The Things We Pass On

By Jordan Rash

I wake up in the darkness and look at my watch. It’s 5 A.M., still dark outside; the rumble of the surf on the rocks below is omnipresent. My alarm will go off in thirty minutes, but I decide to get up anyway. I am too excited. 

Today is the day I take my son on his first fishing trip on the Pacific Ocean. In fact, there will be three generations of men in our family, all hoping for a limit of lingcod – an aggressive, toothy species of greenling native to the Pacific Coast – and rockfish: black, blue, vermilion, yellow eye, and kelp greenling.

I pour a cup of coffee, make sandwiches, and pack my dry bag with the necessities. It’s fuller than normal as I pack to ensure my son stays warm and comfortable. I make his breakfast, with a side of Dramamine.

Packing our gear, I meander through cherished memories: bluegill in the local gravel ponds with Grandpa; rainbow trout in the mountain reservoirs and chrome-bright Coho salmon fishing out of Newport, Oregon with Dad. 

Grandpa and Dad taught me how to cast, where fish will be in a run of the river or creek, and how to set a hook. I was proud when I learned how to tie a blood knot, then a palomar; to catch a five-pound rainbow (Dad thought I was snagged on the bottom); to row the boat, and to join Dad on salmon fishing trips on the ocean. 

These experiences and lessons – both in fishing and in manhood – are what I hoped to pass on to my children were I fortunate enough to become a father. While at times the lessons bestowed upon me demonstrated more of what not to do, the older I get the more I appreciate these moments with my father and grandfather. I hope my children can give me as much grace. 

The alarm goes off at 5:30 and I snap back to the task at hand. I sneak into the second bedroom of our oceanside condo and shake my son’s leg to quietly wake him without disturbing his little sister. She’ll get her chance to fish with us on the ocean when she’s big enough.

With my father, brother, and son, we load into the pickup for a quick drive to the dock to meet with our guide, Don Koskela of Pasttime Fishing Adventures. We strap on life vests and make our way out through the narrow harbor opening from Depoe Bay. It’s a place made famous by Jack Nicholson and company in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The ocean is nearly flat; Don opens the throttle and we glide across the gentle swell. It’s a perfect day to be on the water. 

It doesn’t take long before we start connecting with lingcod. My son mans his position and gets a fish on. After a short fight, he brings a black rockfish to the boat. I dash between his spot amidship and mine on the stern, helping him to fight the fish while simultaneously keeping an eye on my own fishing rod. The entire boat is hooking up, and bringing sizable fish aboard. I start making plans for fish tacos.

After forty-five minutes of fishing, my son starts to get seasick and takes refuge in the cabin. I hook up with a lingcod and call for him to come out to reel it in. He pulls himself up, takes control, and lands the fish - his first lingcod! I beam from ear to ear and give him a slap on the back; he then proceeds to distribute “chum” to the ocean. We all tell him to “let it out” and “it’s no big deal” as he empties his stomach, then cleans himself up and, to my surprise, goes right back to fishing. Curious and pleased, I and the others on the boat continue to offer him encouragement to help him fight off the queasiness. The fishing is hot, which also helps him keep his mind off his stomach and on his fishing rod. 

After two hours of fishing, we have our limits and our guide turns the boat back to Depoe Bay. We share high-fives and enthusiastic retellings of the morning’s catch, shouting over the noise of the outboards. We crack jokes and laugh our way back to the harbor with porpoises paralleling the boat. As we come into the harbor and pull up to the dock, I congratulate my son and give him a hug. He caught his first lingcod at eleven. I was a grown man before I achieved such. 

At the dock, while the guide cleans our fish, I ask my son, “What kept you going after getting seasick?” He shrugged, “I don’t know.” Classic eleven-year-old move. 

As my wife and daughter come to the dock to see what we brought in, I see Dad, a big smile across his face, hugging his grandson. They’re making jokes, and recapping the just-completed trip. As my wife and daughter walk down the gangway, my son shouts out, “I caught a lingcod!” and holds up a carcass that he’s about to toss to the waiting harbor seals positioned behind the stern. He tells them how amazing it was to be on the ocean; of seeing porpoises and catching rockfish; of seeing Grandpa’s friend land a twenty-nine-pound lingcod as he holds up the carcass of the monstrous fish. 

It was then I found the answer to my question - What kept you going? - even if he could not articulate it. He wanted to experience what his grandpa, uncle, and dad experienced; to be part of the story told for years to come; to make a memory with the generations before him. 

But perhaps, most importantly, to catch fish for his Dad to make into fish tacos. He’s eleven after all. Oftentimes, it is all about his stomach.

Fishing and other outdoor pursuits offer me and my family a counterbalance to an online and indoor world. It is an opportunity to do something together, disconnected from the noise of modernity. Even as they are increasingly interested in YouTube, video games, and social media, my kids are also interested in joining me in the duck blind, on a mountain slope, or jigging for lingcod on the Pacific Ocean. 

This day reminded me that they can enjoy their “screen time” as well as outdoor pursuits, but that I have to work at it. I have to help set up the opportunities for them to have these experiences; they do not happen organically. 

Parenthood in a nutshell. 

About the Author

Jordan grew up in Oregon's Willamette Valley fishing for coastal cutthroat and hunting Roosevelt elk and Black-tailed deer. Drawing on his passion for the outdoors, he created a career in conservation leading a local land trust's real estate efforts as well as championing conservation funding in the halls of the Washington State Capitol. He can be found hunting, fishing, gathering, and otherwise enjoying the outdoors with his family and friends from the high desert sagebrush to the blue-green waters of the Pacific Ocean.