My Old Man & The Shark

As it is for most of us who enjoy the outdoors, my parents were the reason for my passion in fishing and other outdoor activities.  In honor of Father's Day, I wanted to share a story with you of an event that shaped my love for the Great Outdoors.  

My very first memory as a kid was at our house in Marathon, Florida, when I was just over about three years old. We had a canal running through our back yard, and I was always fascinated with the ecosystem that flourished within it.

One day, as my father was doing some yard work, I begged and pleaded for my Donald Duck push button rod. Finally, giving in to my relentlessness, I remember my dad coming over with a bucket of live shrimp (which we always seemed to have at the ready) as well as my fateful blue and white cartoon rod. I recall my father pulling a small grey shrimp out of the bucket and demonstrating how to hook the crustacean. "Through the horn, Miles, just like I taught you before," he said. I'm sure he had to show me many times afterwards. As was standard operating procedure, he also clipped a small red and white bobber onto the line.

Once the setup was complete, he handed me the rod and walked me through how to cast- but I already knew. Using my whole upper body, I wound up and swung the bobber, and the shrimp, into the canal. I'm sure that in reality that cast probably only landed a few feet from where I was standing on the dock, but to me, it seemed like the most perfect cast I had ever seen. After all, I was an expert since my dad had been training me how to cast with a little red rubber weight for months.

The shrimp faded from view, and the ripples around the bobber disappeared. My father instructed me to be patient and to watch the bobber, and after he was satisfied that I would follow his instructions he walked back to his project just feet away.

It seemed like an eternity that I waited. Losing interest in the motionless red and white orb floating on the surface, I began to look for signs of life to pass the time. It wasn't hard to find fish from the vantage point on the dock, there was plenty. Directly under the bobber there was a small submerged skiff, that to me at that age seemed like a massive sunken ship. The bow of the skiff, covered in brownish-green algae, was visible through the glassy water, and I remember a variety of fish darting in and out of the shadows.

As I watched for more fish, I recall being surprised by the sudden pulling sensation in my hands. My grip tightened. I immediately regained focus and I tried desperately to remember what the next step was that my dad had taught me. "Reel!" I began cranking the reel handle and started pulling with all my might. The drag began to give without sign of stopping, and I'm sure that I figured that cranking against the drag would be the best method to fight back.

"Fish……..FEEESSHH!" I cried. I know that my dad didn't immediately believe me, because he had turned around and saw that my rod was bent beyond the capability of any fish we had caught in the canal before. "You're stuck on the skiff" he exclaimed. Ignoring his skepticism I kept at my persistence that I in fact had a fish on the line, and it was BIG.

My mom, who was working in the top floor of our houseboat, and hearing the ruckus outside, walked from her project inside and stood over the railing to see what was going on. I can't remember exactly what she said first, but she was obviously surprised at what she saw. "Gary, he is not stuck on the bottom, he has something big on the line." With confirmation from another adult, my dad quickly joined my side and realized that I had bitten off a little more than I could chew.

I recall only feeling the pull of the fish, the scream of the drag, and the sight of a huge tan blur under the water. I'm sure my dad was horrified when he realized what I had actually hooked- a four foot nurse shark that had taken up residence in our dead-end canal.

Instead of immediately taking the rod from my hands, which I'm sure was his first instinct, he began to instruct me on completing the task. "Don't reel against the drag, Miles. Remember to pull up, and reel down. Pull up..." I still wasn't gaining any ground.

After coaching me on fighting the fish, but still not winning the fight, he finally took control and hand lined the fish until the line finally popped. There was no other option, since the dock was several feet above the water and there was nowhere to beach the beast.

I watched as my prize torpedoed off down the canal, with plume of mud trailing behind it. I'm sure I was a mixture of disappointed and excited, but my dad encouraged me to be excited about what a great job I had done.

That was the moment that changed my life, and that I realized that fishing was going to be a major part of my future, and I think my dad realized that too. From that day forward he continued to help foster my passion for fishing and the outdoors, taking me fishing at every opportunity, and look where I am today. That was the day that my dad ignited a passion and a career that will last a lifetime.

Thanks dad,


Gary Burghoff, better known for his role as "Radar" on the hit TV show MASH, has always encouraged Miles to pursue his passion for fishing.

Gary Burghoff, better known for his role as "Radar" on the hit TV show MASH, has always encouraged Miles to pursue his passion for fishing.