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Jack Zaleski, Published June 08 2013

Zaleski: At 7 years old, she’s a master angler

When my wife and I sold our home last fall and began downsizing, I sent my fishing gear to Vermont, where my daughter and her triplet girls live. I had lot of stuff: tackle boxes filled with lures, among them newer walleye crank baits and a few 50-year-old poppers and daredevils that belonged to my father and uncle; seven casting and spinning rigs, including a beautiful stainless casting reel my dad bought in the 1950s; and my first rod, a stiff J.C. Higgins fiberglass from Sears.

Didn’t think much about the equipment until I heard one of the girls, nature-loving Bennett Sage, took to fishing like I did when I was 7 years old. She’s obsessed with everything angling, her mother said. She was studying my old rods and reels, her mom said, and classifying and cleaning the old lures. “And she can really cast.” I had my doubts.

Our visit out there in April dispelled the doubts.

One sunny afternoon Bennett pulled me off the woodpile where I was splitting firewood. “Come watch me cast,” she said. We took a spinning rig off the barn wall, and she got right to it. The line fixed with a light lure and sinker, tiny Bennett (40 inches tall and slim as a reed) showed off her newfound casting skill. I was astounded. She had it down. She brought her little arm way back, pointed to a gap between the wood piles, and then proceeded again and again to whip the lure precisely on the spot where she was aiming.

Her smile was as big as the barnyard.

It took me back to my boyhood in Connecticut when my father taught me to cast a lure. I got pretty good at it, but I wasn’t all that good at age 7 – certainly not as good as Bennett is.

After the surprising casting demonstration, she proudly showed me how she had arranged all my old lures – and a few new ones her mom bought her – in the tackle boxes. Very organized; very neat. And then – more surprises – she showed me how to push a hook through a plastic worm. “I can do it with real worms at the pond,” she said. “You need real worms to catch a fish,” she solemnly declared. Her mother reports she has been catching sunfish, perch and trout in nearby lakes and rivers like a pro.

Wow. A fishing tradition that started with my dad and uncle, and continued with me and my kids, has been taken up by newbie angler extraordinaire Bennett Sage. Makes me smile. Her great-grandfather and great-uncle would smile, too.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.