When I was growing up in Clearwater our family took trips to Virginia and New Jersey to visit grandparents, usually in the summer. While my father was the person that first took me fishing, his father was responsible for my diverse interest in all things angling.
My grandfather was totally addicted to fishing. It wasn’t as noticeable to me in my youth, but looking back I now understand it more than ever. I have a collection of old photographic slides he took while traveling and they all seem to have a fish or two in them. When he passed away, my dad, brother and I shared in a wealth of old and beautiful fishing gear. I have a couple of bamboo Orvis fly rods that I’m afraid to fish with, but love to hold them and cast them in an open field. There’s nothing like the feel of a custom made cane fly rod.
He also left behind an enormous collection of fishing books. They are about places I can only dream about visiting, from the far northern waters of Canada to the Caribbean and beyond. There are memoirs and logbooks and lots of how-to books on both fresh and saltwater fishing.
My dad’s parents lived in the small town of Metedeconk, New Jersey near Point Pleasant. The house sat on a bluff overlooking the Metedeconk River and had its own small beach and a dock. I spent many, many hours fishing from that dock for whatever would bite. We also swam in the river, but I’d make sure not to touch the bottom. It was mud and loaded with blue crabs that would pinch the heck out of your toes if stepped on.
Speaking of crabs. Even though I grew up in Florida I had never experienced crabbing. It turned out to be fun and required lots of finesse to catch them. All that was needed was string with a piece of wire tied on to hold the bait, and a long-handled net. The bait was usually a chicken neck. If a tug was felt, the line was retrieved hand-over-hand very slowly so as not to disturb the crab. Once near the surface the net was slipped under the bait and crab and if all went well another blue crab was added to the basket. Yummy!
Boats and sailboats were also a part of summer in Jersey. Learning to sail started in Florida, but my continuing education happened on the Metedeconk River. My grandfather would rent a couple of sailboats for us to use while visiting and soon mini regattas would take place. He also allowed us to pilot his powerboat, under supervision, and that’s where I first learned about boat handling, channel markers and navigation.
One of my fondest memories of those trips to Jersey was spending time in my grandfather’s den. It was magical. It smelled of wood, leather and of course, books. There was a collection of nautical and fishing items that fascinated me including a sextant, compass and nautical navigation tools. On his oversized desk was a shortwave radio that my brother and I would turn on to listen to programs from Cuba and South America. It was also capable of picking up ham radio, which brought us conversations from around the world.
A couch in the den folded out to reveal a double bed that my brother and I shared. A large window looked out on the river and I still remember the nighttime view. There were blinking red and green channel marker lights as well as lights on the boats as they traveled up and down the river to the Atlantic Ocean. On occasion there would be thunderstorms with lightning that lit up the entire river as if some giant was using a camera with a flash. Sleep would finally overtake us with dreams of the next day’s adventures.
I really miss my granddad and that special room where my lifetime love of the water and fishing began.