Father and son fishing goes back to the beginning of good parenting and special memories between a boy and his dad. Not only were sons taught how to catch and clean fish, they learned how to be silent, exercise patience, select bait, enjoy their environment and embrace wildlife as a part of the great outdoors while reaching maturity.
Studies at the University of Illinois show that time in natural settings significantly reduces symptoms of hyperactivity in children as young as age 5. Research also shows that outdoor experiences help reduce anxiety and protect psychological well-being, especially in children undergoing stressful events.
Few sons have had the pleasure of fishing with their fathers throughout their lives, but Rockne Winner, a Cleveland resident, was able to carry on a fishing tradition for more than six decades with his father until the day his dad died. In doing so, Winner said he has many cherished memories and still finds comfort in the silence of the water, the fresh outdoors air, the beauty of nature and the peace it brings him while fishing.
“When I was 8 years old my father, Archie Monroe Winner, would take me bass fishing,” said Winner, who turned 70 this year. “By watching him I soon learned to like it. When I was 10 we moved to a house on an 8-acre lake. That’s when my education about bass took off.”
Winner said as a child he had more time than money and knew that if he had a frog-colored “hula popper” lure he could do a lot better at catching bass.
“So I decided to make my own hula popper,” he said. “What I ended up with was the ugliest hula popper you have ever seen. I started out with a piece of 2-by-4 and my pocket knife. I worked on it for a couple of hours and soon my popper was finished — sort of. I didn’t even sand it. All I could find was some black paint, so that’s what I used. I took some hooks off an old lure and screwed them in place. For a hula skirt I used an old plastic bag cut in strips and thumbtacked it to its tail.”
As an adolescent he would be the first to admit his new fishing gear was “ugly,” but, the excited Winner is proud to add, “it was mine.” He said he tied it to his old bait caster with a new steel rod and headed for the lake.
“I made one of my better casts and it went about 25 feet and landed with a large splash,” he said. “After I got the backlash out of my reel I gave it a small pop. The water exploded and I was in mortal combat with a 3-pound bass! One minute later I had it on land. It weighed 3 and three-quarters of a pound — my best bass yet! Although he was a man of few words, I knew my dad was proud of me.”
Winner said he used that homemade popper for several years, cherishing its sentimental value and success in bass fishing, despite its having lost most of its paint and needing several new plastic tails thumbtacked to it. One day, however, the youth caught it in a large oak tree and despite his best efforts, he was unable to get it down. Winner said he recalled looking up at it, unreachable and unable to change the reality that it was lost to him forever.
“I still think of it today,” he said.
As the years went by and his economic situation changed, Winner said could afford all the new lures he ever wanted, and used them when fishing with his father.
“I wanted jitterbugs, Johnson spoons, sonics, flatfish, and of course, frog-colored hula poppers,” he said. “By 1964, I had the biggest tackle box made. It was a Plano eight-tray box, four on each side. It was soon full to the top and overflowing. It weighed so much that it hurt my arm to carry far. They didn’t make a tackle box large enough to hold all the different colors and styles of lure I thought I needed.”
That’s when he said he remembered the old homemade hula popper he had made and all the fish he caught with it.
“I got much satisfaction out of catching fish on lures that I had made,” he admits. “So I started making my own lures again. I made Spinner baits, prop baits, jigs and frog-colored hula poppers.”
Although his lures may not have been the most impressive on the market, Winner said, “They still catch fish, even if they don’t look quite as good as what you can buy.”
After 62 years of fishing, Winner said he has “come full circle and am right back where I started from. But now I sand my lures and use many colors of paint. I just finished a new batch of homemade lures. This time I made them out of an old broom handle. Can’t wait to try them out!”
Henry David Thoreau said, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” Winner is not one of those men. He knows. After more than six decades he knows fishing is not about the fish. It’s something far more intangible and far more enduring — even endearing. His memories with his father, year-after-year, fishing in lakes, rivers and mainly in the portion of the Gulf of Mexico nearest Tarpon Springs, Fla., for six decades have given him something to cherish for the rest of his life.
“My Dad and I did live-bate fishing. Those were special times in my life,” he said. “Very special times.”
Whether it’s a hot, humid morning before sunrise or a foggy, frosty cold winter’s eve — the charm of fishing has brought Winner the refreshing cool of being with his father and many warm memories of relaxing, reflecting and recreating on the river. To this day, he still goes fishing at least once a week.
The favorite pastime of millions brought him and his father together in a special bond that transcended fishing — that made the elusive attainable — not just in catching fish, but in the hope that fathers and sons will catch each other’s hearts forever and hold onto that elusive bond of love.