Things my dad taught me while fishing
A Provincetown native reflects on life lessons learned on the pond
Spring is a time of renewal, and each year it is a time when I remember my dad, Joe Dirsa, and the times I had with him, and all he taught me about fishing—and life. Dad grew up during the Depression and joined the Navy when he was 17. He had an eighth-grade education, but he was one of the wisest men I’ve ever known. Naturally, it would not be until many years later, and after he died, that I would realize all of the lessons he taught me during our many fishing trips.
After a career in the U.S. Navy, my dad decided he wanted to live by the sea on Cape Cod. As a result, I grew up in the magical community of Provincetown. The town is magical because of its astounding sunrises and sunsets, which both occur over water—one of the rare places in the world where that happens—and because of its picturesque sand dunes, beaches, and fishing boats. It’s a place where different cultures come together in harmony and where our roots can be traced back to the very beginnings of America.
The first lesson Dad taught me was about patience. I was 6 years old in 1947 when my dad and my step-grandfather, Captain Manuel Vegas, took me fishing in Provincetown Harbor. The captain had been a fisherman his entire life and maintained a fishing dory, which he and my dad often used for fishing. I was thrilled to be invited along.
Both men told me I had to be patient when fishing, and as I dropped my hand line into the sea I was determined I could wait out any fish. In the next hour, both my dad and the captain pulled in fish after fish, but my line just sat there, unmoving. After an hour or so, Dad suggested I check to see if the bait was still on the line. To my shock, I discovered that perhaps the smallest flounder alive had swallowed the bait—and was dangling from my line.
While Dad and the captain traded humorous remarks about the “giant” fish I had caught, I didn’t care because I knew my patience had helped me bring in a fish; the size of the fish, to me, was irrelevant at that time.
A few years later, after Dad had taught me how to use a spinning rod, we went fishing in Provincetown’s Clapps Pond with one of Dad’s friends. I wanted to out-fish my father that day, so while the men moved around to cast in different spots, I used what I’d learned about patience to stay in one spot, making cast after cast. Finally, I hooked a monster: a 10-pound large mouth bass.
This time, it really was a big fish and when Dad and his friend showed up empty-handed—my patience—it appeared, had again paid off!
Then there was the time Dad caught a huge pickerel in what we called Anthony’s Pond, which is now known as Duck Pond in Provincetown. Just as he was about to net it, the fish threw the hook. I learned about frustration that day—and a little about how to deal with frustration when it arises. After a few choice words, Dad re-baited his hook and on the very next cast he landed an even larger pickerel—and brought it in. The lesson learned that day: it’s what you do after a failure that determines how successful you will be.
Just like Dad, when I was 17 I left home to seek my fortune. It would be many years before I would pick up a fishing pole again. But the lessons Dad taught me about patience, overcoming frustrations, and enjoying the moment stood me well throughout my career as a teacher, basketball coach, and school administrator.
When I retired, I discovered a renewed love for fishing. It was a joy to pass on my fishing knowledge to my grandchildren—and also to my wife, Margaret, who I only then learned had never before caught a fish. When she reeled in a 12-pound bluefish a few years ago, she was hooked—and now she’s my best fishing buddy.
A few years ago, my grandson, Brandon, was living in Canada; on a visit there to see him, Brandon showed me how to catch my first walleye! I remember thinking that the cycle of life—at least in my family—had been completed.
We have been privileged to watch our son, Michael, teach his sons Brady, Noah, and Maxwell about the joy of fishing—and the life lessons that accompany the sport. I see now that a link has been passed from my dad, to me, to my son, and now to my grandchildren—and hopefully that will continue to future generations.
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