Nurture vs. nature and fishing

Anglers' angle

Posted: Sunday, July 25, 2004

The argument of nurture vs. nature has been a point of contention for years by social psychologists. Are we who we are because of the experiences in our lives, or are there genetic factors that make us who we are? The consensus is that it is probably a mix of both.

I met my father for the first time in my life a few weeks ago. We spoke for the first time in December and immediately we found common ground (or water) with fishing. He's a semi-retired Vietnam veteran and owns a home on a lake in Minnesota where he spends a good portion of his time mooching for sunfish and the occasional walleye.

We talked for hours about our fishing exploits. He found it interesting that I occasionally wrote fishing columns and articles in this newspaper. He was also excited that his long-lost son lived in one of the world's greatest fishing locations.

For the father who raised me, fishing was merely a hobby. We would fish together a handful of times each year, but it was never a priority. My siblings were not fishermen either, and while growing up I often found myself fishing alone.

I was drawn to the water - it was a distant calling that I always followed. It guided me through the placid lakes and mighty rivers of Minnesota, to the great trout waters of Colorado, and eventually to the fertile saltwater of Southeast Alaska, which I now call my home. But in the back of my mind, I always wondered why I loved fishing so much, even though I could never pinpoint a moment or person that inspired me.

We finally had our reunion late one night at the Juneau airport. With him he brought a large group of family that I had never met as well as his best friend and fishing buddy, Dan. Our plan was to spend as much time fishing together as possible.

We set out one morning from Auke Bay with two of my brothers and Dan for a day of halibut fishing. I had been bragging about the 275-pound halibut I landed the week before, so we decided to go to the same spot in hopes of finding her big sister.

I had only one halibut pole and my father took the first shift. I rigged it up, gave some quick instructions, and he dropped the line to the bottom. I was impressed that my father instinctively knew how to operate the big reel and within minutes he had something playing with his line. He set the hook and started reeling it in.

In the meantime, I tried to guess at the size of the fish he had. My father never gave any indication of how big it was, but I could tell he was getting a workout as he calmly and methodically worked the fish to the surface. I was ready for action with a gaff in hand, but I also had a stout harpoon nearby just in case.

After about 30 minutes, we all caught the first glimpse of the halibut. It was a good 5 feet in length, and gasps came from my boat companion. My heart started pounding as I immediately dropped the gaff and reached for the harpoon - this one was going to be some work.

The halibut lazily floated by the side of the boat and I harpooned it squarely in the head, making the fish thrash violently. I quickly secured another rope through its mouth and gills and pulled the halibut into the skiff with one big heave.

There in stern of the boat was the biggest fish my father had ever caught. It was flopping with fury when I grabbed the discarded gaff, jumped on the fish and began clubbing its head - a gruesome, but necessary step of landing large halibut.

Soon, the fish stopped moving, and after a couple more whacks for good measure I stood up, wiped the splattered blood off my face, turned and spit over the side of boat, and muttered a curse under my breath.

I looked at my companions for the first time since I pulled the fish into the boat. All looked shocked and somewhat disturbed over the rampage. All, that is, with the exception of my father, who stood there with a grin on his face.

"That's my boy," he said.

• Jeff Kasper is a freelance writer and former Empire sportswriter. He can be reached at 209-7427.

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