Fathers and Sons

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You can learn a lot from a person by taking them kayak fishing.

We’d just launched from below Lake Whitney a few weeks ago, when I looked downriver and saw that Doug Maile, my fishing companion for the day, was using his kayak to tow his young son, who was in a kayak of his own. It struck me that he had his work cut out for him.

Doug is a co-worker and friend, and along with his two sons—Garrett, age 13 and Jackson, age 7–we’d just launched our kayaks with a plan to float downriver a few miles and do some fishing. Doug and Garrett had been kayak fishing for a couple of years, but young Jax had just gotten his first yak. Not that he hadn’t been kayaking before mind you; he’s logged a lot of hours riding in the tank well of Doug’s kayak. Come to think of it, he also has time riding along in mine. Dan’s too for that matter. I guess you can say Jax’s not met a kayak he didn’t like, but this would be his first time floating down the mighty Brazos in his very own kayak.

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During the planning, Doug mentioned he wasn’t sure that Jax could actually handle paddling the kayak a couple of miles downriver against a stiff headwind, which he knew wasn’t uncommon on the Brazos. He said if worse came to worse, he’d tow his son…and wouldn’t you know it? We were greeted on the river by a slight head wind–no big deal for us, but as Jax reminded me that day, he couldn’t very well paddle against the wind, AND fish; he said that wasn’t gonna work. So he asked his father to tow him, and of course, because Doug is Doug, he broke out some rope, tethered the two kayaks and began towing his son downriver. This was going to be interesting.

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The four of us made our way downriver, fishing the overhangs and lay downs and channels, occasionally having to stop and paddle against the wind. Doug towed his son from one lay-down to another, always positioning the ‘yaks to give Jackson clear casting lanes, mindful of wind direction and the sharp treble hooks that Jax was throwing. When he wasn’t paddling, Doug picked up his own rod and pitched some plastics into the river. At one point, Garrett told me that his dad had never caught a fish from a kayak on the Brazos before. I was surprised to hear that.

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On the river I had plenty of time to observe Doug and his interaction with his boys. Doug is an avid hunter and fisherman, someone whose outdoors skills I’ve always been envious of. He got those skills growing up on rural Minnesota farm, a time when spending time outdoors was more a necessity than a pastime. At the age when most of us were earning money by throwing newspapers or cutting grass, Doug was trapping critters on neighboring farms and selling the pelts—skills he’d learned from his father. It was Doug who we called when Dan shot his first deer, and he talked Dan through the skinning and gutting of the buck–on a cell phone.

After a career in the Marine Corps, Doug settled in north Texas with his wife Gina and their two boys, and to the untrained eye, they appear to be a typical suburban family, but I think these days, they’re a-typical. If the Maile boys aren’t playing rec baseball or running in a school track meet, then they’re likely out fishing the lake with their dad or hunting down south on the family land, the kind of family fair that has becoming more and more scarce in today’s tech-addicted society.

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Although the Maile boys didn’t grow up on a Minnesota farm, they have been taught, and shown, the outdoors since they could walk, and it’s struck a chord with them. Christmas and birthdays usually mean new fishing or hunting gear and I don’t mean toys. Garrett’s been known to not only hunt dove, but also clean the breasts and cook them for dinner. Of course, Doug rarely buys meat anymore; but he has a freezer filled with wild game and fish.

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Back on the river, the kayak fishing went well, and the boys both caught lots of buck bass. Late in the day, after losing a couple of fish near the kayak, Doug finally landed a nice bass thereby breaking his Brazos River skunk. Garrett landed the big fish of the trip when a healthy four pounder attacked the fluke he was pitching under some trees.

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It worked out well with Doug towing Jackson, and neither father nor son impaled the other with a treble hook in the face, although there were a few close calls. Eventually, the wind laid down a little and Jackson was able to paddle on his own. Best of all, I got to see firsthand Doug with his boys on the river and the endless patience he had with them. It was obvious where they got their love of the outdoors, just as Doug had gotten it from his father.

I wish I could say I was as thoughtful about teaching my boys the outdoors when they were young, but I wasn’t and that ship has sailed. I like to think I’m making up for it now but sometimes I wonder if I really am. After all, the bar has been set pretty high…by men like Doug.

Lone Star Chronicles – Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Fish

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