Game and Fish Best Fall Memory

I took a bullet for my family last fall and went on vacation in the middle of the whitetail archery season. What I thought was going to be a sacrifice turned out to be a week of some of the best fall memories I've ever had.

We packed up the minivan as I said goodbye to my Mathews Z7 Xtreme bow, and headed to the Gulf of Mexico. The plan was to lounge on the beach and fish. I'm not much of a lounger, but I do love fishing, and so do my four boys. We traveled with two other families, who are our best friends, and stayed in rented houses on St. George Island, south of Tallahassee.

On the first day, we corralled all our fishing gear and headed to a local pier. I've had limited success fishing from piers in the past, but this one was on fire. We got lucky and arrived just as the fall baitfish migration showed up.

Kids from 5 years to 16 years, as well as the adults, were catching sand trout, sea trout, and sea bass, with your typical catfish, grunts and rays thrown in. But my youngest was having a hard time getting a bite. He smiled as his friends screamed with excitement at the bend of their rods, or as they swung another fresh Gulf game fish over the rail of the pier. But still, the 7-year-old fished the morning without anything to show for it except a half-empty bait bucket.

As family and friends caught more fish — flounder, sand perch, croakers, and a blacktip shark —  my boy Danny started losing faith.

"Why can't I catch anything, Dad?" he asked.

"Just keep your line in the water," I said. "I bet it's just a matter of time."

I watched him from a distance while I helped another kid unhook another fish. It was one of those times when you see your child struggling and your heart breaks for him. But I also knew that he'd probably catch a fish eventually, and his persistence would be an excellent life lesson.       Sure enough, his rod tip bent low. I wanted to grab the rod from him and reel it in myself just to make sure the fish didn't come off the hook. I resisted the urge and watched helplessly, knowing profoundly how much emotion was riding on two knots in the 10-pound-test line and 20-pound leader.

When the fish broke the surface, it wasn't a thick, bronze redfish, hulking black drum, or silvery king mackerel; it was a lowly 5-inch pigfish. You would have thought it was the state record by Danny's reaction. He beamed with pride, and so did I. I picked him up and spun him around as he grasped his little success story.

We clicked as many pictures of that fish as we did of any of the trophies we caught that week in St. George Island. And it's that fish, and those memories, that Danny and I remember most clearly to this day.

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