As a note, I retold this story as part of the homily at my dad’s funeral on Tue., Aug. 9, 2016. It was originally published Feb. 24, 2010 and I read it to my dad two weeks before he died and we talked at length as to the significance of this day in our lives and our relationship. There were many requests for the text version of “Just Five More Minutes” following his memorial service, and I found it fitting tribute to a man who not only changed my life one summer morning 18 years ago, but who was my best friend and a loving dad.
If you’ve been reading this column for any length of time you already know how this story ends, or at least how it goes up to this point. But you would never have guessed that it all began with a disinclined college kid loading up the pickup truck with dusty spinning combos and a thirty-year-old green tacklebox.
I had been back from college on summer break for about three weeks, working on the garbage truck for Valley City Public Works from seven in the morning until four in the afternoon and wasting my time after the whistle blew and on the weekends. One sunny Saturday, as I stumbled my way out of my bedroom and tried in vain to dodge the natural light pouring into the house, my dad asked me if I wanted to go fishing.
“When?” I grumbled.
“About an hour,” he replied.
I grunted out an “I guess so” and wandered over to the pantry and poured myself a bowl of cereal, shaking off the ill effects and the smoky scent from the bonfire at a buddy’s farm the night before.
I rode shotgun as my dad drove up the old river road winding through the greening hillsides toward the white concrete barrier of Baldhill Dam. Summer was approaching, the air was warm and the slight breeze carried the smell of renewed life into the air. Cows roamed the pastures in the river bottom, and small green rows of corn, wheat and soybeans reached skyward, segmenting the fertile black dirt into long strips tilted toward the flow of the earthy-toned water. The drive was so relaxing that I nearly drifted back to sleep.
We pulled into the parking lot and began our mountain-goat trek toward the water. A steep embankment of large rocks and boulders riprapped the first 300 yards of shoreline downstream from the spillway and it was a sharp descent from the parking lot to the river’s edge. Once at the bottom of the rocky shore, we saw the large metal gates were open several feet, pulling the water out from the depths of Lake Ashtabula into the modified river channel in a foamy rush.
After fifteen minutes of casting our jigs and curly-tailed grubs under the spillway without a bite, we began moving downstream. As we settled into our next position, my dad connected with his first fish of the day. Battling it to hand, he held up a large white bass. The fish sparkled as he lowered it back into the water; its metallic pearl sides with gunmetal-gray trim reflecting the radiance of the morning sun.
“That was a nice silver,” he stated, calling the fish by its local nickname.
Ten minutes later my dad landed another white bass, slightly bigger than the first one. After that, the spot went cold and we moved further down the riprapped shoreline with little action. We had been out for nearly an hour, and my lack of success caused me to ask my dad if he was ready to go.
“Just five more minutes,” he stated.
My dad connected on his first cast off of a concrete wingdam. Then he caught two more, leaving me with nothing to show for the trip. If I wasn’t frustrated before, I was certainly getting there as my dad began landing fish more frequently. After his tenth bass, I finally set the hook into something that whirled and spun and broke the surface. It was a white bass, not nearly as big as any of my dad’s, but a fish nonetheless. Content with the catch, I set it back in the water and asked my dad if he was ready to go.
Again he responded, “Just five more minutes.”
“You said that half an hour ago,” I snorted back.
He just laughed.
As we approached the end of the rocks, the water eddied out over a sand flat in front of an overhanging elm tree and a grassy shoreline. We picked up a few more fish scattered over the end of the rip-rap. I looked up the rock embankment and followed the trail back to the parking lot, ready to be done. As we stepped off of the rocks and onto the gravel path I once again asked my dad if he was ready to go.
With a smile on his face he stated once again, “Just five more minutes.”
I shook my head, wiped my brow and fired the first cast off over the sandy flat, not knowing that my life was about to change. Not a crank into the retrieve my rod shook violently with the strike of a massive white bass that rocketed up and smashed through the surface. I looked over at my dad to see his reaction, but he was wrapped up in a battle of his own. His fishing pole was bent in a similar arch, as dueling silvers danced in the water before us. These fish were huge, humpheaded beasts that dwarfed the previous ones we had seen. They were both over fifteen inches and at least two pounds apiece. We released them and cast our twisters out into the swirling current and met with the same results. Fish after fish after fish came to hand. In five minutes we caught and released at least ten white bass. We had stumbled on to the mother lode of silver as we continued to catch fish well into the noon hour. Finally, my dad broke the cadence when he stated that we were due back at home for lunch.
“C’mon dad, just five more minutes,” I begged.
He laughed at our role-reversal, stating, “We can come back after we eat.”
I reeled in my last fish of the morning and replied, “okay, but we’d better bring Ben,” as I knew this was something my younger brother had to experience. We returned after lunch, with my brother in tow and spent the afternoon catching and releasing a never-ending school of white bass. We ended the day with well over 100 white bass between us, along with a few crappies.
For the rest of that summer, the school of white bass remained in that exact same spot, and every day after work, so was I. Sometimes my dad or brother would come with me, but for the most part I fished by myself, casting after the inexhaustible swarm of aggressive silvers that swirled about the rocks and eddies at the end of the spillway. I learned the basics that summer – from the reading of water and the hookset to the battle and release, – and I filled the first pages of my angling memory book with smiles, silvers and sunsets.
And I recall, many times as I fished deep into the fading twilight, I’d squint against the darkness and once again ask for just five more minutes…in our outdoors.
In loving memory of my father, Mikal Simonson (Nov.18, 1947 – Aug. 5, 2016). He filled the dash with family, friends, and great memories made with all of them.