My grandmother's name was Annette, but we called her "Chummy." The nickname was based on a neighbor's dog, named "Chub," which I could only pronounce at the time as "Chum." Since I liked the dog and liked my grandmother, it seemed natural to call her by the dog's name. "Chum" quickly became "Chummy," and my family used that as her name from that time forward.
Chummy lived to fish and fished to live. Saltwater, freshwater, night, day, winter, summer, big fish, little fish--it didn't matter to her as long as she had a rod and water. She never gave up, always waiting for that next bite while softly whistling between her teeth and persistently trying to talk the fish into biting. When I was younger, I would ask her if she had a bite anytime she shifted or moved her rod. It was enough to drive anyone else crazy, but she handled it with her angling-learned patience.
Regardless of conditions or lack of cooperation from the fish, Chummy would keep fishing longer than anyone I have ever known. She took my dad bass fishing one summer many years ago. I can't remember whose fault it was, but the canoe tipped over and they lost everything but one rod and a couple chicken sandwiches that floated to the surface. My grandmother refused to leave, salvaged the chicken as bait, and proceeded to catch bass till the chicken was gone.
When my mom was in high school, her family would vacation during the summer in Equinunk, Pennsylvania, near the Delaware River. My grandmother used to fish the Delaware every day, and when she grew tired of rowing, she would get my mom to row the boat by bribing her with puffs from her cigarette.
In elementary school and junior high, I remember long hours in the car to visit Chummy twice a year in Florida, wondering what we were going to catch this time. After we pulled up and said our greetings, she would look at me, nod, and answer the question already starting to form on my lips, "Yes, I have the shrimp. Grab the rods. Let's go." The tackle was kept in her unit's storage closet in the basement parking area, which smelled of salt and sand. She would always give me the choice of which rod to use and then we would be off to the local beach or marina or sea wall. It didn't matter to either of us where we went, as long as we were together and going fishing.
When separated by distance, we would often write back and forth about our fishing exploits; complete with embellishments typical of anglers who weren't present to witness each other's catches. I miss those letters and our times together on the water.
My grandmother helped shape my life. She gave me my life's passion, my focus in college and graduate school, and eventually my profession. Through her, I gained the indescribable anticipation that is fishing. That inability to sleep well the night before a big fishing trip, never knowing what you might find at the end of your line the next day. Through her, I learned the patience and persistence it takes to become an accomplished angler, and the humor, companionship, and generosity that is generated when fishing with someone who enjoys fishing as much as you do.
The last time we fished together was 12 years ago at Martin Meadow Pond, a small waterbody in Lancaster, New Hampshire, where we had fished together countless times. This time, my young son and I were the only ones fishing as her failing health relegated her to an observer's role. Regardless, Chummy was as focused as ever, watching intently over every cast and lure change. She shouted out with glee when we caught a fish, and shared words of encouragement when we didn't. I like to think that she was proud of me that day, seeing the angler and man I had become. This summer, I am going to sprinkle some of her ashes in that little pond.
Do you remember the person who first taught you to fish? If they are still with us, give them a big hug and thanks. If they have already passed on, thank them in prayer or thought. Most importantly; selflessly give the gift of fishing to someone else in the same way it was given to you.
* In-Fisherman Contributor Gabe Gries lives in southwestern New Hampshire and works as a fishery biologist for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.