As a boy, I eagerly awaited April first every year. Fishing season started that day, though there was sometimes still snow on the ground. I have a lot of great memories of fishing with my father. In ten minutes, we could walk to the Delaware River as it flowed through town. When the weather warmed, we would take the canoe downriver and get picked up by my mom. We could drift along, casting and slowly reeling in our lures with hardly a need to paddle. Sometimes in the summer droughts, the river water level would fall so low that we had to wade through the shallows, splashing along in our old sneakers.
Perhaps the most memorable first day of fishing season for me happened over thirty years ago. Naturally some of the details have clouded with time. I’ll always remember it fondly, despite the cold and going home empty-handed.
Dad woke me near sunrise. I was disoriented, but the announcement of fishing quickly set my heart racing. I dressed in a hurry, and I could hear him heading downstairs. Mom and my sister were awake, too. Our whole family was getting ready to go, some more enthusiastically than others.
After a quick breakfast, we bundled up while Dad grabbed the rods and tackle. He even had worms for bait. Who knew where he’d found those that time of year? The ground was still frozen. I never thought to ask, too busy thinking about trout. My sister was still very young, but she was always an adventurous spirit and was nearly as excited as I was.
The walk wasn’t far. To stay out of the road, I walked atop the banks of snow created by the plows. The surface had frozen and easily supported my weight. I could have run the whole way in my excitement, but we all stuck together. Dad smiled ear to ear in the early light. My sister’s cheeks were rosy in the cold, and her eyes betrayed the joy she found in nearly everything at that age. Our noses ran, and we sniffed and coughed. Mom produced tissues as if by magic, always prepared even at that time of day.
It seemed to take forever to arrive at the bridge. In the summer, there would always be several people fishing over the guardrails. It was empty on that frigid day, as the river flowed silently below. We made our way across the bridge, heading over the piled snow and down the bank, through the frosty grass. Mom held my sister’s hand. I was too big for that, always in a hurry to grow up.
Dad baited my hook, so I wouldn’t have to take off my gloves. I always felt bad for the worms but tried not to let it show. I cast the poor, impaled creature out into a deeper pool, where neighborhood kids sometimes swam, and kept my eye on the bobber. Dad moved on to my sister and cast for her, before taking up his own rod. It was very quiet, like all sound had frozen, but it didn’t last more than a few minutes.
My sister started crying. I looked over, expecting a hook in her finger. She had somehow gotten her long hair tangled in the fishing line. The more Mom tried to unwind her hair, the louder she cried. I reeled in my worm and watched ice crystals form on his waterlogged segments. Mom called Dad for some help, but he had stepped away. I didn’t remember when he reeled in his lure, but he wasn’t beside me. I wondered if he had needed to go pee.
Mom called him again, asking where he was. Nothing. My sister’s crying became less frantic, and I saw that Mom was having some luck with her hair. She ceased crying altogether as she looked around for Dad, and Mom managed to free the rest of her locks. Mom grew very quiet. Inquiries concerning Dad’s whereabouts were conspicuously ignored. The walk home was not as fun as the walk to the bridge.
Inside the house, the heat washed over us. Dad was nowhere to be seen, but I could smell coffee and hear wood popping in the fireplace. I pulled off my winter duds and made my way around the corner. There at the dining room table sat Dad. The fire crackled behind him as he took a very deliberate sip from his steaming coffee cup. He folded up the newspaper when my sister and Mom entered the room.
“April Fools!” Dad grinned. I had forgotten that day wasn’t only the beginning of fishing season. We all had, except Dad. I couldn’t help laughing.