My daughter’s thirteenth birthday was coming up, and I wanted to do something special for her. I had hinted around about getting concert tickets to the latest boy band that she’s crazy about. I figured that would earn me a Dad-of-the-Year award, but, instead, I was surprised when Carrie asked, “Dad, will you take me fishing, like we used to?”
“I’d love to! You got it, kiddo,” I beamed.
Carrie had always been a little bit of a tomboy. Loved climbing trees, playing outside. Not afraid of getting dirty—used to revel in it, actually. Taking her fishing was our daddy-daughter ritual. But the last couple of years she had drifted more toward malls and music and all the typical things preteen girls do at that age. So, I was pleasantly surprised that she would still want to hang out with dear old dad.
“Next weekend. Table Rock Lake. How ’‘bout it?”
Carrie grinned and so did I.
Table Rock Lake is famous for their bass fishing, which was one of the reasons I chose to take Carrie there. The first time I fished there, I was with my father and we enjoyed it so much that it became one of our favorite fishing trips together. I wanted to share my fond experience with Carrie.
We arrived the following Friday evening and checked into our suite at the Port of Kimberling Marina and Resort. I figured, why not go all out? It was my little girl’s birthday after all, and just because we were there to fish didn’t mean we couldn’t enjoy a luxury room with a view. And what a view it was! The sun glinted off the rippling water, and I could hear the fish calling our names.
Carrie tossed her bags in her room and said, “I’m going to check out the pool!” The pool was one of the reasons I chose this place. I knew she would love it. Well, that and the free Wi-Fi. She may be a sweet kid spending time with her old man, but she’s still officially a teenager.
While Carrie went for a quick swim, I called the local fishing guide I hired for the next day to confirm our reservation and to set up a little surprise for Carrie. With so much water to cover at Table Rock Lake (45,000 acres of surface water), we needed an expert local guide to show us the best fishing spots. I wanted to make sure Carrie had every opportunity possible for a good birthday on the water.
Saturday was Carrie’s actual birthday, but I took her out for a celebratory dinner at Florentina’s Italian Ristorante Friday night. She loves Italian food and was excited to dive into a plate of chicken fettucini alfredo. The atmosphere was casual at Florentina’s, but Carrie and I both dressed up for the occasion. The servers made it a special night and sang “Happy Birthday” to her. Outwardly, she tried to play it cool, but I could tell she loved all the attention.
Our fishing guide met us at the marina early the next morning. Carrie was yawning and rubbing her eyes, but I knew she was pumped. She does this little back and forth bounce whenever she’s really excited about something, and she was doing it on the docks as the boat pulled into the slip.
We’d brought our old but sturdy rods and our guide had more bait and tackle than either of us knew what to do with. “Ready?” I asked Carrie, holding out my right hand for the secret handshake I used to do with her when she was younger. It had been a while since we’d done it, and I wondered if she would play along in front of a stranger. I felt a little silly standing there with my hand out in front of her.
“Daa-ad!” She laughed, rolled her eyes and then gave me “five” to start the handshake. “You’re such a nerd,” she said as we finished the shake and climbed into the boat.
Our guide took us out to deeper waters where we were hoping to catch some bass. As he brought out the bait and tackle, I pulled a wrapped gift from behind the seat. This was the surprise I had arranged the day before.
“Happy birthday, young lady.” I handed the gift to Carrie.
She looked genuinely surprised. “I thought this trip was my present.”
“It’s part of it. Go on. Open it.”
“No way!” Carrie squealed as she unwrapped the gift and realized what it was—a new Lew’s rod and reel. “Thanks, Dad!” She gave me a huge hug.
As soon as we got her rod set up and her line ready, our guide asked her what type of lure she wanted and seemed impressed when she answered without hesitation, “Pass me a skirted jig, please.”
“The girl knows her stuff,” I said.
“Well, you’re the one who taught me,” Carrie said as she tied the lure on her own, struggling a little at first. It took everything I had not to jump in and do it for her, but I knew she wanted to do this on her own. And she did. Then she added the bait, looked over at me, and, squinting in the early morning sun, asked, “Ready?”
I finished baiting my hook, my chest swelling with pride at Carrie’s skills, and joined her. “Ready. Just like old times. On three.”
“One, two, three!” Carrie giggled.
We both cast out into the water. There was the whir of the line releasing and the satisfying plop as the lures hit the water. We sat for a moment enjoying the silence from the surrounding natural scenery—no expansive developments in sight. Even after all those years since I was first there with my father, the lake was still pristine, from the unspoiled shoreline to the crystal clear water.
The boat rocked as the gentle waves lapped against the side of the boat. A bird called out somewhere near the shore. A cool breeze blew Carrie’s hair from her face. She looked older somehow. More mature. 13 going on 20. I could only hope that she would still want to go fishing with me at 16, 20, 30, and beyond. I briefly wondered if my father had any reservations about me at that age. Luckily, I never stopped enjoying my time with him on the lake and it was an experience we shared for many years.
“Dad. Dad!” Carrie’s shouts brought me back to the present.
“What is it?” I asked. It took me a second to realize what was happening.
“It’s a big one,” she said cranking her new reel. “I’m gonna need your help.”
I smiled, realizing I shouldn’t worry or doubt her. I was more than happy to oblige, knowing this would be the first of many more fishing trips to Table Rock Lake.