It is 4:45 on Saturday, August 6th, and my alarm clock shrills and wakes my wife and I with a start. She shuts it off and continues her sleep as I drag myself out of bed with anticipation. This morning I am going fishing with my daughter Sarah and my brother from another mother, Steve. We always try and get on the water at 6:00 AM to get the early bite and avoid the later morning launch lines.
After I eat breakfast and start brewing the much deserved coffee, I rouse Sarah, who, like any teenager, can be a tough one to get moving in the morning. When I check on her five minutes later, I am surprised to see she is up and getting dressed.
The girl likes to fish - she's not missing this chance.
We pile into the Santa Fe for the half hour drive to the lake in Racine County. Ten minutes into our drive we realize she doesn't have her fishing license on her, so we turn around and trek back home to get it.
Once we're back on the road, we talk about how our summer has been and how we're both looking forward to going up to the cabin in a couple of weeks. We both love that we can do whatever we want for 6 days, including unlimited fishing.
Steve meets us at the launch and after we get the boat launched, we cross the lake to try our first spot. Sarah takes her seat on the front deck - the Queen seat today, while I take the middle and Steve runs the motor.
As we cast we chat about our lives, Steve tells us he's back to school teaching with kids returning next week. Sarah fills him in on her summer of babysitting our friends' three kids, and I talk about my home projects and my last fishing outing. As we struggle to find the fish, Steve steps up the challenge and says "First fish gets a buck."
An hour into it, Steve gets a strike and after a feisty fight, lands a nice 17" largemouth bass. It is always nice to get that first fish out of the way. Steve reminds us that we both owe him a buck. These bets get made every trip and are rarely fulfilled. Everyone knows that, but we continue to make them anyway. It breaks the monotony and creates incentive.
With the first fish out of the way, I pose another wager. "First northern gets five bucks from Uncle Steve."
"Your dad is always quick to try and take my money, isn't he?" Steve says.
Sarah laughs and says "Yep."
Over the next hour and a half Steve catches two more bass and I manage to lose one shortly after I set the hook. In customary form, Steve questions whether it was really a fish.
"Oh, it was a fish alright," I say in my defense. I am used to this kind of question and defense, because I am on the questioning side as much as the defense side. It's how we relate in the boat. We are both comfortable enough in our friendship that we can chide each other and know no feelings will be hurt in the process.
Sarah is next, as she catches one and ten feet into her fight it gets off. She is happy to finally have some action, albeit a getaway.
We take a break, pass granola and bottles of water around and comment about how it's heating up as the morning progresses.
Steve motors us to the channel where I finally get a smallmouth into the boat. It's a 15" fish, but a few minutes later I claim that I thought it might have been a little bit bigger than Steve's fish. This claim draws another laugh from both he and Sarah, who know better.
Hey, it's worth a try.
Within 20 minutes Sarah catches the biggest fish of the day, a twenty inch Northern Pike. I grab the slippery, slimy fish and hand it to her for a picture. She holds it proudly as Steve snaps a couple of shots. She drops the fish back in the water and it swims away to fight another day.
After another twenty minutes of futility, the speedboats start revving up a sure sign that the fishing is done for the day. Steve packs the boat up, fires the Mariner 20 horse motor and opens it up. I tell him to "Open her up!" He screams over the whining motor "She's wide open!"
All three of us laugh at our little boat that could trying to keep up with the other flashy boats around us.
It may not be pretty, but it holds a ton of great memories and always gets the job done.
We trailer the boat, rinse it free of invasive debris, say our goodbyes and chalk up another successful outing.
It is days like this that - one at a time - get etched in the slate of my mind. Days and memories that are always easy to recall and that frame an important part of what I will forever treasure. Time spent with loved ones laughing, fishing and keeping it real.