Fishing evokes thoughts of my father

An egret does some fishing Wednesday along the American River.


Smallmouth bass caught in 1935 by A.A. Clegg.

I had no luck again with the steelhead yesterday, and that was all right. At 66, I just like being out on the river for a few hours. I’ll never feel the  intensity I felt when I was in my 20s and don’t have the strength or interest to wade in fast, rocky rivers for six or seven hours. 

I did get to wondering what my father thought about fishing. He was once a serious  fisherman, but  I never saw him catch a fish. When I was a kid, he was in his 60s. He would occasionally take me along when he went to Kensico Reservoir outside of New York City. He’d row across the lake to a quiet cove where I could stick a worm on a hook and catch sunfish and perch. He’d stand at the other end  of the boat and cast plugs for smallmouth bass. It probably wasn’t a good place to catch them. 

 Aside from instructions on fishing, he didn’t have much to say. He didn’t wax poetic  about nature or philosophize about getting married at 39 and raising eight children. He didn’t speak of his decades as a teacher. He didn’t ask me what I wanted to be. He didn’t say anything about his pursuit of smallmouth bass back in the 1930s and early 1940s. 

The family would go to Maine  each summer, and he would spend nearly every day fishing on Pleasant Pond. I heard he caught 100 bass one summer. Several were mounted on the wall of his study at home. I have one of them in my study. A typed card at the bottom reads: “Smallmouth bass – 4 lbs. Caught by A.A. Clegg, Aug. 15, 35. Pleasant Pond, Maine.”   

My older brothers and sisters tend to grimace when the subject of his fishing comes up. They tell pathetic tales about being conscripted to serve as slave rowers. They complain that the bass he brought home for dinner tasted “fishy.” 

The family stopped going to Pleasant Pond after World War II. My parents made a return trip there in 1957, when I was 11. My father took me out fishing early one morning. He rowed across the pond to a cove filled with lily pads. Mist  was rising off the mirror-like surface of the water. He told me to cast my red-and-white Jitterbug plug to the edge of the lily pads. 

The plug hit the water with a loud plop and floated amid the ripples. A split-second later, the water erupted as the biggest fish I had ever seen grabbed the plug and flew into the air. The fish made a hard run and my reel buzzed. The fish headed for the bottom, and my rod bent in half. 

“Give him line, boy! Give him line!” my father shouted. 

Give him line? No way. I wasn’t going to give this fish an inch. I was going to pull and pull until I had this giant in the boat. 

“Give him line, boy,” my father again shouted. 

I held firm and tried to turn the reel handle. The rod tip was bent so much it almost touched the water. I pulled back on the rod and felt the fish’s heavy weight. Then … 

 … Then there was nothing. I looked into the water and saw my plug slowly rising through the water like a ghostly hand of death. “No! No!” I shouted in my head. “Get back down there.” I tried to will the plug back down into the depths, back attached to that giant fish. 

My father picked up the oars and started rowing boat to another spot. 

“Was that a smallmouth?” I asked. 

“About three pounds,” he said. “Nice fish.” 

That was it. No criticism from my often critical father, no look of disapproval, no “I told you so.” We fished in silence for another hour before heading back in to shore. 

My father died when I was in college. I like to think that morning in Maine was his way of passing on a part of his life that gave him pleasure and satisfaction. … I’ll leave it at that. 

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6 Responses to Fishing evokes thoughts of my father

  1. Dennis Zobel says:

    I remember fishing with you and your dad and I think it was at Kensico Reservoir. I seldom left Queens at the time and I know it was new territory for me. Anybody that took me fishing was OK with me. The other memory involving your dad was that there were fish and rocks in the house and that also impressed me at 10 or 12 years old. My memories of that part of my life are far between and lack detail. Yet I remember that day. I think it was the snake. The fish I caught landed on a pile of large rocks. When I went to retrieve it the snake living under one of those rocks beat me to it.

    Still fishing after all these years. It’s a good activity that dads and kids can do together.

    • Paul Clegg says:

      Hi Dennis,
      Nice to hear from you after all these years. Oddly, I was at a family reunion last week and was telling some folks that I related best to my father around fishing. I added that although he was usually a solitary guy, he would take me and some of my friends to Kensico Reservoir. Several younger nephews brought up his tropical fish and mineral collection. I think Richie Clinton went on that trip to Kensico. The lake sure had bigger fish that Pea Pond in Queens Village and was a tad cleaner. Like you, I have retained my interest in fishing. I was a dedicated steelhead fisherman in my younger days, but now I’m more casual and like to wander along mountain streams with my fly rod.
      Hope life has treated you well since our days at Lourdes.

      • dennis zobel says:

        I never remember fishing with my father. The person that got me started was my grandmother. I was 5 or 6. She would get a straight pin from her sewing box and show me how to bend it into a fishing hook. The rest of the fishing equipment was a bamboo pool, some bakery white string and some bread. We would go to Herricks Pond and catch some Sun Fish. When I moved to Queens Village it was fishing with Paul, Richie and other kids in the neighborhood at Pea Pond and sometimes Alley Pond. In the summer it was fishing for sun fish, perch and carp and trying to catch bull frogs. In the winter it was ice skating. Pea Pond is now only a memory. It is overgrown with weeds and brush and its name was changed to Potamogeton Pond. I wonder how many residents of that area know that there was a time when a pond for fishing and ice skating existed in there neighborhood.

        • Paul Clegg says:

          Hi Dennis,
          Sorry to hear about the demise of the aptly named Pea Pond. We whiled away a lot of time there hoping for a little sunfish or big, old carp. Wonder white bread used to do the trick.

  2. John C Clegg says:

    I have a few thoughts on my fishing outings with our Dad on Pleasant Pond in Litchfield, Maine…around 1942-1946, when I was 6-10 yrs old. I do recall some “Slave Rowing Sentences” whenever one of us kids broke the (many) rules or behaved badly with a sibling.That was a true punishment…ROW-ROW-ROW in the hot sun…UGH!
    However,when I was invited to go fishing with Dad, we SHARED the rowing, and it was somewhat fun, because now I was commanding the boat toward “the adventure” of the next cove of fish….(punitive rowing VS shared responsibility of the hunt).

    I never found the BASS fishing all that exciting…surface plug…one hit on it…maybe into the air once…then a dive bomb toward the bottom…a little tugging…then SURRENDER…reel it in …get the net!!!

    But even to this day I can relive the excitement of casting out a metal spoon (gold,silver or red & white striped), letting it sink a bit, start reeling it in , and then
    “SSTTRRIIKKOOOOO”…an ornery, hungry , big PICKEREL zaps your spoon ,totally out of sight except for a quick white flash from down below the water. PURE GOOSEBUMPS!!! And then it fights a while & leaps out of the water to reveal itself for the 1st time… Get the net and the pliers!!!! JCC….1/27/12. :-)

    • Paul Clegg says:

      I never heard there was a reward-punishment system around fishing in Maine. Perhaps the punishments far outnumbered the rewards. Glad you had some good outings with Dad. I remember a pickerel following my lure right up to the boat during my 1957 trip but not taking it. Impressive looking fish with all those teeth.

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