story and photo by John Adamski
I come from a family of fishermen. My father and his three brothers, all past on now, were lifetime fishing buddies from boyhood on. Starting out together at the local fishing hole in Buell’s Woods in Irondequoit, NY, their angling adventures eventually took them to places in the Finger Lakes, the Adirondacks, the Thousand Islands, and Canada. So it should come as no surprise that I was raised with a rod and reel in my hand as well.
My first memories of fishing with my father go back to age 6, when he taught me how to be patient watching a cork bobber while waiting for a nibble. But I took my love for fishing even further than most people. In our twenties and thirties, my fishing buddy Dave and I chartered bush pilots for backcountry floatplane fishing trips and by my mid-forties I operated my own 30-foot charter-fishing vessel on Lake Ontario.
Two of my father’s brothers were gone by then and my folks retired to a lakefront home in Florida, where Dad could simply walk out of the door when he wanted to fish. But this story is really about his brother, Chris—a man who crafted his own rods, made his own tackle, and built several boats during a lifetime devoted to his love of fishing.
On days when I didn’t have a charter scheduled, I would often invite Uncle Chris to join me and my teenage son and first mate, John, to spend a day on the big lake fishing for trout and salmon. My boat was outfitted with the latest in fishing technology and Chris was fascinated by the gadgetry. On occasions when my folks were visiting from Florida, my father would join us on these spontaneous fishing trips as well. Those days stand out among my fondest memories.
But Chris had another love that captivated his interest: Bird watching. He enjoyed feeding birds but he was particularly fascinated with raptors—especially the red-tailed hawk. And many of his family and friends knew that. On any number of occasions, as we trolled the shorelines of Lake Ontario for springtime browns and rainbows, Chris would scan the skies to see what he could see. Often, and probably in an effort to verify his failing eyesight, he would ask me, “John, is that a red-tailed hawk?” And more often than not, it was.
Uncle Chris passed on in 1995 at the age of 83. But his graveside ceremony is something that I will never forget. Because as the priest was conducting the rights of committal, a red-tailed hawk appeared from nowhere and landed alongside the group of 50-or-so people assembled at his grave. It stood at attention until the ceremony was over and then flew off. One of Uncle Chris’ cousins who also his close friend, was standing next to me and asked, “Was that a red-tailed hawk?” When I answered in the affirmative, he responded, “I thought so.”