By Bob Bramblet
My dad Bill Bramblet was a career Army Officer, a father of four children. He was a very busy man who didn’t have as much time to spend with us as he would have liked. What time we did have was usually spent outside. He taught me to love fishing and to appreciate nature. Now that I’m a grown man with a nearly grown son of my own, I realize his subtle lessons profoundly shaped my life in countless positive ways.
You might expect a military man would rule his family by a strict book. Not Dad. If you didn’t know any better, you would never guess he was a Ranger who attended the Army War College with General Colin Powell.
One of my earliest memories is spending the summer on Cedar Lake in Canada where we had a family cabin. To get there we’d drive forever. There was no electricity, no bathrooms. We had a little boat and a canoe. I remember my dad baiting my fishing rod. The water was crystal clear. I saw this great big fish come up and take my worm. It was one of the biggest smallmouth the family had ever caught. I felt so proud. That fish hooked me on paddling and fishing for life.
Dad never told us to be quiet, to shut up or pipe down. If we kids got a little too loud, he’d ask, “Did you hear that? That’s a beaver smacking his tail on the water.” We learned to listen. I taught my son the same way. He’s the quietest angler I’ve ever seen.
On Lake Simcoe, Dad showed me how to troll Rapalas along the shoreline in the misty early morning. We caught and released many big largemouth and musky. When you’re looking at a fish so beautiful, it’s hard to filet it and bring it home. Just like we don’t throw our trash on the ground. It’s simple, but you have to learn it somewhere. You just take care of things.
Colonel Bill Bramblet was the post commander of Fort Monroe for many years. The ancient star-shaped fort watched over Hampton Roads, Virginia. It’s an island surrounded by Chesapeake Bay, with a moat filled with fish. We lived in a Victorian house, old and big.
Our first day at the Fort when I was nine, my brother and I climbed a wall posted with a ‘Keep Off’ sign and started fishing. The MPs pulled up. We earned a ride to the station. They called Dad to get us. We didn’t get into trouble. With him, you could never get in trouble for fishing.
The MPs came to know us. They’d tell us not to let anyone see us fishing the moat. We were post kids. It was our back yard.
Some of the old codgers there, NCOs, a lot of them fished from the base piers. They taught me many of the fishing tricks I rely on to this day. They were salty in their language and habits, and sipped at beers hidden in their tackle boxes. They’d fish all day and all night. Dad didn’t say so but I know he approved of the time I spent with these men. It was an education.
Dad was busier than ever when I hit the teenage years. He still took time to share the outdoors with me. I didn’t always deserve it. Once, I brought home a disaster of a report card. I wasn’t much of a student until he sent me to military school. I said, “Dad, I messed up.” Instead of yelling, he took me fishing. Even then, I appreciated that it was special to hang out with Dad. A lot of my friends were never close to their fathers.
My parents retired to Florida while I was in college. He’d tell me about all the incredible fishing opportunities. I would laugh, thinking they were just stories until I visited for the first time. Then I caught a snook. Hooked again. I bought a house just down the street from his Florida home.
Over the years, we have shared some great adventures. They’ve always been about more than the fishing. It all came together for me on Lake Okeechobee a couple years back. My dad is catching bass after bass, big ones. He’s pulling them in left and right. He’s smoking me. At the end of the last day I finally caught a nice fat 8 pounder. “Nice fish Bob,” he says, “Of course I caught a lot more.” I guess I get my sense of humor from him too.
Recently, Dad survived a heart attack. “I’m still kicking,” he proudly says, then goes off to play tennis. He’s 80 years old. Look at this guy. He’s always having a good time. He’s shared a lot of that with us, his children. I appreciate it more now than I did as a snot nosed teenage kid. He taught me everything through fishing. He let me learn on my own, he instilled a lot of ideas. That’s Dad’s wisdom.