The earliest memories I have of smallmouth bass fishing are of the times I followed my father, wading up the creeks and streams of central Kentucky. We didn't have or need a boat. Some jeans and old tennis shoes were all we needed to reach the bronzebacks on those waters.
I'd watch him as he cast a nightcrawler or topwater plug to a likely looking hole, eyeing his line for a sign of a strike or twitching the bait to life as it passed an eddy. Then he would set the hook, and the fight was on — my father on one side, leaning against the fish and current, and the bass on the other, swimming for deeper water or cart wheeling across the surface.
As the action unfolded, I'd wonder when it would be my turn to set the hook and fight the fish.
First, I had to pay my dues. Before I was a full-fledged angler, I had to carry my dad's gear to the creek for him. He'd walk ahead, whistling as though he had no worries at all. He didn't carry a thing. I carried everything. It taught me the ritual of fishing and what went into a fishing trip.
When I was a little older, my father and a neighbor built a boat out of wood. It wasn't much to look at, but it floated, and with a 9.9-horsepower Evinrude on the stern it would take us around Dale Hollow Lake in search of its legendary smallmouth.
I still remember my dad and the neighbor taking the wooden boat down to a pond near our home and setting it in the water there before our trips. The wood had to soak up some moisture, swell up and become watertight, before you could take it out on the big water. By the time it was ready, it was so heavy we could barely lift it into the back of the pickup.
As the years went by, we abandoned the old wooden boat. Our rigs got a little bigger and a little better. Still, I've never forgotten wading the creeks or fishing from that heavy wooden boat. I learned a lot of lessons — fishing and life — in those days.
I've been thinking about them a lot lately because my father, Victor Headrick, passed away a few weeks ago. He hadn't been healthy enough to fish in several years, and in the last few months of life he was just a phantom of the man and person he had been in his prime. He was no longer able to care for himself, and he no longer recognized family and friends.
Things were so bad that the physical shell of my father was all we had. The qualities that made him such a decent, gentle, loving man were gone — taken away by dementia. We believed death would be a blessing.
Then it happened. He was gone ... forever.
One day, when I'm at my parent's home visiting my mother, I'm going to dig through my dad's old fishing gear. I know it's going to bring back powerful memories — great memories of wonderful times. I know it will make me smile, and I know it will make me cry.
I'm going to do that one day — but not today. I'm not ready for that just yet.
Right now I'd give anything to walk behind him on that creek just one more time.
Until next time, if you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you. Please e-mail me atStephen@thesmallmouthguru.com.