7 cottage lessons we learned from our fathers

Father and son fishing

Chances are, if there’s a cottage in your family, you grew up there learning certain lessons: how to make the dash from the back porch to the lake without getting eaten by mosquitoes; how to wash your sandy feet off in a bucket of water by the door before going inside; and how to keep a marshmallow in the fire just long enough so it browned but didn’t catch fire.

You may have also learned specific lessons from your dad—lessons that you may find yourself passing on to future generations of cottage-goers. In honour of Father’s Day, here are a few classic cottage lessons we picked up from dear old dad—and we’re sure many of you did, too.

1. How to catch bait

Anyone can go to the store (or, in some towns, the vending machine at the gas station) and buy a container of worms. It takes skill, though, to catch live bait. It can also be more effective for fish like bass and Northern pike. While you can fish for bigger bait fish like sunfish, watching Dad take a flat net and some scrap bread, lower it into the shallows, and pull out a wriggling crop of minnows is a valuable lesson when the fishies aren’t biting.

2. How to get a spiny fish off a hook

If you’re on a lake that’s stocked mainly with bass, you know that those suckers have spiny fins that will impale your hands and get blood all over the boat—unless you’re very, very careful. Although he’ll usually just “lip” the fish to extract the hook, if it’s necessary, watch Dad gently slide his hands from the fish’s head toward the tail, laying the spines down flat and holding it tight around the body.

3. How to build a campfire

It seems dads can build campfires anytime, anywhere—whether it’s windy or freezing or the wood’s been left out all night in the pouring rain. Whether they always keep a stash of kindling and wood indoors, or they’ve got a surefire fire-starter, dads know that fires need lots of oxygen and heat to get going, as well as regular care and feeding.

4. The best songs to play once the campfire is going

Lots of dads like to pull out their guitars and make music wherever they are—and there’s no better place to do that than around a campfire on a starry night. Musical dads know that the best campfire sing-a-longs don’t just have to be “Kumbaya,” but they should be relatively easy to play, have a predictable melody, and include a catchy chorus that everyone can pick up easily, even if they don’t know the verses.

5. How to make the perfect cottage cocktail

Happy hour at the cottage is more important than happy hour anywhere else, and dads know this better than anyone. While it’s perfectly acceptable (and easy) to drink beer or wine, really dedicated dads have one or two signature cocktails. Maybe it’s a Manhattan—bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters, with a cherry if you’re feeling fancy—or a Salty Dog—gin and grapefruit juice or grapefruit soda, served in a glass rimmed with regular or seasoned salt—that he’s quick to prep when guests are around.

6. How to make the outhouse a little less icky

Although many cottages have indoor plumbing, some still use outhouses, even if it’s only in the winter. If your dad was the handy type, he may have prettied up the privy with painted shutters, a polished-wood toilet seat, and even a handy shelf for reading material (which, in a pinch, can double as toilet paper). If he wasn’t exactly the fix-it type, he may have provided a welcome distraction by covering the walls of the outhouse with amusing sayings and graffiti. Whatever he did, you learned that outhouses don’t have to be dark, dank pits of stink.

7. How to barbecue

Even dads not renowned for their patience become Zen masters when waiting for charcoal to heat up, because they know meat needs heat. And even if all they have to do is switch on the propane and light the gas grill, dads still know (and will tell anyone that will listen) the best way to grill a steak or a burger.