The Language of Fishing: A Father and Daughter Story

Maia @ Ja-ike n

Fishing with Maia at Ja-Ike (Snake Pond) in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. Ja-Ike was full of large bluegills and bass, and in spring when everything was newly green it was perhaps the most beautiful stillwater we have ever fished. Wild wysteria with their white and lilac blooms draped the trees and reflected in the clear water, and wild yellow irises could be found along the shore. (The image above and some that follow were scanned from snapshots taken in the day.)

We recently drove Maia out to the short strip of pavement that serves as our airport here in Point Hope and saw her off, back to her home in Berkeley, California, where she is finishing the last leg of her senior year in college. She’d just spent part of her winter break visiting us in our Arctic home. For two beautiful weeks, we did nothing more elaborate than watch movies, cook together, eat great food, and catch up. On the short drive to the airport, a ground blizzard (high winds whipping up already fallen snow) forced me to creep along at the speed of a brisk walk. It was 10:00 a.m. and still pitch black. Once we got to the airport, the three of us, Maia, Barbra and I, sat in the car, heater blasting, talking, waiting. We wondered if the small plane would be able to make it up from Kotzebue.

Suddenly the runway lights came on. A few minutes later we found the lights of the plane in the dark sky as it made its descent. The lone passenger disembarked and the pilot helped a couple of the locals unload supplies for the Native Store onto a pickup truck. When they were finished, we hugged and said our good-byes and Maia climbed aboard. Fifty-mile-an-hour gusts were rocking the little plane and pushing the windchill deep into the negative degrees, but the skies above were clear. Should be a routine flight, and with a tailwind no less, Bar and I agreed. Still, a father worries.

Maia Flying Kite_n

Flying a kite on Folley Beach, South Carolina. 

Maia and I started fishing together not long after she learned to walk. Our excursions began on the banks of the Sakuragawa (Cherry River) in Ibaragi Prefecture, Japan. Like Ja-Ike, Sakuragawa had healthy populations of large bluegills and largemouth bass, and like kids the world over, Maia’s earliest fishing experience was shaped around a pole with a line tied to the end, a float, a hook and a worm. 

Back then, the fishing wasn’t really about the fishing. There were flowers and frogs, water snakes and dragonflies, bike rides and walks. I’d put Maia in a little red seat that attached to the handlebars of my three-speed town cruiser and we’d take off, looking for promising water, singing songs and naming birds and stopping at little shops for snacks along the way. Among our favorite finds were the colorful little kawasemi (Eurasian kingfishers) we’d sometimes spy along the river banks and the mysterious evidence of mozu (shrikes) where they’d impaled their tiny victims on garden fences and small tree branches.

Maia's First Salmon, Columbia River n

Maia caught her first salmon, a bright Coho fresh from the sea, on a late summer day near the mouth of the Columbia River not far from our home in Astoria, Oregon. Is there any better dinner than a good fish you caught yourself?

But most of all, those early fishing trips were about us – two buddies, hanging out, discovering a world that was new for both of us. It didn’t matter if we caught fish. In fact, sometimes we didn’t even get around to the fishing. There was always lots to see and explore. We never had a bad day.

Bison Burgers at X-C Nationals, Lincoln, Nebraska_n

Qualifying for nationals in cross country meant a trip to Lincoln, Nebraska and post-race bison burgers. That evening, Maia talked me into going to a movie based on a book she’d recently read and was quite excited about. Although I didn’t become a Harry Potter fan, there is magic in doing things with a person you love, and I have a very fond memory of a pasta dinner at a downtown restaurant followed by watching “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” together.

Later, other things became the focal points of our lives: violins and piano lessons, cross country races and track practice, hikes and a black Labrador Retriever-Australian Shepard mix that was lovable and wild. But fishing remained. It was a constant in our lives, an unbroken thread that gave us a common language even in those times when common language between a father and his teenage daughter sometimes became elusive.

Blonde Violinist - _n

Blonde hair and a red violin – and springtime trips to a nearby lake to fish for trout and to pick fiddlehead fern heads to sauté in the pan with those trout.

Razor Clam Limit with Maia - n

Cinching up the bag on two limits of razor clams at Clatsop Beach, Oregon – fried clams for dinner!

Maia & Neal Exit Glacier Trail_n

On the Exit Glacier Trail near Seward, Alaska, with boyfriend Neal. 

Although Maia’s on her own now, we still get together every summer. We hike and explore and boat and enjoy good meals, and our days often end with a bottle of this or that and stories. And we always work in some fishing.

Maia at the helm of Bandon_n

At the helm of our sailboat, Bandon, in Resurrection Bay near Seward, Alaska in June, 2012.

Maia will graduate from college this spring with a degree in music composition and theory. Each time she visits, she brings us an iPod jammed with excellent music – everything from obscure Sinatra to the latest Buck 65 and tons of stuff I’d never find on my own (but end up liking). Maia’s study of music is taking her into a world that, in its depths, goes far beyond my understanding of the subject, and her life near San Francisco couldn’t be much more different than our lives up here in Alaska. And so sometimes we return to the language we know – a language of five-weight fly rods, elk hair caddises and pheasant tail nymphs. We talk of the trout waters we’ve fished and the waters we’d like to fish. And invariably we circle back to the ponds and rivers we knew in Japan and the bluegills we used to catch there, and the bike rides and those those striking little kingfishers with their shimmering turquoise backs.

Read more at: Fishing and Camping along Oregon’s Deschutes River

16 thoughts on “The Language of Fishing: A Father and Daughter Story

  1. What a sweet story and photos of your beautiful daughter, Maia. I have similar memories with my son and hikes to the beach (northern CA). You’ve given Maia such wonderful experiences and great adventures.

  2. Jack, I enjoy reading your blog and marvel at the beautiful photos you and Barb post. These sweet pictures of Maia add an extra richness to your written history of time spent together. My daughters are also blessed with musical gifts. My youngest is preparing for her Junior Recital next month at CSUS and her sister is rehearsing for a February 1st opening as Cinderella in a production of “Into the Woods”, by our own Light Opera Theatre of Sacramento. Your loving reminiscing brought to mind the first fishing trip my girls enjoyed on a family houseboat adventure on Lake Powell, Utah. A friend of my sister-in-law was their teacher, since neither my husband nor I were very experienced in the sport/art of fishing. Their proud smiles, as they hold up their “catch of the day”, hang in a shadow box in our home and continue to bring a smile to my face each time I walk past and steal a glance, recalling a wonderful day we all shared together. Thanks.

  3. Lovely narrative and pictures and now a little mystery is solved for me too. I was kind of curious why Cutterlight featured various postings of things referencing Japanese culture, i.e. anpan, laquered ohashi (chopsticks) etc. Well looking at her pictures it appears to me that Maia is a “hapa” like me! : )

    Speaking of Japanese-y things, I’ll have to try to locate and send you a special pan so that you can make taiyaki (tie-yah-kee). As Jack might already know, taiyaki are fish-shaped waffle/pancake treats filled with sweet red bean paste (anko). Such a yummy thing, especially during cold weather. I have a cast iron pan of my own but I think now there are electric versions available that look/operate a lot like a George Foreman grill. These days people opt for variations on anko and fill them with custard, bananas with chocolate, or Nutella. Anyway, I now have a quest and perhaps taiyaki will become a future blog subject??? Here’s a site that gives some background:

    As always, love reading the excellent Cutterlight blog!

    • Hi Kat. Thanks for the comments! I have fond memories of taiyaki at fairs and festivals in Japan. We don’t have a taiyaki pan, but what a great addition to our kitchen that would make!
      Your comments remind me of another Japanese fair & festival food we used to LOVE – takoyaki.
      For the first six years of her life, Maia lived in Japan. She still visits her native country every year and is fluent in the language and culture. And every Christmas, we watch the wonderful film “Totoro” together – one of our all time favorites.
      Thanks for reading, and thanks for writing! JD

      Hi Kitty –
      I would love to try and make taiyaki! I would love to feature your request in a future blog!

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