Down by the River

When I got home from work, the boy told me he wanted to go fishing. I paused before answering out of weariness. What I really needed was a cold beer and a hot shower.

“Let your dad rest and get settled,” my wife said in support.

“I’ll never say no to that,” I said. “We can head down to the river towards sunset, try under the Ford Bridge. That’s my smallmouth spot this time of year.”

The boy liked my plan. We all ate dinner together at the picnic table—brats and potato salad with radishes. After that my wife left to tend her plot in the community garden.

My wife is happiest when she is dirty and I am happiest when I am clean. We are the same kind of people. We just work opposite types of jobs. The other day, as I watched her rinse her freshly harvested veggies in the kitchen sink, I remarked she would have been happier being a farmer.

She returned my compliment with a sweet Germanic smile. “A lot of people tell me that,” she said.

Last week a thief made off with her prize watermelon. Before we went on vacation, someone stole several ears of her sweet corn. No one wants her zucchini. She hasn’t been the only victim of the pilfering. There has been more of it this season than in years past. Someone put up an angry sign in protest. I considered mounting one of those deer cameras to have a look at the culprit. But, like so many things, I just let it pass. All the same, I wish people would keep their grubby paws off my wife’s vine-ripened produce.

When she returned from her watering and weed picking, my oldest son and I headed toward the bridge. We each carried a rod and a tackle box. I asked him if the load was too heavy but he said no. He is a big kid now—tall and getting stronger by the day.

“It’s good to live by the river,” I said. “It’s old, older than us, older than the city. It will be here long after we are gone. We’ll be fishing above the dam. There’s a good pool there. I expect to catch a few fish.”

My son commented on the graffiti as we neared the bridge. He has a board he practices on by the garage. All the kids seem to love it. Growing up in South Dakota, that was a form of rebellion I never even considered.

The embankment descending to the river was extremely steep with nothing really to grab onto. I got a little out of control, grateful I made it down without breaking my arm or my rod. Lower to the ground and more agile, the boy had little trouble.

I could see fish making promising splashes near shore. I advised him to go after them with a Beetle Spin while I removed a can of beer from my tackle box. I cracked it open and took a chug, admiring the architecture of the bridge over us. From this angle, it had always reminded me of the vertebrae of a dinosaur if you were inside it. I shared this observation with the boy.

“Yeah, I can see that,” he said.

The white reflection of a St Paul high-rise shimmered on the water alongside the long span of the bridge. I set my beer on a flat rock and went for my pole. It took about a dozen casts before I hooked a small bass. The boy seemed jealous and I told him to stick with the lure.

“You’ll catch one,” I said. “Just keep buzzing it over those rocks. There’s all kinds of fish in here feeding on minnows.”

He insisted on taking over the spot I was casting, which I relinquished without argument.

He got snagged right away.

“Walk it downstream,” I said. “They sometimes come out when you do that.”

“Hey, I got it!”

“Great job!”

I kept with the casting and set the hook on something that seemed a bit bigger. The fish took my drag a couple times before I was holding it aloft by the mouth. It was a decent smallmouth, maybe 15 inches. I made the boy take a picture before I released it unharmed back to the river.

He caught his own right after that on a mini-chrome Rattletrap. It was a dinky one but he seemed very pleased and I knew this would be enough to satisfy him.

We fished until sunset. I smashed my beer can, placed it inside my tackle box, then locked it up.

“Ready to go?” I asked.

He nodded and we scrambled our separate ways up to the road. A group of young people were huddled around an SUV. They seemed to regard us apprehensively. I’d detected the skunk of pot smoke before we left. I figured they were looking to take over our spot. The boy and I walked home together in the dark. It was a good Saturday night.

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