My 3-year-old grandson looked up with a pained urgency every parent recognizes, and then grabbed his shorts for emphasis.
Before I could request confirmation, Connor stated the obvious: “I need to pee.”
Judging by his suddenly intense squirming, I assumed his agitation had been building. And now his excitement could no longer overwhelm his discomfort, no matter how fast the little perch, bluegills and sunfish kept biting.
Connor’s dam was about to burst and I had to act fast. Fortunately for him, this wasn’t my first time fishing from a small rowboat, so I reached for the empty plastic coffee canister.
“Go into this,” I said while helping him unsnap his lifejacket’s crotch strap and pull down his pants. Seconds later Connor was grinning and giggling, presumably half in relief and half from the adventure of it all. Who knows why little kids find peeing in unique settings so exhilarating, but his reaction seems universal for his age group.
As if to confirm that assumption, Connor’s seatmate, cousin Eddie, suddenly had the same intense urge. I never question the motives of 3-year-olds in such situations, so I turned to Connor and said approvingly: “Keep ’er going, buddy,” and held the plastic canister in place with my left hand while unsnapping the crotch snap on Eddie’s lifejacket with my right hand.
“Pull your pants down and get ready,” I told Eddie. “Connor’s almost finished.”
After making a seamless transition, the two cousins giggled in mutual glee. While Eddie initiated his deposit, I shared some old-guy wisdom about the great outdoors.
“When you go to the bathroom while fishing and hunting, fish often bite, ducks often fly, and deer often sneak by,” I said. “So keep an eye on your line.”
Yes, I know bathroom breaks don’t guarantee action, but they trigger it more reliably than rubbing a rabbit’s foot or crossing your fingers.
The boys, however, weren’t listening closely. They were too giddy about their urinary conspiracy to judge the value of my advice.
As if on cue, our boat’s sole spinning rod suddenly banged off the seat beside me and clattered into the starboard gunwale. I grabbed the bouncing rod with my left hand before it could flee the boat, and heard the reel’s drag grinding as a fish exploded from the water 10 yards away.
None of us had been watching the line during the boys’ bathroom break, but a fish far larger than a 5-inch bluegill had just inhaled the small jig and worm tail. I assumed the bandit was a bass, judging by its gymnastics and torpedo-like runs beneath our rowboat.
Before making my next move, I doublechecked on Eddie’s progress to ensure the green Folger’s canister was positioned properly. The boys were still grinning, but seemed confused by all the new sounds and my excitement.
We were fishing a small lake near the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. We started the evening with two fishing rods in our boat, but loaned one to my daughter Karsyn and son-in-law James, who were guiding the boys’ sisters, Bailey and Charlotte, in a nearby paddleboat. Given how fast little panfish were gobbling our baits, we would have struggled to keep two lines in the water anyway. Instead, we adults helped the kids take turns hooking and reeling in fish, which so far had been too small to keep.
As our boat’s fish reversed itself and dieseled for the bottom I expressed my own urgency. “Eddie, it’s your turn! Finish up!”
He instantly did as instructed, grabbing the reel’s handle with his left hand and the rod’s reel seat with his right.
I laughed at the sight.
“First pull up your pants and shorts,” I said, and helped as best I could with my free hand.
Once Eddie was more appropriately attired, he again gripped the fishing rod while I kept its tip out of the water.
“OK, reel!” I said. “Keep reeling!”
A minute later the fish tired and turned on its side as Eddie kept cranking. It was indeed a smallmouth bass, measuring about 16 inches. I grabbed its lower jaw and lifted it aboard for the boys to admire.
Aldo Leopold once wrote, “Babes do not tremble when they are shown a golf ball, but I should not like to own the boy whose hair does not lift his hat when he sees his first deer.”
Judging by how Connor and Eddie reacted to seeing their first smallmouth, no hat would have contained their hair. They clapped, squealed and jumped with such intense joy that the rest of Leopold’s quotation played through my head: “We are dealing, therefore, with something that lies pretty deep.”
As if to validate Leopold’s insight about our predatory instincts, Eddie looked at me and said, “Put it in the bucket!”
The fish exceeded the state’s 14-inch size limit so I scooped our 5-gallon pail into the lake, lifted it aboard and slid the bass into the cramped quarters. Daylight was fading, so we paddled and rowed for my brother Tom’s pier to show off the boys’ bass.
Fortunately for the bass, our meals were already planned for the next day and didn’t include fish. And since we were heading home soon after, I convinced the boys we should release their prize.
They seemed skeptical until I promised to take them fishing again the next night. They mulled my offer a moment and relented, and watched the fish vanish beneath the pier.
Will my grandkids be forever hooked on fishing? Who knows?
But if they find something that generates greater excitement than what we all felt that night, they better share it with me.
Connor Switzer, left, and Eddie Morse celebrate catching a smallmouth bass while fishing in Michigan with their grandfather, Patrick Durkin. — Karsyn Morse photos
Patrick Durkin holds up a small bluegill for grandsons Eddie and Connor to admire.