“Some men go fishing all their lives without realizing that it is not fish they are after.” – Henry David Thoreau

I grew up fishing.

My family had a log cabin high on the banks of the Brule River in Wisconsin. We would go up there for weeks at a time to get away from city life, basking in the few rays of sunlight that managed to get through the forest of pine trees and letting ourselves be lulled into a hypnotic meditation by the roaring rapids of the river below. Other than pumping our daily water from the well and cleaning the outhouse, we didn’t have many obvious activities to keep us busy. So, I would go fishing.

My father taught me how to fish. He showed me how to assemble the reel and rod, thread and tie the hook, fasten the sinkers, and secure the worm. Eventually going to college to become an Engineer, I loved the set up process. It gave me a great sense of accomplishment in my pre-teen years to meticulously create such a tool to use for an even bigger accomplishment–hooking the fish.

But before I could hook the fish, I need to find my way to the “sucker hole.” I never knew exactly what kind of fish a “sucker” was, but I knew that if I caught one, it would not be good for eating and would be thrown back into the water for someone else to catch for fun. (Poor fish.)

So I would gather my pole, my carton of earthworms, and my very organized tackle box, and head down the long dirt driveway towards the river. I have very strong memories of the walk–first stopping on our small bridge and staring into the tiny stream that was home to minnows and bugs that skimmed the water, and then turning left and walking over a large bridge that spanned the Brule River with its Class II rapids roaring underneath. One more right turn and I was on a walking trail that bordered the river and led to the sucker hole.

Now, mind you, my father took me on the first few trips, but eventually he trusted me to go on my own. I think I was no older than 10 when I first went alone. As I walked, I looked for my landmarks along the way–a certain tree, a special bend in the path, a clump of rocks, a patch of sandy beach, and a large branch that hung over the water. When I got to the bend where the sky opened up and the river slowed down, I knew I made it to the sucker hole.

I never saw any other fishermen in the area when I’d go there. Perhaps it was my father’s secret discovery, or it wasn’t really a good fishing spot, but rather a safe spot for a young girl to learn the lesson of patience.

I had no trouble setting up my pole and securing the angling worm to the hook. It was the cast that was the most fun for me. Being a first born, overachiever type, I found it a great challenge picking a spot in the water and lobbing the worm with a perfect arc until it gently plopped in to the water. As the current started to drag it down stream, I would start calculating how long it would take before the line would be too hard to reel in without snagging on a random overhanging branch.

And then I would wait. The pole always pulsed as the current tossed the worm, so I needed to tune out everything and just focus on the vibrations. A tug meant a fish nibbled at the worm, and a pull meant I snagged something–hopefully a fish. More often than not, it was a stick, but occasionally it was indeed a sucker fish.

At the end of the day, whether or not I caught (and threw back) a fish, it didn’t matter. I always came home with a sense of bliss that only sitting on the side of a river for 4 or more hours could provide me at that time. As I would sink into bed at night under my great-grandmother’s handmade quilts with the roaring sound of the rapids filling the open-windowed attic room, I would give thanks for my secret sanctuary–fish or no fish.