Granddad’s fishing lessons were life lessons

What’s better than a crisp fall morning when the sun first peaks over the horizon, illuminating a golden hillside as a light fog gently rolls across your favorite Missouri lake? Tell me. I’ll wait. As a kid from the Midwest, I may be a bit partial, but our state can rival just about anything I’ve traveled to see, especially with the mild fall temps and the landscape colors at their peak. It doesn’t get much better. Not only is it beautiful here in the fall, but it’s also an excellent time to go fishing. The fishing can be just as good as the scenery, whether floating an Ozark stream, bobber fishing with nightcrawlers on a favorite farm pond, deep trolling on a reservoir, or fly fishing in one of our state trout parks. But no matter the season, scenery, or fishing methods, two things come to mind when I think about my love of fishing: the feeling I get from simply being close to the water and the memories of my granddad. For me, the two are synonymous. Granddad introduced me to fishing at such a young age that it is quite literally the first memory I can recall. There is no photo of that remarkable day, so my parents are in a bit of amazement of how I remember some exact details of my granddad catching the large catfish in the pond behind my first childhood home. That little farmhouse was located off Route 179 north of Jefferson City, just up the road from the Marion Access on the Missouri River. I was barely three years old.

After a short battle, he hoisted up what must have been a twenty-pound channel catfish. How peculiar that must have seemed from the eyes of a three-year-old, watching him pull the whiskered beast from the depths of the old farm pond in our backyard.

Young Adam back in the day with his very first fish, and under the proud, watchful eye of his Granddad Bob.
“How can you remember back that far? You were so little!” Mom would ask. It must have made a lasting impression, because I really don’t remember anything else about the early days of my life there. I can, however, clearly recall my granddad standing on the edge of the pond, fishing pole doubled over as he excitedly reeled in what was sure to be something impressive. After a short battle, he hoisted up what must have been a twenty-pound channel catfish. How peculiar that must have seemed from the eyes of a three-year-old, watching him pull the whiskered beast from the depths of the old farm pond in our backyard. That one fish fed our entire family that evening. (Add in some fried potatoes and cornbread, and to this day it’s still my favorite meal.) That was the first of a boatload of memories I have of my Granddad Bob (Robert Maddox). I became his “little fishing buddy” from then on. It was a bit ironic that he still called me that even as a young adult when I stood a whopping six-foot-five, compared to his five-foot-six frame.

I don’t ever recall a “no” when asking when we could go fishing next.

“Must have been the cheeseburgers and Arris’ Pizza,” he’d say. He was the best kind of granddad a kid could ever wish for—supportive of my newfound passion and always willing to take me along. A cooler of six-ounce glass bottle Cokes, cheese, and saltine crackers was the standard fare on our trips. Maybe a pack of hotdogs for a charcoal fire on those full day trips. I don’t ever recall a “no” when asking when we could go fishing next. My love for fishing blossomed and grew during our memorable trips to Lake Glenwood. My granddad’s friend, Glenn, owned the place. It was always a treat to go there. As Granddad got our gear ready to go, while I was on the lookout for Glenn’s old, lime green truck coming down the hill to pick us up. He always hit the horn when he pulled in the driveway, the old-timely, distinctive “aaoooouugaaah” sound piquing my excitement every time I heard it. ] I’d usually request a couple more taps on the horn as were leaving, signifying to Grandma that we were gone for the day. Glenn owned a large, mostly wooded property that featured a twenty-acre lake close to Brazito, Missouri that we called Lake Glenwood. Man, I loved that place. The lake was chock-full of bluegill, bass, and catfish, and we always had the whole place to ourselves. I learned all the basics out there: Casting, tying, lures, structure, depths – what worked and what didn’t, depending on the conditions. Full stringers were our normal result. How to fillet fish soon became an interesting proposition. I got good at catching fish but wasn’t too sure about the whole slicing them up thing. I remember him saying one time, “As much as you enjoy eating fish, you’re going to have to learn to clean them!” I was quick to respond, “The day I have to clean fish is the day I become a catch-and-release fisherman!” That didn’t last very long. I took to the task pretty well. Aside from Lake Glenwood, Bennett Springs was where I really learned to hone my craft. Those trout were a whole other deal compared to the easy-to-catch bluegill and largemouth I’d become accustomed to. Bennett was our special place. It was always just the two of us on those trips. There was something about coming down the hill and seeing the crystal-clear water rushing from the depths, and the sound of the water running over the dam nestled along the Ozark hills. As the fourth largest spring in the state of Missouri—pushing an impressive 100 million gallons of water per day – that alone is worth the trip just south of Lebanon. The stone bridge and lodge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933 still stand today and provide a scenic backdrop for testing your skills against the elusive rainbow trout. Catch-and-keep season runs daily March 1 through October 31. Lessons are learned on the water. I can remember one of the many trips we had down to Bennett where we watched a random guy seemingly catching all the fish, while all the other guys were lucky to land one or two during that more difficult stretch during the middle of the day. Granddad would say something like, “Well, if you want to learn to catch them like that, you’d better keep your line wet!” Stuff like that stuck with me, not just regarding fishing, but life in general. Put in the work, add a little dedication, and it will come back to you many times over.

I’ve often wondered who—or what—would’ve come of me without that influence so early on.

“Fishing’s not just about catching, it’s about getting out and enjoying the outdoors. Catching fish is a bonus.” He had many sayings like these that helped form a foundation that directly influenced my path in life. I’ve often wondered who—or what—would’ve come of me without that influence so early on. Fishing and life are one in the same if you asked me. The lessons learned on the water most definitely last a lifetime. I return to Bennett often. The memories of my youth, and of my granddad, bring me back year after year. What amazes me—no matter what else in life changes—everything there is basically the same as it was some thirty years ago when my granddad first introduced me to the park. It’s likely the same as when he first started going in the 1950s. The crystal-clear water still boils from the spring, the fish still stacked by the bridges, the fishermen still lined up on the dam. I think the lodge even has the same furniture and menu. It’s all just perfect in my book, and I hope it never changes. Now I enjoy sharing the experience with my kids. Tangled lines, moss-covered hooks, snags, and missed fish are a guarantee at their stage in life, but the look on a kid’s face when they land a fish is nothing short of priceless. I hope they get something out of it even if it’s a fraction of what I did. Hopefully it inspires them to continue the traditions with their own kids and grandkids someday. I’ll be there for as many of those trips as I’m able. It’s a thrill that never gets old, no matter how young, how old, or how many fish you’ve caught. The last trip to Bennett with my granddad was in 2004. He was 82. Granddad  had slowed down quite a bit, but still had that same twinkle in his eye when I asked him if we could go fishing. We made our plans and loaded up those same fishing rods and Mitchell 308 reels he’d used for the past thirty-plus years. Same hat, fishing vest, net, and stringer. The passion and love he’d enjoyed for more than fifty years was alive and well, despite his physical condition. He might have been past the age of putting on waders and standing in chest-deep water, but not too old to get outdoors and fully enjoy himself. That day we headed to our favorite spot between the dam and bridge, he was upstream from me on the bank. I looked up just in time to see his rod doubled over and the familiar excitement in his eyes, just as it was during that first memory he gave me so many years ago as a three-year-old kid. It was perfection on water. Brings a smile to my face every time I think back on that day, and every time I go back to that same spot. This November 17—a day and a week before Thanksgiving 17—would have been Granddad Bob’s 100th birthday. He’s missed so dearly by many. I’ll always cherish those memories, all the while creating new ones for my kids. For his milestone birthdate, I believe it’s fitting for me to reflect on what he did for me so early on and encourage others to do the same. It’s likely that someone had an influence on you – whether it was a dad, granddad, mom, sibling, or friend. It’s our turn to be that person for the next generation. Pay it forward. Keep the traditions alive. Take a kid fishing. You might just hook one for life. About the writer: Adam Voight is the marketing manager at Socket. He and his wife, Bethany, own M.Boss Barbershop ad Foxy Boss Salon in downtown Columbia, Mo.

Four-year-old Brooks Voight, putting his fishing skills to work at Bennett Springs.
 
The Voight family at Bennett Springs. Adam and Bethany with Brooks, Will, and Nora.