Anglers Journal - - CONTENTS - By LENNY RUDOW

With his three kids off to col­lege, the boat is a lit­tle qui­eter and a lit­tle emp­tier. A fa­ther looks back on the years he spent with his most re­li­able fishing part­ners.

Who knew that chas­ing wind-whipped Dori­tos through the cock­pit of a cruis­ing boat could trig­ger a flash­back?

I was grasp­ing at the chips in the whirl­wind, fran­ti­cally try­ing to pre­vent an epic mess, when I had a fuzzy vi­sion of my­self at 3 or 6 or some other vaguely young age, sit­ting on the mo­tor box of a Ch­e­sa­peake Bay dead­rise owned by a friend of my fa­ther’s. My chips had es­caped the bag and were blow­ing across the deck. Dad was on his hands and knees grab­bing at them, with a slightly ag­gra­vated look on his face. He had asked me not to make a mess. He heard me cry. He looked up from the deck and smiled.

I blink, and the flash­back ends. I look up from the deck at my own boys and smile. They’re con­sumed with laugh­ter, tremen­dously amused by my fum­ble. My daugh­ter is doc­u­ment­ing the event with her smart­phone. It’ll be great on Face­book, she tells me. Then the three of them mer­ci­fully join me in the chip chase, lest the owner of this neat-as-a-

pin 43 In­trepid hap­pens to glance aft from the helm be­fore I fin­ish clean­ing up.

We all want this trip to be a good one, be­cause it’s the last of its kind.

Like all of us who have chil­dren, I’d al­ways hoped to be a good fa­ther. I know, of course, that there were times — many times — when I could have been a bet­ter one. But I’ve al­ways felt se­cure in the knowl­edge that I couldn’t pos­si­bly be the worst dad in the world, be­cause I took my kids fishing. I don’t mean once or twice a sea­son. I mean that each and every time my boat left the dock, they had re­served spots on board. I wouldn’t deny them one sun­set over the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, one hands-shak­ing ap­proach to a feed­ing frenzy, nor one glimpse of a mahi-mahi slic­ing through the chunks. From the time they were old enough to wrap their hands around the han­dle of a fishing rod, my daugh­ter, Mol­lie, and her twin broth­ers, David and Max, all knew there was room for them on board.

The pay­back has been im­mea­sur­able, keep­ing the fam­ily tight and dis­tract­ing the kids from some of life’s less de­sir­able temp­ta­tions. Those are the rea­sons — unas­sail­able rea­sons — we put the “good” and “clean” in front of the “fun” when we talk about fishing with the fam­ily. Those are the rea­sons we fish to­gether in the first place.

But there’s also been an un­ex­pected pay­back. While fishing with friends is al­ways fun, fishing with the kids can re­sult in off-the-charts en­ter­tain­ment value. A blur of two decades of feel-good mo­ments is buried in my mem­ory. There’s the day 3-year-old Max popped a live fish into his mouth, then shook his head no as I begged him to spit it out. There was the time David screamed bloody mur­der at 5, af­ter a blood­worm bit him, a solid decade be­fore he’d get his first sum­mer job sort­ing thou­sands of blood­worms at Marty’s Bait and Tackle. There’s the time I for­got to bring Mol­lie’s Bar­bie rod and in­stead handed her a grown-up ver­sion, in­creas­ing her cast’s Arc of De­struc­tion un­til it ter­mi­nated at the back of my head.

They grad­u­ated to pre­med­i­tated an­tics as they grew older. One chilly spring morn­ing while fluke fishing, a live bull min­now mys­te­ri­ously ap­peared inside my wa­ter bot­tle, where it swam tight cir­cles as I tilted back for a swig. On a warm sum­mer af­ter­noon, my char­treuse jig some­how turned pink. One boy dropped a live eel down the other’s back when the co­bia bite was slow. Some­one got the no­tion to pull a fish out of the cooler, insert a bot­tle of Ga­torade into its mouth, and use it as a fish koozie.

Re­cently, this has be­come some­thing of a tra­di­tion: drink­ing out of the big­gest fish in the cooler. I’m not sure I un­der­stand how this silly rit­ual took hold, and I worry that there’s some­thing slightly un­be­com­ing about us­ing a dead fish as a tem­po­rary drink holder. But I do know that it makes ev­ery­one aboard laugh un­con­trol­lably and cer­tainly falls into the cat­e­gory of “good times shared.” Most im­por­tant, every time it hap­pens, I am re­lieved that In­sta­gram doesn’t work in the canyons.

There were a lot of mem­o­rable fish in those two decades, too: the cow striper I thought for sure was a ray and was ready to break off un­til the kids in­sisted they wanted to see it first; the boys’ first dou­ble date with a pair of bluefin tuna; the puffer fish scooped bare­handed from float­ing sar­gas­sum as we trolled by.

And yes, there were fishing-gen­er­ated tugs at the heart­strings, such as the day the twins pooled every coin in their piggy banks and tried to give me $7.85 so I could af­ford that pair of new out­boards we needed. There was the time Mol­lie per­suaded me to take our beloved and ter­mi­nally ill dog, Cop­per, out on the boat for one last even­ing of fishing, just days be­fore he left us. There were trips that ended with “thanks, Dad” in that rare tone of voice that lets you know they re­ally mean it.

This past sum­mer, we had the ex­cep­tion­ally good for­tune to have a friend in­vite us all out for an off­shore trip on his boat, the In­trepid, which is much larger and more ca­pa­ble than

my own. Some­how, all four of our work sched­ules con­curred. My kids and I took turns rig­ging bal­ly­hoo, shuck­ing weed off the baits and steer­ing the boat. The fishing was slow, and it was one of the best trips ever.

That’s all come to an end this fall. The tuition bills have been paid, the room­mates have been as­signed, and my three most re­li­able fishing bud­dies have moved out of the house. Of course, we’ll go fishing to­gether in the fu­ture. We have plenty of sum­mers and va­ca­tions ahead. But the big count­down is over. Mol­lie, Max and David have gone off to col­lege.

For nine months out of the year, my boat will be a lit­tle qui­eter and a lit­tle emp­tier, no mat­ter who’s on board. Some­day, maybe, my kids will have chil­dren of their own. Then, I ex­pect there will al­ways be a spot open on Grand­dad’s boat. Al­ways.

And there’s one thing they’ll be able to bet on: I’ll bring plenty of chips.

Mol­lie, David and Max — the writer’s kids and fa­vorite fishing crew just be­fore they de­parted for col­lege.

The mahi trio: Max, Mol­lie and David grew up fishing with their fa­ther, pro­vid­ing plenty of en­ter­tain­ment as they chased fish and made mem­o­ries.

Lenny (left) and Max with a nice sum­mer floun­der.

Dad thought this striper was a ray and wanted to break it off. Max and Mol­lie knew bet­ter.

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