I was doing my usual Sunday chores around the house recently, when I received a text message with a picture attached, from my son Ryan. The text read “Holy Cow!” with a picture of my son Andrew holding up a very large fish. Since they were at their dad’s house for the weekend I immediately called Ryan to find out where he was texting from. As it turned out, they were just down the dirt road at the pond they grew up fishing in. The excitement in Ryan’s voice was infectious.
“Andrew caught it!” he exclaimed, “Mom, you HAVE to see this fish!”
I was instructed to meet them at Twin Maples, a local bait and tackle shop, where Andrew was headed to show his fish to the owner, John Swienton. Over the years it has become a custom for us, and many others, to take a “keeper” fish there to have it measured and weighed, and of course have a picture taken on the front steps or by the Record Tree, where many large fish are hung from for photos and viewing.
When my kids were really young I started taking them fishing at the pond near our house. It was more to pass time than to really catch fish. We would dig for worms and bugs and then head for the pond. Fishing, after all, was something we could do rain or shine, early or late, spring through fall. Living on this island practically forces one to be creative with activities and ideas — there are no malls, bowling, or mainland conveniences here for a rainy day. So, we would go fishing. I think now how glad I am we did that.
I jump in my car, excited to see the fish but even more, to see Andrew. Fishing has become his “thing.” Not only does he truly love fishing, but he is good at it. It has become an outlet for him when his self esteem is low in other areas. To see his determination, ability and focus on fishing, and all it entails, is wonderful. It makes him feel good about himself — and that is all I could ever wish for.
When I arrive at Twin Maples, I see the boys are already there, Andrew on the hunt for Mr. Swienton. Seeing me, he yells across the parking lot, “Mom! Look at the fish I caught. I made the lure myself!” He stands holding the fish in his hands as I hug him, and he tells me all about how he caught it — detail by detail: “At first I thought it was a pickerel,” he says, “and then I thought it was a big snapper, and I was so scared I was going to loose my lure!” He is just oozing with pride.
When Mr. Swienton appears, Andrew just beams as he shows off the fish. The next twenty minutes of measuring, weighing and picture-taking in front of the “record tree” are priceless. I can feel what a special moment it is for my nine-year-old boy. And as it turns out the large mouth bass weighs five pounds and is 23 inches long, one inch shorter than the state record.
The last few times Andrew went fishing, in the weeks just before this fresh water catch, he was surfcasting for striped bass at the channel by the old Coast Guard station with our friends Troy and Sawyer. Sawyer is one of Andrew’s best buddies that he has grown up with here on the island, and Troy is his dad. One morning they headed out at 4 a.m. and caught four stripers and a bluefish. They brought two home to Troy’s house to clean and filet. Troy is a great fisherman, both above and below the water, and has taught the boys so much about it all. From bait and lure-rigging to cleaning and filleting a fish, and a bit of everything in between. They have caught many fish from the beach, from Troy’s boat, from the breakwall and even underwater spear fishing. Andrew has learned how to tie fishing knots for his pole, and in turn has shown his brother and me how to correctly knot a hook onto a line. And he’s even taken to creating his own lures, tailored for salt or fresh water and what type fish he is trying to catch.
When Ryan and Andrew go fishing with their dad, they prefer night fishing off the beach or charter boat fishing. Last summer, they entered the annual Block Island Volunteer Fire Department Fishing Tournament where Ryan won the 16-and-under division and took home the Andrew Leone Memorial Trophy after catching a 34.5-pound striped bass. Andrew came in second in the 16-and-under division with a 10-pound bluefish. I love that they encourage kids to be a part of the summer and fall fishing tourneys out here!
Legend has it there are 365 fresh water ponds on this little island. Some are not easy to get to because of foliage and some are on private property, and some may only show up after a rainfall, but the vast majority do have fish: pickerel and blue gills, pumpkin seeds and sunfish, large and small mouth bass, yellow perch and catfish to name a few. There are snapping turtles out there, too, who will try to get your bait and hook. Fishing has been a great family activity for us, just getting out and becoming a part of nature’s landscape, on land or on the water — being quiet and still, waiting, listening….
It becomes a choice opportunity to have quality conversations with others, or quality time to think alone.
Meanwhile, Andrew has decided to have his large mouth bass stuffed and mounted for a keepsake. It has been sent to a mainland taxidermist, and Andrew eagerly awaits its return. School is over and the summer has just begun. There are many days and nights of fishing ahead.