Gone Fishin’

“Bangs Lake,” my older brother replied in an email response to my recent query. “Dad used to take us fishing to Bangs Lake.”

“Bangs Lake, of course!” I mused. It was one of a hundred small lakes only an hour or so north of the Chicago suburb we then called home. To the nine- or ten-year-old that I was at the time, Bangs Lake was my Alaska: remote wilderness.

And it was where my father would take me and my older brother fishing during the summer months.

Our expedition started the night before, as we dug up a few squirming night crawlers. Then it was up and on the road before sunrise.

After picking up a bucket of minnows and listening to the exchange between my father and the bait shop proprietor – “Where they bitin’?” my suddenly country-raised father would ask – we were off motoring to the middle of the lake.

Lake fishing, or “fishin’” to stay with the mood, is not like the macho casting of weighted lures I used to do in Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park during my summers away from teaching.

Nor is it remotely like the ballet I try to engage in as a fly fisherman.

Lake fishin’ as we practiced it amounted to inserting a hook through an unlucky worm or minnow, setting the plastic bobber – the float indicator – about 10 feet or so above the hook, flicking everything into the water, and then letting whatever current there was take the line away from the boat.

And then I watched the bobber and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Lake fishin’ was the anticipation of catching a fish punctuated by periods of extreme boredom punctuated by the rare occasion of the bobber vibrating and then suddenly disappearing below the surface.

A sign of life below!

I’m not exactly sure why my father took us fishing.

  • Maybe it was because that’s what fathers are supposed to do with their young sons and daughters.
  • Or maybe it was some primordial ritual: “Man catch fish! Bring to cave!”
  • Or maybe it was because my father had never experienced those moments as a kid living on the poor, rough-and-tumble west side of Chicago where every member of the family – however young – worked and brought whatever they earned back to my grandmother.

Maybe it was for all three reasons.

I don’t remember much about my father at those moments when he tried to nurture the father-and-son bond. There are hazy memories of his discomfort and impatience with us when we did silly young-boy things like teasing each other in the back seat of the car on the way back from the lake.

Me: “Dad, he touched me!”

My brother: “Nuh-uh! You touched me!”

My dad, with a wet cigar clenched between his teeth: “Hey! I’m going to pull over if the two of you…”

But I know he was a good man in his heart and a good provider for the family. Raised poor and conditioned by the Great Depression, working was really all he knew. I think it’s where he felt most comfortable.

Relaxation and children were largely uncharted waters.

I think a lot about him and other moments from the past these days because, in our forced seclusion, relationships are now more important than ever.

Today, I sit in the lifeboat of my design, surrounded by beautiful multi-colored bobbers – my wife, siblings, friends, and colleagues.

And the bobbers are all vibrating – signs of life!

I need to reel them in.

(collage courtesy of Shelley Brown)


Jeff Ikler
Jeff Ikler
The river that runs through my career lives – as teacher, publisher, coach, podcaster and author – is helping individuals acquire knowledge, skills, and self-awareness so they can better achieve their desired results and impact. • As Director of Quetico Leadership and Career Coaching, I work with individuals and leaders to overcome obstacles and make sustained changes in their behavior. • I co-host the podcast “Getting Unstuck – Shift for Impact,” where I bring to light inspirational stories of transformation in the field of education. • I am the co-author of the soon-to-be-published book for school educators, Shifting: How Educational Leaders Can Create a Culture of Change.

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  1. What a wonderful reflection on the opportunity to connect with others in ways that maybe our parents or adults in our lives as children couldn’t quite manage-their focus often remained on adult matters. I never went fishing with my dad, but I certainly joined him during election time to drop literature on people’s doorsteps. That must have been my version of fishing. I got to hold my dad’s warm hand. That’s what I remember the most.

    Sometimes it’s not what we are doing together but rather the quality of the interaction that meets basic human needs for love, acceptance, and belonging.

    For what reasons do we connect to one another? Most people-even as adults still want to be seen, heard, and valued. This time of “pause” allows us an opportunity to be fully present (if we so choose), to pay rapt attention.

    Thank you so much, Jeff, for your words have me thinking, reflecting… 🙂

    • Laura — The fact that you remember you dad’s warm hand says it all. Thanks for your read and comments. I’m glad it prompted reflection.

  2. Gosh, I love your stories, Jeff! It’s amazing what childhood memories stick with us throughout life and then suddenly, one day, bubble up to the surface as a way to make meaning of the present. Thank you for sharing this one. I treasure you!

    • And back at ya! This memory was really prompted by Shelley’s collage. I could almost hear the audible “click” in my head: “Oh, yeah, fishin’.” Thanks for the read and comment.

  3. Jeff, this piece is delightful, beautiful, and a reminder to each of us to embrace the little things. I like to say that it is the moments that count, and now more than ever, those moments are nuggets of gold. I’ve been reflecting on things of late also and missing my family. I cannot wait to see them whenever that time comes and hug them tight.

    ThanK you for sharing your gift with us. It is a gold nugget moment reading this piece this morning.

    • Thanks, Laura. “Embrace the little things,” yes, because it’s so easy for the inner critic to take you down the rat hole of criticism and skip over the good stuff. It’s just too dark in there. Stay healthy!

  4. Memories are pieces of our life that speak about us. Remembering is the act of recalling something or someone through one’s memory. It is wonderful to remember. But in the vortex of busy life you don’t have much time to remember.
    The social isolation that was required of us has put us in front of so much time to spend on something. And then just a gesture, a song, a perfume, a photo, a place, a (virtual) contact is enough to bring back emotions of a past time. Suddenly a leap is made in the past and the sensations we have experienced re-emerge.

    • Well said, Aldo. It was actually Shelley’s collage that she shared with me well before my writing that jostled my memory.

  5. Thank you as always Jeff for your wonderful insights on life. I feel like I was there with you, your dad and your brother. Although I did not go fishing, we grew up at a similar time where we participated in activities that often required patience, waiting, and inviting conversations that one never forgets.💖

    • If you can remember the conversations, I’m totally jealous! My dilapidated memory files don’t seem to hold onto conversations. Images from the past pop up periodically triggered by a conversation or event. And at those moments, you say to yourself, “Ah, yes, I remember that.” Thanks for your read and comment.

  6. Jeff, I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say that Bangs Lake is in Wisconsin, and for that, I’m going to say – “Way to go Dad!” At any rate, I did a fair amount of that same kind of fishing when I was a mere lad… on lakes like Little Sand Lake, or Washington Lake, or Kelly Lake… any number of lakes that relatives or family friends owned property on..

    There is that anticipation before one goes fishing, and then the prep time of harvesting worms or night crawlers, and then the drive and then getting all the proper stuff in the boat, and then finding the right spot. And then… you finally get that line in the water, and you get to watch that bobber. The exhilaration that kicks when you get a “nibble” or when that bobber plunges beneath the service – yes, that recognition that there is life there.

    The times that we are in right now are odd, curious, weird and will no doubt be invoked in countless memories going forward. We’ll have that time before, during or after COVID19, and the time that we are hunkered down doing what we can until we’re back to being crazily over scheduled and over everythinged again… We have these lifelines all around us, and maybe we took them for granted before… There’s life there.

    Great post, so much to consider here, love how you take some basic life situations and turn them on our ears for a bigger picture. I hope that you are well!

    • Doing well, my friend, and back at ya!
      Bangs Lake, IL near Wauconda although, as I said, it might as well have been Alaska way back then.

      You described the anticipation and prep perfectly. I loved it when my dad came into the bedroom and woke us up around 4am. When we got out to the car in the drive way, you could actually see stars. I have been a morning person ever since.

      To your point about being “back to,” we all need to do some serious thinking about what we want to carry forward from this experience. What can we do to create a new and improved “normal”? What can we stop doing?

      Thanks for your read and comment, Tom.

  7. I just love this reflection Jeff. You always write with such exquisite details and this time was particularly special as “Little Jeff” came to life right out of the collage with all the hues, colors, images, memories and sentiments your words brought to the canvas of my mind. A treasure of a story indeed.

  8. Thank you Jeff, really lovely reflections. You have me thinking about my relationship with my father which funnily enough, has been the richest of my43 years over the past 3 weeks since my surgery. Be well and funny how, like our current challenges, our aperture for heart seems to open when we stop overthinking.

    • Thanks, Garry. The older I got, the closer my dad and I became. it was probably a combination of him downshifting a gear or two, and me growing to understand and appreciate him for what he was instead of dwelling on what he wasn’t. Glad your dad is there for you.

  9. Your post put me in mind of this, Jeff, from the brilliant John Gierach, in his equally brilliant book, Fool’s Paradise: “I’ve come to think that getting bored only means you’ve failed to master the fine art of doing nothing when there’s nothing to be done: a skill you can learn from any house cat.”

    I have to admit that I struggle with doing nothing. Writing saves me much of the time. In this unprecedented time, connections save me. Like you, Anne saves me. My sons, their wives, and their children save me. My siblings save me. My friends save me. This time I have to share with all of them saves me.

    Reading writing like yours saves me. Thank you for that.