Friday, March 8, 2002

It's Not About the Toys

I was just doing some e-mail administration and cleanup and I came across some stuff from an e-mail listserve discussion thread of a while back about why we fish with bamboo rods. I thought I'd pass on this little bit of flotsam.

This happened one evening when I was fishing in western Wisconsin in the spring of 1998. It was one of those beautiful May evenings we get too few of around here. I pulled up to one of my favorite spots and noted only one car parked there. I thought myself lucky, as this place is also one of everybody else's favorite spots. I got out of my car and walked onto the bridge, as is my wont, just to check out the stream. It was running well if a bit cloudy. Downstream about 200 yards I could see the owner of the other car, slowly casting across and downstream. I didn’t think much about it and turned to gear up.

As I finished pulling on my waders, an older gentleman came walking out of the woods - the fisherman from downstream. We shyly greeted each other. Shyly, because in this day and age you aren't ever sure if you're welcome at the stream, even though the law and fishing regulations may be on your side. When we both figured out we were "friendlys," he came over and we started to chat. He was fishing with his son, he said. He was visiting from Florida and they had a chance this evening to wet a line. His son runs a commercial graphics business in the northern metro of Minneapolis/St. Paul and is pretty busy.

The old gentleman mentioned that he hadn't fished in ten years. First the move to Florida, and more recently cancer had cut into his fishing. The disease had ravaged his casting arm to the point where it looked like he’d taken a grenade in Korea. His elbow was covered with a bandage from his most recent surgery. He said he'd been in and out of the hospital eight or nine times in the last three years, but he felt he was holding his own. I allowed as how perhaps the fishing was the best therapy he could find at this point and he heartily agreed. I tried but I couldn't take my eyes off his arm, wondering at the courage I felt it took to fish when he wasn't even healed from the knife. It made the scratches I'd gotten earlier in the evening from a patch of thistles look pretty silly.

We talked some more about how big the fish were – or weren't – in this stream, and whether it mattered. We decided it didn't. Just to have the opportunity to catch them was all either of us needed. Seven inches or twenty-two, the privilege was the same.

I waded in and started to fish while he watched. As I moved upstream, he started chatting with a couple of farm kids who came down with their worms to try their luck. I got involved with my tangled line and then a fish or two and lost sight of him. The next time I turned around, he was still talking to the kids.

When I finally got back to the car a few hours later, he was gone. He and his son had that evening of fishing that they wanted and that he needed. I hope it makes the difference for him.

Oh yeah – he fished with a 35 year old Shakespeare fiberglass rod and a shiny green automatic reel. You see, it’s not about what the rods are made of. Fishing’s not about the toys. It’s about wearing them out with people you love.

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