“I have laid aside business, and gone a-fishing”. Izaak Walton
The first of April is less than two weeks distant and I am starting to feel that gentle anxiety that portends the beginning of a new spring fishing season. The Master knew precisely what he was doing when he created seasons, most likely for the benefit of those of us who love the outdoors. I am also sure he doesn’t mind other people taking advantage of the weather to pursue less noble pastimes such as golf and baseball. He has given us a magnificent world and challenged us to take advantage of it, relying on our imagination and creativity to maximize the renewable resources we have. My professional career was centered around a high stress environment and I sincerely doubt that I would be here to enjoy a cup of Irish coffee and record a thought or two about how it is that I have come to relish the start of a new fishing season, were it not for the relaxation and challenge fishing has provided over the years.
My earliest memories of fishing go back to Marion, SC, the hometown of my parents. Fishing, in those days, was not high tech. My father and Uncle Ed relied on the careful selection of a simple cane pole, rigged carefully with a split shot, bait hook and float to suspend a cricket a foot or two below the surface of the dark waters of the Little Pee Dee river and the numerous oxbow lakes the river afforded. The quarry was what southerners refer to as bream, redbreast or “warmouth”. These little panfish, ounce for ounce, provided a dandy fish-fight when played against the limber cane poles of the day. There were no sleek, fast bass boats, rather these fish were pursued from handmade, one man boats, where you sat with a live box between your legs and a crude electric trolling motor for power. Crickets, costing a penny a piece, were kept in cricket tubes or cages and subsisted on a diet of a slice or two of raw potato while they awaited their fate. Bream, it seems, could not resist them and nice limits of fat panfish often found their way to the frying pan. As you probed the swamps for these fish, you were often accompanied by water moccasins as thick as your forearm, sliding by casually as they assessed the threat of your incursion into their world. We were not far removed from the 1500’s when Mr. Walton mused about the merits of fishing, at least equipment wise. In spite of the tremendous technological advances in equipment and electronics today, it is still possible to spend a day on the water without bringing a fish to the surface. That is why the sport is referred to as angling…..
When folks are fishing together, the atmosphere around them is one of honesty. It matters not if you are sitting on the bank, dock or occupying a seat in a boat. There is little need to worry about the business of the day which is viewed as a distraction from the serious business of coaxing a fish into your basket. The conference room or the bosses office will seldom provide the soul baring honesty that pervades the conversation while fishing. A basic philosophy that I adhere to religiously is that a day is not complete if you have not laughed hard at some point. As I sit here, I am smiling as I recall the antics of a fellow angler, in a nearby boat, having lost his glasses, stepping into a styrofoam minnow bucket, which promptly exploded scattering minnows all over their boat. His nearly blind scramble to recover the minnows jumping in the floor of his boat resulted in uncontrollable laughter so intense that I thought I would lose my breath. I smile broader as I recall standing in the back of my boat, pushing off of a limb that was caught between the transom and the jack plate, when the push pole slipped off the tree and I executed a perfect header into the cold water of Truman Lake. I was in no mood to spend much time in the water and was struggling to board the boat on the pitiful rescue ladder as I reached out for the help from my partner that never came. He was laughing so hard that he was on his knees as I struggled to climb aboard. I did so and we both laughed until nearly exhausted. My partner, Ralph Biele, is a big guy and when his eyes are dancing around a deep belly laugh, it is contagious, believe me. On another occasion, I was carefully working my way through heavy flooded timber on Truman Lake, intent on long poling a cedar, when I noticed a “gall” on the side of a tree. I touched the gall with my rod and quickly realized that I had just poked a hole in a large hornets nest and was greeted by the 8th Air Force in the form of mad hornets, intent on stinging me to death. I made the trip from the bow to the transom in two steps and gracefully dove over the motor into the welcome coolness of the lake. As I treaded water, a few determined hornets, having already landed on me, managed to sting me underwater, which heightened my anxiety a bit. The hornets were concentrating on my fluorescent pink ball cap, and ignoring my partner, Lee Plunkett, who was busy laughing himself into convulsions. When I asked him to please push the boat off of the nest tree, he breathlessly replied he wasn’t going near the tree and risk being a victim of the second wave of hornets. It is hard to laugh, cry and tread water at the same time, however; it was a matter of necessity and I lived through the experience. I cleverly pitched the hat into the boat which caused Lee to rethink his position and push the boat off.
So it goes. Mr. Walton also remarked that, “Rivers and the inhabitants of the watery element are made for wise men to contemplate, and for fools to pass by without consideration”. I suspect that millions of folks who seek relief from today’s’ s high pressure environment through a prescription for a chemical that mimics the calming affects afforded by fishing, might benefit from the stress reducing qualities the simple act of picking up a rod and pitching a bait will induce. Fishing has become a competitive sport for many, but it need not be for most folks. As a final thought, even if you are afflicted in such a way that you pass by the opportunity that Mr. Walton speaks of, it is never too late to take a child fishing. They will never forget the experience, nor will you!