Every Memorial Day, I Remember The Kid

All summer long, the kid had been on me.
“You ever gonna take me fishing, dude?”
“More than likely.”

“Just as soon as you quit calling me ‘dude.’”
And so, several afternoons later, the phone rang.
“Hey dude …, uh, Mr. Bozka. Tomorrow’s a teacher-in-service holiday, so I’m free. You gonna take me fishing?” A pregnant pause.
“Okay. Meet me under the bridge at 5:30.”

His stepmother dropped him off at the boat ramp 15 minutes early. His father, she quietly explained, had departed for parts unknown while the kid was still in diapers.
“Don’t worry,” I assured her. “I’ll take care of him.”
Someone needs to,” she quipped. “But seriously, you make him act right. You know how he can be.”
Indeed I did. Still, despite his annoying tendencies, I couldn’t help but like the kid. He apparently liked me, too. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have dropped by to see me so often.
Then again, it could have been the Big Boy’s Toy Shop that’s my garage.
“You want that lure, dude?”
“You can have it, Brandon.”
“Thanks, dude.”
The Plano double-decker I’d given him several years before was neatly packed with the various plugs, spoons and soft plastics he had acquired during his frequent visits.
He looked much the same, like a gangly Labrador puppy trying to grow a body big enough to fit its feet. Drab green, multi-pocketed pants big enough to hold the Cowboys’ offensive line hung low on his waist, cinched tight with an old leather belt. He wore a plain black tee-shirt beneath a bright red Trilene windbreaker he’d procured from my collection. Between his clothing and his spiked blonde hair with blaze-orange tips, he looked not at all unlike a MirrOlure 808.
“All right, Brandon. Here’s the deal. I run the boat; you fish. And you do what I tell you. Got it?”
“Yes sir.”
“Yes sir. I want to learn to fish.”
“Well then, let’s get with it.”
In retrospect, the line of questioning was far more memorable than the fishing.
“You guys always talk about ‘blow-ups.’ What’s a blow-up?”
“A blow-up,” I explained, “is the big splash you see on the surface when a fish strikes at a topwater plug.”
“But you don’t hook the fish?”
“Nope. That would be a hook-up.”
“Sounds like you get a lot more blow-ups than you do hook-ups.”
“Yes sir,” I answered. “ I do.”
“You call me ‘sir,’ and I’ll call you ‘sir.” That’s only fair, right?”
“Yes sir.”
The boy made a few casts, then stopped to watch the gulls hovering overhead.
“If you miss a fish on a sinking lure …would that be a ‘blow-down’”?
I couldn’t help but laugh, which pleased him immensely. “Yeah, I guess it would.”
“You get a whole lot of those, too, don’t you?”
“Don’t push your luck, kid.”
“Tell me about this ‘nervous bait’ thing.”
“Well, when you see baitfish crashing out of the water or acting skittish, that’s nervous bait. If you see nervous bait, you stop and fish.”
“So you ignore ‘calm’ bait?”
I tried to come up with an answer. It wasn’t readily available.
“Hey, Mr. Bozka …”
“Yes sir?”
“If I was a mullet, I’d be nervous all the time.”
“You’ve got a point there, kid.”
“I’ve got another question.”
“You don’t say.”
“Yeah. I mean, yes sir. Why is it they call big redfish ‘bulls’ and big snapper ‘sows’? Aren’t they both girls?”
“Yes sir; they’re both girls.”
“Then why call a girl redfish a ‘bull’?”
“I don’t know, lad. Let’s focus on the stuff that’ll help you catch fish.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense.”
“Young man,” I said, “you’re going to learn that many things about fishing, and life in general, don’t make a lick of sense.”
“Like girls?”
“We’re gonna stick with fishing, okay?”
“Okay. But there’s sure a lot of stuff you don’t seem to know much about.”

“My friend, that may be the most intelligent thing you’ve said all morning.”
It echoed in my mind. The kid, young and impetuous as he was, through either intent or sheer happenstance, had become my friend.
We fished together two more times before he left town.
Two months later, a letter arrived, return-addressed “Fort Polk, Louisiana.” The kid had just completed Army boot camp.
“It’s supposed to be ‘lights out,’ so I’m writing this with a flashlight under the covers. Every time the DI calls us ‘mullet,” I think about our fishing trips. I’m learning to respect others, and to respect myself. I’ve put on a lot of weight. I can do 50 push-ups,” he proudly wrote, “and I can bench-press 190.”
He told me all about his pals, his training, and his pending assignment overseas. He said his mother missed him, and that he missed her, too.
“I miss you, too, Mr. Bozka. You think you could make time to take me fishing when I come home on leave?”
I wrote him back the same day.
“Soon as you get back home, sir. Just as soon as you get home.”

One Response to “Every Memorial Day, I Remember The Kid”

  1. Rick D responds:

    Hi, Larry

    How long ago was the story first written? Where is the kid now?

    I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you I just about wore out your book “Saltwater Strategies” back in 2000 when I was learning about saltwater fishing. I also listened to a talk you gave at the Shallow Water Expo back then. Your excitement about fishing and willingness to share information really ignited a desire in me to take up the sport.

    Two houses in Bayou Vista and four long gone boats later, I now live in The Woodlands. I am down to a kayak and wading gear, but can honestly say I have never enjoyed fishing more! (although I definitely work a lot harder at it!). I actually fish more now than I did when I lived on the water, and definitely catch more quality fish!

    Seven years later, I am still a mediocre fisherman (as I guess I have too many different hobbies/interests). Neverthess, I still get that tingle all over and give thanks to God for living down here whenever I’m fortunate enough to be standing waist deep in the warm coastal water, rod and reel at the ready, just as the sun is rising over Galveston Bay. I guess there’s really no place I’d rather be.

    Thanks for posting your blog. I’ve missed reading your articles in Texas Fish & Game, the radio program, etc.

    Take care,

    Richard Dickerson

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