Jigsaw and Jane: How Fishing Got Us Hooked on Each Other
This blog isn’t about fishing, really.
It isn’t about who caught the largest fish, or the fish that weighed the most, or the fish that put up the biggest fight, or the fish that won the “Fish of the Day” contest. This blog is about how two very different people forged a special relationship, and how fishing played a big part of how that relationship happened. But neither of us knew it at the time.
John and Helen St. John spent one month every Spring and Fall in their retirement home (about which I’ve written in two previous blogs) on the banks of the Klamath River in Northern California. This was Badge Number One’s sanctuary – a haven away and apart from the “blood and guts” of homicide. It was here, that he rose early to eat a small breakfast, bait his line and stand on the bank of the fifty acres he owned and cast for salmon. He planned and plotted the spot he wanted to hit in the river and with a flick of the wrist, he made it every time.
When I was twelve, our family-owned a log house in Wisconsin where we spent many summers. The house was built for and used primarily as a vacation home for residents of Milwaukee or Madison and overlooked a small lake where we kids swam to the pier every morning and water-skied in the afternoon.
Part of my morning ritual was the glorious times my father would awaken me with the words I couldn’t wait to her, “Janie! Let’s go fishing!” I’d climb out of bed, wrap myself in a big warm sweater and my father would grab a bucket of worms. We’d walked down the dirt steps, climb into his red rowboat, and head to the far side of Lake Gilbert. Dad would sit on the middle seat. I would sit on the far seat close to the doughnuts and cocoa and we’d drop our lines into the water. Sometimes we caught a fish. Sometimes we didn’t. It really didn’t matter.
But it was there, on those cool summer mornings when Dad and I would talk. We’d talk about why we liked fishing. We’d talk about our dreams. We’d talk about the books he was reading and the books I was reading. We hardly noticed that by ten, the sun had come out full and bright, so we’d head back to the Log House with our catch. Whatever we caught, he’d clean and grill for breakfast. Not even the fanciest restaurant in Waupaca could match the breakfasts Henry made for our family on those memorable summer days.
I can still remember the cool morning St. John led me down the hill from his half-built house on the Klamath River to go fishing at dawn. I didn’t climb into a red rowboat with a wood seat, have cocoa and doughnuts and a bucket of worms. What I did have was a man leading me to a serene, peaceful place he wanted to share, because the Klamath River and fishing were so much a part of who he was. During those times, I felt connected to a deep memory of other mornings with another father who appreciated nature, longed for quiet and a chance to share that moment.
Much later, my husband, Jim surprised me with a “first-class” fishing trip to Waterfall, Alaska where the guides baited our hooks, packed delicious lunched for the day’s adventure, and at the end of the day, took our catch, froze it for transport home and partied with the other fishermen and women at the rough-hewn lodge over dessert, drinks, and special coffees. I caught a few whopper fish and a one-hundred fifty-pound Halibut that took two hours to pull in.
But it wasn’t like fishing with Jigsaw. I missed the walk to the river, the fishing lesson he gave with patience and precision. Most of all, I missed our talks and the sound of the river.