“I got one,” my seven-year-old granddaughter announced a couple of Sundays ago while fishing with her dad, her two first-cousins, and me. My granddaughter’s stubby fishing rod bent double but the line held as she slowly maneuvered a catfish almost as long as her rod toward the dock. Her nine-year-old first-cousin carefully swept the fish into her outstretched net and lifted it onto the dock.

My son Jon and I took three of my four grandchildren on a fishing excursion to a farm pond with abundant bluegills, bass, and catfish. The owners carefully manage their pond and any upstream runoff with filter strips. We flushed pheasants, quail, and butterflies, which the kids pointed out as we drove through a field to the pond.

Lest I violate a fisherman’s pledge, I won’t tell where this well-kept farm pond exists. Jon’s oldest daughter caught the biggest catfish, a 14-inch bass, and a huge bluegill. Her rod broke while reeling in an even bigger bass. My seven-year-old grandson caught his first fish ever, a hefty bluegill that matched his cousin’s bluegill.

The well-acquainted cousins bantered excitedly, “Good cast. I got the biggest fish. Quit bragging.” Hmm, were they already into telling fish stories? I baited hooks with worms and untangled fishing lines, while Jon coached the youngsters how to cast with their rods. Jon also took the official photographs.

As we departed the pond in Jon’s truck, he asked the kids if they wanted to fish again. A chorus of “Next weekend, next weekend” erupted. Visiting a DQ for treats further cemented our plans for fishing again soon. The kids were discovering how enjoyable everything about fishing is, even if you don’t catch fish.

Jon asked them, “Do you know what you get when a big fish breaks your rod?” Silence! He explained, “You get a new and better fishing rod like I did when a monster bass broke my first rod.”

“Oh,” the three youngsters responded while contemplating the promise of even more good things to come. Our conversation continued when we resumed traveling homeward. I mentioned that the kids should thank the landowners who created superb habitat for fish and wild animals. “How did they get their good fishing pond?” my oldest granddaughter asked.

I explained how the pond was constructed and how beneficial farmland management with grass and prairie flower strips keeps pollutants out of the pond. I knew the kids listened intently, for they launched into a game of who could be the first to spot a blooming wildflower along the highway.

The grandkids requested holding a fish fry featuring their trophies. Jon and I assented. I cleaned their fish after they left for their homes. Becoming a fishing mentor to my grandchildren is no longer on my “bucket list.” It’s already becoming accomplished. It started with my children.

Jon was only three when he and I went fishing together for the first time. A popular family story is that Jon was born with a fishing pole in his hands. When he was five he demonstrated his fishing prowess to a twenty-something apprentice farmer from Europe who lived with us. He and Jon cast worms into a seldom-fished farm pond that was loaded with bluegills and bass, while I cast my hand-tied flies with a fly rod when I wasn’t needed to assist anyone.

Jon and I soon caught a couple dozen “keeper” fish, but the apprentice caught only two “keepers.” Standing next to Jon on the pond’s edge he repeatedly cast similar earthworms and grasshoppers. I teased our European friend if he knew the definition of fishing. He didn’t laugh when I explained: “It’s a jerk at one end of a fishing line waiting for a jerk at the other end.”

He exchanged fishing equipment with Jon. Jon continued to catch fish, even on a bare hook, but not our apprentice. Over the next year, our much-loved apprentice became proficient at fishing and farming.

Fishing is so much more than landing “big ones.” While fishing together Jon and I developed a deep bond that has grown into a highly satisfying and honest friendship. We can share our most important observations and worries confidentially. Jon never brags nor does he complain when he has to help me, as I become clumsier with age.

Jon’s other daughter, almost six, has a promising future as a fisher too. She is in good teaching hands with her father, and her mother, who likes fishing from a boat and regularly catches the most fish.

My daughter prefers camping, biking, and hiking over fishing, as does her husband, but he likes hunting pheasants with Jon and me as his favorite recreation. It doesn’t matter if not everyone enjoys catching and eating fish. What does matter is that we pass along life-long bonding experiences with the next generation and engender respect for maintaining a healthy environment.