Bailey Mapp, of Tuscaloosa, AL, first published this piece in “Rayburn Family Reunion,” which was published in Pontotoc, MS, in July 2001 and tracked the genealogy of the Rayburn family. Today, Bailey is a retired colonel in the United States Air Force.
By Bailey Mapp
When you think back on the great moments of your life, odds are that your family played a big role. For a father and son, one of the most memorable rites of passage is when the son finally “bests” his father at something for the first time.
With four kids in our family, there weren’t many things that my father and I did alone together. In fact, there was only one…fishing. We both loved to float around a farm pond on a spring morning, frightening the frogs off the bank and shooing away mosquitoes big enough to use for bait. Whether we were fly fishing for strawberry bream or spin casting for big-mouth bass, my father always caught the largest fish of the day. Always!
I can see him now, expertly maneuvering with the paddle in one hand and a rod in the other. I always fussed that his position at the front of the boat gave him an advantage. He would reply that if I couldn’t catch a fish with two hands, how did I expect to land a fish using only one?
In my eagerness to beat him to a bream bed, I’d often cast too near the bank, flinging my line into a bait-eating tree. When this happened, Dad was always patient. Of course, he would fish the bed empty before he’d paddle to shore and retrieve my line. I guess that was his way of teaching me patience.
I remember a beautiful May morning in 1980. I had just finished my freshman year at Ole Miss and this was our first fishing trip of the year. It’s no wonder poets and painters are inspired by standing on the edge of a pond where wide azaleas bloom in the brush and cattails march down the banks into the water. Oh, that wonderful, slightly nauseating sense of anticipation teetering on anxiety! Could this be the day when that prehistoric throwback of a bass chooses my line over Dad’s?
Imagine how my adrenal glands reacted when on this day I hear Dad say, “You take the front seat,” as we pushed the 7-foot flat-bottom boat into the muddy water.
“Me?” I asked.
“No, I was talking to that cow over there.”
Okay, so I made that last part up. But letting the cow paddle seemed just as likely to me. Still, I took my place in front, and after a wobbly start getting the hang of paddling and casting–which is much more difficult than walking and chewing gum–it happened! A tug so firm on my line that I thought I’d snagged a submerged log. I knew I was dealing with a whopper when the line played off the reel as though hooked to the back of a motorboat.
Dad kept casting at first, but my struggle soon caught his attention. “Play him. Keep the slack out of the line,” he said
I barely heard him, what with the paddling, playing, praying. Despite my lack of grace, I soon had that fish near enough to the boat for Dad to slip a net under his belly. What a sight! By far the biggest fish I’d ever caught. For the rest of the day, I nervously compared each of Dad’s catches to my bass. By the time we returned to shore, mine proved at least a pound heavier than his best.
Although my father wasn’t much on compliments–and Lord knows he hated to lose–I think he was proud of me as he showed that fish to the owner of the little farm pond.
As I think back on it now, I realize this was not only the first time I’d ever had the catch of the day, but remarkably, this was also the last time I ever spent a day on a pond with my father. After that, college studies, ballgames, and frat parties must have gotten in the way. But, no frat party or ballgame stands out more in my mind than that transforming moment on a sunny day in May when a boy became a man.