My father kept his fishing tackle in a clunky, metal box, stained with scales and dried blood, and filled with a decrepit assortment of rusty lures, dull hooks and tangled lines.
Some of his equipment might have predated Izaak Walton. All of it appeared to. A week after coming into contact with his fishing box, the brightest silver lure looked like it had spent a century buried at sea.
I was reminded of him last week, on the first sunny day in weeks, by Leon Machlin. The retired patent examiner was drowning worms with his 12-year-old grandson in the C&O Canal, using the sweetest mess of fishing equipment I've seen since my father died.
Machlin's fiberglass pole was so worn, it was impossible to tell what color it had originally been. His reel was attached to that awesome rod by two metal clamps from a local hardware store.
But his grandson, Robbie Rosenthal, had the real piece of work. His pole was covered in green felt and thick wraps of black tape. It looked like it had been chewed on by a great white shark, then dragged across the Atlantic behind a tramp steamer.
"It's good enough for bluegills," said Machlin, ignoring his own bobber to concentrate on Rosenthal's for signs of life. "I'm trying to teach him the art of fishing."
If you subscribe to fishing magazines, you know the modern pioneers in the sport are keeping pace with the space age. Carbon rods, magnetic reels, even self-propelled lures are the weaponry anglers are now expected to use in pursuit of trophy-sized game.
But walk along the canal and you can still find masters of an older art, using beat-up equipment and large chunks of patience to catch something bigger than fish.
My father was an expert at that game. For a man who spent so much time fishing, he managed to learn very little about technique. Lure speed, bottom contour and presentation were as mysterious to him as the workings of a diesel engine. His specialties were baiting hooks, cooking fish wrapped in bacon and singing songs in a brogue that was as thick at the age of 60 as it was when he left his father's farm in County Limerick at 17.
At least four times each summer, my father would charter a fishing boat on Chesapeake Bay for the six kids in our family and a dozen more who played football, basketball or baseball for our elementary school.
Captains would shriek to see us coming, piled four deep in and half out of a battered station wagon.
By the time we grew old enough to fish with dad beside a river or lake, we had been spoiled. Without a boat, a bay and crowds of friends fighting for choice positions at the bow for the frothy ride home, fishing seemed impossibly slow.
Mechlin was facing a similar challenge with his grandson last week beside the canal. Because Rosenthal's father does not fish, the boy is exposed to the piscatorial art only when his grandfather visits Massachusetts or his family travels to Bethesda.
With so few chances each year to hook a 12-year-old on the joy of fishing, Mechlin is always anxious for his grandson to do well. So he was disappointed when the morning passed with only one bluegill caught, and that one by Mechlin.
"I'd much rather he caught it," said Mechlin, sitting very still on an overturned fish bucket, watching Rosenthal sit, stand, then sprawl on a small wooden dock. Occasionally the boy would reel in his line and begin throwing odd, sidearm casts into the water.
"At least I can practice my tennis," said the dark haired boy.
Mechlin likes to catch fish. But during many years examining obtuse and complicated plans for better mousetraps and electric baby bottles, fishing became a refuge in simplicity, a quiet time to contemplate the natural order of hungry fish and wiggling worms.
At 1 p.m., it was time to leave the canal for lunch. While Rosenthal packed his gear, his grandfather looked up and down the empty tow path and made a wish. "It would be nice to have more people fish here," he said. "Sometimes it's kind of lonesome."