By Jeff Mullin Senior Writer

I used to dread the early morning knocks at my bedroom door.

"Come on," he'd say. "It's time to go."

Sometimes I'd bury my head beneath the pillow and beg for a few more minutes of sleep.

"I'm leaving," he would say. "If you're going with me, come on."

Sometimes I would say, "You go ahead." He wouldn't answer, but a few minutes later I would hear the front door close, the sound itself somehow disapproving of my sloth.

Most of the time I would drag myself out of bed, the remnants of sleep slowing my movements. After I managed to dress and brush my teeth, I would find him in the kitchen, filling one Thermos bottle with coffee and the other with water.

"I've made us a couple of sandwiches," he would say. "You ready?"

I would mutter something about it being so early not even God was awake, and follow him out to the car.

I was about to make another memory to which I would cling the rest of my life, but I was too young, and too stupid, to realize it.

We were going fishing, my father and I. Just the two of us, in the warmth of summer and the chill of winter, seeking everything from flounder to salmon.

We sweltered in aluminum boats under the relentless July sun, in wide-brimmed hats, jeans and long-sleeved shirts buttoned clear up to the neck. I wanted to wear shorts and T-shirts. He knew better, of course, but occasionally he'd let me find out for myself.

Fishing with my father taught me much more than simply how painful sunburn can be. He taught me to bait your own hook, to tend your own pole. Unless, of course, he was catching more fish than me and I whined loud enough that he couldn't stand it anymore. Then we'd switch, and he'd start catching fish with my pole. This really made me crazy.

He taught me never to put my hand down on a crab. Actually I learned this lesson on my own. On an ocean fishing expedition we had tossed a few crabs we'd caught into the bottom of the boat. At one point I lost my balance, and put my hand on the deck to catch myself. Unfortunately my hand came down on the back of a crab, who took offense and grabbed my palm with his pincers. My screams, my father said, sounded like the siren of a fire boat.

He taught me to tie my own flies, small, colorful faux insects designed to make fish throw caution to the wind in their pursuit of what they believed to be a tasty morsel. His were perfect, just like the ones in the fly catalogs. Mine always look like they'd been chewed up and spit out.

He taught me to handle a fly rod, an operation requiring rhythm and balance as delicate as that of a ballroom dancer. He taught me to read trout streams, to divine the nooks and eddies in which the fish were most likely to lurk.

He taught me fishing didn't always mean catching. He tried to teach me patience, but he wasn't a patient man himself, and was always the one want-ing to move to another spot if we weren't catching fish within a few minutes of our arrival.

He taught me to clean what I caught, to always use a sharp knife and to bury the fish guts in the garden. He taught me never to keep more than my limit and that if a fish died, we had to keep it no matter how small it was.

He taught me that, if I got my line tangled in a tree or snagged on a log, it was my responsibility to untangle it or to work it loose.

He taught me to handle disappointment. Once we awoke in the wee hours, loaded the car and drove two hours for the opening day of trout season. I had a brand new pair of chest waders, which I wore proudly as I waded out into an ice-cold, fast-moving stream. I hadn't been in the water five minutes when I stepped on a mossy rock and fell, filling my boots with water and soaking myself to the bone. He bundled me up in a blanket and drove home as quickly as he could, with the car heater on high. He didn't complain, didn't criticize. He did, however, grind his teeth somewhat loudly.

I used to dread the early morning knocks at my bedroom door.

I never knew how much I would miss them.

Mullin is senior writer of the News -- Eagle.

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