to land any bass. This brings me to another huge life lesson: Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things just don’t turn out the way we want. As proven by the year 2020, you can plan and try to execute your plan with the attention and focus of a four-star general, but still may not come out on top. What are you going to do then? Do you give up, turn away defeated, tell yourself you’re the worst fisherman on the face of the planet? Heck, no! You give thanks that you had an afternoon where you left behind the worries of work and schedules, you had some quality time with your brother, and you got to sit on the water and take in God’s beauty all around you. You give thanks for the moment at hand, and being grateful, I think, is the most important lesson of them all.