Son of a Son of an Angler
By Gregg Crisp
As we launched that foggy August morning onto mirror-flat Boston Harbor, I had a feeling it was going to be a special day. Exactly one year before, I’d entered this low-key fishing derby with my older son Ryley, who landed his first striper and won the contest. This year, in addition to 11-year-old Ryley paddling his kayak next to me, I had my 8-year-old son Braden in the front seat of my kayak. Soon we reached the bar, dropped our tube and worm rigs, and started trolling current lines in search of stripers.
Fishing has always been a favorite pastime in my family. One of my earliest memories is standing on the old red dock in front of my grandparents’ house with my dad and his father, who hooked a largemouth bass and handed me the rod. I struggled with that fish for what seemed like hours, and finally landed it. I was 4 years old.
From that moment, my boyhood was consumed in the search for bigger and harder-fighting fish. As I got older, fishing would sometimes take a back seat to other things that teenagers chase, but it was always there when I needed to clear my mind.
When I was 19, on a break from school, I returned to my grandparents’ house on that small lake in north Jersey. My grandfather and I stood on that old red dock casting nightcrawlers, just like always. By that time, he was already showing the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, but when he got a fish on, his eyes lit up and he came alive. On that dock I got to experience what he felt when he handed me the rod 15 years earlier: the thrill of taking someone fishing.
The sound of Ryley’s drag going off and his cry of, “Fish on!” brought me out of my thoughts. I watched proudly as he battled the striper to the side of his kayak and landed it after a short sleigh ride. Ryley has come a long way over the past few years, and has several keeper stripers under his belt, and an over-slot redfish he caught in South Carolina. At the New England Kayak Fishing Striper Shootout earlier that summer, we had camped, fished and paddled more than 35 miles in four days. Now, as he lifted his latest striper for a picture, I smiled just as broadly as he did.
After we reset our tubes and resumed trolling, my gaze settled on the old Penn 550 SS reel that Braden was holding. On summer mornings starting when I was about 7 years old, my mother’s father would wake me before sunrise and place that same reel in my hands. We’d hurl baits into the dark surf for stripers, weakfish, and bluefish. Those mornings on the Jersey shore became our ritual. The year I turned 12, though, I noticed something was different with my grandfather on that side. I asked why he wasn’t smoking, and he explained that the cigarettes had made him sick. He had cancer. At that age, I didn’t fully understand the gravity of what he told me, but all too soon I would. Before the next summer came, he was gone.
I spent many more mornings out on those beaches and jetties, and until Ryley joined me 25 years later, it was always just me and my grandfather’s reel. Yet in all those years, I never felt alone out on the water.
The familiar scream of the Penn’s drag snapped me back to the present. As Braden fought the fish, I maneuvered the kayak to get the fish away from the bar and off the rocks. After several minutes, Braden got the fish under the boat, but it would not come to the surface without one last fight. Braden stuck with it, struggling for several more minutes to lift the fish. When the big striper finally came into view, all he could say was, “Holy crap!” Braden’s first striped bass would turn out to be a contest winner. As he hoisted the fish into his lap for his hero shot, I felt the warm sun on my back, and knew that I wasn’t the only one sharing Braden’s triumph that morning.