"A broad tailfin slapped the water and sent spray skyward. I watched as my dad held on desperately, a mixture of excitement and fatigue evident on his face. His gnarled, arthritic hands all but ignored his commands to raise the rod tip and take in line. This would be the fight of his life. He’d caught bigger fish—but that was when he was much younger and healthier. If he could land this fish, it would be his first salmon in fresh water. And it would be the last fish of his life.
Dad and I were close. Times outdoors together were treasured experiences. He had instilled in me a love of God's creation. We would squeeze every moment of enjoyment out of watching a river otter, a mule deer, or a covey of quail.
Now, near the end of his fight with cancer, I watched this titanic struggle; and my mind returned to the beginning of the day. It was a gorgeous, still autumn morning when we arrived at the river. Fall colors adorned the shoreline and a gentle mist hovered above us. Dad’s hands would no longer let him tie a hook. I helped him get his rig ready, then put on his waders—with no small degree of difficulty. That accomplished, we made our way carefully into the shallows. The salmon were running and there were some great places on the river to catch fish. But I had selected an area accessible to him and, thus, less likely for good fishing.
But we were always happy just to fish together. He had a saying I had heard him say many times over the years: “We’re going fishing. If we catch fish, that’s a bonus.” He taught me to relish the experience of being out in God’s wonderful creation and experiencing it alongside people we love. Catching fish would be great, but we were happy just to be here … together.
Just a few casts into the day I felt my rod tip dip, lifted it, and knew I was into a fall itChinook. Then we repeated a scenario that had occurred in my childhood—but now we reversed the roles. “Dad, I've got one. Trade me rods.” Never before would he ever consider such a thing. He felt a fisherman should hook, play, and land his own fish. But we both knew today was different … that it was likely his last time to hold a rod.
Now I watched helplessly as his first flush of excitement turned to labored concern. The reel sang—zzzzzz—as the large hen peeled off line. Time after time he laboriously drew the fish near only to see the large form shrink once again as it stripped line from the spool and raced across stream.
And now his rod tip dropped dangerously low. Weak from age, illness, and fatigue, he just didn’t have the strength to finish the fight.
A group of onlookers had gathered, and I asked two to help him to shore while I took the rod. With his back turned, I quickly raised the rod tip and pumped the exhausted fish in. When Dad turned around, I handed him the rod and tailed the fish—a 17-pound king salmon.
He never made another cast. He sat on a folding stool and regaled passing admirers with details of the battle.
Not long after, I stood at Dad’s casket. He won this fight, I thought. Like the apostle, Paul, he could say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”, 2 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV). Dad left me a legacy of godliness. And God left me the memory of that special day on the river.
When the funeral was over, we returned to the house. His rod stood against the wall of the garage, still rigged for action. Where's Roy? It seemed to say.
I still have that rod; it was many years before I took it fishing. Today, when I look at it, I remember that God gave us that one last day. And He gave Dad one last fish.
Though I have missed my dad ever since he left this earth, I have no regrets in my relationship with him. We made his final days memorable, and his life continues to have a profound influence on mine,” Ken Horn is an author and co-author of thirteen books and a journalist. (Kenlhorn@gmail.com\417-522-3413)