Bruce Kerner loved to fish. He didn’t get to fish often. He was a sign painter for various studios and was away working on movies a lot. He and his family vacationed with us many times when I was a kid. Back then, vacation time meant Big Bend Resort on the Colorado River and day trips to Lake Havasu.
We’d get a cove on the lake and set up our day camp with a shade, lawn chairs, and coolers. Bruce always had a bunch of fishing gear that we’d bring ashore.
While the rest of us focused on swimming and water skiing, he focused on fishing. The pursuit. The exploration. Deciding which baits to try. Changing rigs. Trying new lures. Moving down the beach to a new location. Floating out in a rubber raft to cast near the “proper” pile of rocks.
He always had a look of contentment on his face as he stared at that place where the fishing line meets the water. Constant vigilance, looking for any sign of a bite. Maintaining soft hands to feel the slightest movement.
It didn’t matter that the fish usually showed little interest in his bait. For Bruce, fishing was more important than catching. When he did catch a fish, he was rarely prepared to keep it. Somehow, his stringer was always left back at the camp. He knew that as long as we had daylight, he could cast his bait out there another time.
Come to think of it, we fished at night as well. Down on the dock along the river, after dinner. A bunch of us would look across at the lights on the Arizona side and cast out. Our quarry on the river was catfish, and that meant stink-baits and lots of waiting.
Funny thing is we didn’t catch many catfish either. When we did, we’d get a flashlight out, or flick a Bic lighter, to see what we’d caught. The stringer? Usually up at the trailer. We weren’t prepared to keep anything we caught.
Sitting there in the dark, fishing pole in hand, staring up at the stars, a kid can learn a lot talking with a fisherman like Bruce. The meaning of patience. The dignity of discipline. How the journey is more important than the destination. How quiet time is a good time. The way opportunity meets preparation when that fish hits your bait. How stories about nothing can mean everything when they’re gone.
Bruce was taken away too early from this world by a heart attack, many years ago. I find him in my thoughts a lot around July 4th. That was one of the times each year that our families vacationed at the river.
When I think of Bruce, I remember the fishing and the laughter. I don’t remember the fish we caught.
They weren’t that important.
Photo Credit: Unsplash.com, Andrey Trusov