Why I Admired R. Lee Ermey…..

R. Lee Ermey is gone at the age of 74, having been felled by complications related to pneumonia. It is sad that a man’s man is felled by a disease rather than in a blaze of glory, leading a charge or in a firefight in some third world country, as so many have before him. The truth be known, R. Lee or Gunny to the world, likely would have preferred it that way, but surely died knowing he would be welcomed in Valhalla, that final resting place for uniformed patriots and centurions.

I deeply admire a man who checks pretentiousness at the door, and strides purposefully into a room, offering only himself as a measure of his character. This was the case with my own father, who shared many of R. Lee’s traits. Gunny was the real thing, a man who parlayed a humble upbringing into a fortune in Hollywood. What is unique about his success is that he didn’t let the sniveling, liberal, Hollywood elite change him. He remained true to himself. How many of us can say that with conviction.

Gunny left the Marine Corps after an 11 year stint. He was a drill instructor, or to those of us who have experienced the character building, humbling experience of boot camp, a DI. Drill instructors are not to be trifled with. When they are in your face, you have no where to go, but if you could, would gladly crawl back into your mother’s womb and start over again, anywhere besides where you are standing. Such is the business of preparing young men and now women for the savages of combat. It was this background that earned him a role in Full Metal Jacket, where he improvised at least 50% of the script handed to him by Stanley Kubrick. It came naturally. Kubrick cast R. Lee after watching a home made tape of Gunny berating an individual for a protracted period of time while tennis balls were thrown at him, never once deviating from the dialogue that was imprinted upon his brain. Kubrick described the Gunny’s repertoire of insults as being in the neighborhood of 150 pages. Age has reduced my memory, but the name of my DI along with the Senior Drill Instructor will be among the last things to leave my mind when the day comes to depart this world.

The Gunny had some 60 Hollywood credits, usually playing a hard nosed individual who was principled and possessed a flint rock edge. It wasn’t hard for him to “get in character”. Lately, he hosted the popular “Lock N’ Load” television series as well as “Mail Call”, another popular series. He was a spokesman for Glock firearms, lending urgency and purpose to the individual right to carry a firearm. The Gunny also served on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association, where, I am sure, his pragmatic approach to firearms coupled with his considerable presence was most welcome.

With R. Lee Ermey, what you saw was what you got. He did not let the black-balling nature of Hollywood change him. He was well aware of the distaste that most of Hollywood had for him, but did not give an inch. He was a conservative who made no apologies, finding the political correctness of today to be an abstract term for folks whose character swayed with the tide. Mathew Bodine, an actor, offered the genius of poet Dylan Thomas in his thoughts upon learning of the Gunny’s death:

“Do not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of the light”

What is not to admire in a man who was exactly as he appeared, an epithet that few have earned. Rest In Peace Gunny, we’ll miss you.

The Rack…..

In the dark ages, for the most part, the rack was a torture device where upon a hapless sole was literally pulled apart, screaming until the sweet kindness of death prevailed. This torture is no longer in vogue and the racks of those horrible times have been replaced with new racks that torture us in an entirely different way. I am talking about the racks that populate the stores that purvey clothing. Racks filled with shirts and slacks designed to fit the models that appear in Cosmopolitan, Playboy or Men’s Journal. These racks of clothes are usually found in the front of a retailers floor space, and for me, represent an entirely new kind of “flyover” country. Let me explain.

A law enforcement officer, for the most part, is insulated from the fashion world. He or she relies on a uniform to protect themselves from the impossible task of coordinating outfits to wear to work. These officers generally own jeans, a few pairs of shoes and boots and enough civilian clothing to slip out to a movie now and then or maybe church on Sundays. I can practically guarantee they own more clothes devoted to their pastime, such as fishing, hunting or motorcycle riding than anything else. When I retired and accepted a position as the deputy director of the Gaming Commission, I was thrust into the world of Hart, Schaffer and Marx suits and the business attire world. It was a fun, expensive trip through a sort of clothing fantasy land. At one time, I owned 30 ties, just enough to coordinate with the variety of colorful dress shirts in vogue during that era. Today I can martial up enough dress attire to not embarrass Sharon at a funeral. Back to the rack.

Who wears this stuff? Pants with a stride so short that either plumbers crack or an octave or two rise in voice pitch is inevitable. Dress shirts that require pre-approval from your bank to purchase, often cut in a fit that guarantees that horrible gap in front when you sit down, accompanied with the ever present reality that if a button should give up, it could blind the person sitting across from you. While I like a little color in my clothing, I refuse to wear shirts that would make Cyndi Lauper green with envy. I have the legs of a line backer, not a good fit for any but the “generous” or “full cut” slacks and pants. It is no wonder that after wrestling with a pair of these pants in a dressing room, you leave them for the clerks to rehang and trot out to the rack for the next normal person’s error in judgement. Normal guys either spend a lot of time in the “Big and Tall” section or go where we are both welcome and comfortable. By that I mean my current tailors of choice, Duluth Trading, Cabela’s or Bass Pro shop.

Duluth Trading get’s it. They are purveyors of everything that a normal guy could possible want to wear. They sell a pant named “middle management chino”, so named because managing our middle is a struggle. They make a shirt aptly named a “free swinging chambray” cut with an armpit gusset to keep you from tearing out when you bend over or reach for something. They offer “spillfighter” shirts that will shed coffee or today’s lunch leavings with gusto. They produce a plethora of men’s underwear that eliminates a host of underwear related problems, such as “bullpen”, “buck naked”, “breezeshooter” and “free range”. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure which annoying underwear issue these different shorts address. Duluth sells a long tailed t-shirt which they say will cover your “asteroid”, surely a hit with men who must bend over to work! You have likely seen Duluth’s adds, featuring fire hose tough pants, on the TV.

Is it any wonder that retired guys find comfort in cargo pants, jeans and durable clothing that will fit with out working up a sweat in the dressing room or washing in ice water to keep them from losing that 1′ margin of room we need to get them on? Much of the inventory in my kind of stores is laying on shelves, with an occasional welcoming rack here and there, mostly shirts. This clothing is durable, comfortable and far more presentable than the current trends in upscale clothing sold in many places. We enjoy shirts with logos, such as Harley-Davidson, G. Loomis, and Under-Armor worn over a pair of “ballroom” jeans, aptly named, again, by Duluth Trading. It takes awhile, but you soon get used to forgoing the colorful tie, uncomfortable but stylish dress shoes and coordinated office ensembles.

So it is that we are ready for anything, fashion wise. We can climb into a bass boat or on a motorcycle, hitch up an RV, cut the grass, fly an airplane, walk the dog, or make a run to Hi-Vee on a moments notice without struggling with what to wear. These days, the same pair of cargos under a decent shirt is entirely appropriate for church. The aforementioned purveyors of our style of clothing make this possible.

We can smile when we “fly over” the racks of quirky, fashionable clothes that still capture the imagination of younger, more obligated folks than us. By now, most folks understand what they are getting with us. Clothing isn’t going to make much difference. If I you see me at Bass Pro or Cabela’s give me a shout…..the coffee is on me…and if the coffee really is on me, it won’t matter, as I will likely be wearing a spillfighter shirt!

Blue Bloods……

Over the past few days, a lively social media discussion has been developing among active and retired Missouri Highway Patrol officers relative to the relationship between salary and commitment to the organization. To be fair, I suspect similar discussions have transpired among the members of any uniformed organization currently in service to our citizenry. The general feeling among the experienced officers participating in this discussion is that salary is far more important today than it was in the early years of the Patrol, and I thought a peek into the motivations necessary to become a career Patrol officer would be entertaining.

Graduation day. The requirements attendant to becoming a state trooper have evolved a bit, however; the moment that you square up in front of the Superintendent, render a crisp hand salute and receive your commission is a moment that is etched into your permanent memory. I cannot speak for the climate in today’s academy, but am certain it is a rigorous and demanding experience. You will have demonstrated courage, mental acuity, physical strength and an appreciation for the complexity of the laws that we are charged with enforcing. You will have met the requirements necessary to donning the uniform and tools of the trade attendant to the application and judicial use of authority on our streets and highways. You are not quite there, but the blood in your veins will have begun the transformation from bright red to deep blue. At this point, you have set aside considerations relative to your earning power in other occupations, instead focusing on becoming a tested member of the Highway Patrol.

The road. Your first real road day, riding with an experienced officer, marks the beginning of what, for most of us, is a career that blends excitement, challenge and an eye opening appreciation for authority in an enforcement role together. You are becoming keenly aware that you are viewed differently by the community you serve. In my day, your presence in a restaurant was noted by everyone there as you enter and you were accorded a level of respect commensurate with your role. It was unimaginable to think that a restaurant, or any business, would not welcome your presence, an unfortunate reality today when officers are disdained in certain businesses. From the warmth of a coffee stop to the brutality of a fatal traffic accident, you begin accumulating experience. You become acquainted with the businesses in your zone, the bad actors and good citizens, and every square inch of navigable road, street and highway. Most importantly you are becoming a student of human behavior with an eye to lending as much dignity as possible to every interaction. You soak up the wisdom and experience of your fellow officers and are quick to ask questions about the unbelievable array of circumstances you confront. Every day brings a fresh challenge and a sense of accomplishment when that challenge is met. Your blood is becoming a deeper shade of blue.

The maturation phase. Somewhere around your second or third year of autonomous work, you begin mastering the complexity of the job. You will have fully assimilated into the fraternity of brothers and sisters in blue. The Highway Patrol is becoming a part of your very being and identity. You have begun to understand the internal squabbles and political machinations inherent to a state police organization and realization that you are a member of a closed society. Police organizations are masters at circling the wagons to fend of political challenges as well as other threats to their necessary autonomy. You become very comfortable with your role, having become a textbook example of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs related to personal security, financial security, health and well being. Your sense of social belonging as it pertains to friendship and family has been established in a bifurcated fashion with your family being both your personal relationships and the Patrol family. Your blood is blue.

I worked for a fine, old school Sergeant in my formative years. He would declare on occasion that if you take away quitting time or your paycheck, no one would work anywhere for anyone, doing anything. He was right, of course. During those same years. I worked along side a fine career officer who would often opine that he could not believe he was being paid to do what he does, as he was enjoying his job so much. The truth lies somewhere along the line separating these two philosophies, which takes us back to the genesis of this discussion.

At a point in my career, I was offered a lucrative job selling handguns for a major arms manufacturer. Decision time. After a week or so pondering the numbers, I came to the conclusion that while I would enjoy the financial reward, I could not abandon my identity as a state trooper. This identification is as strong today as it was when I took my uniform off for the last time. My last day in uniform is marked by a photo of my daughter, now a state trooper and me, standing together hand in hand. I drove home, drank a whiskey sour, and teared up a bit……making every effort to accept the ending of one hell of a ride through the life I had lived. I, like so many of the officers before, and surely after me, placed the Patrol ahead of the salary……never letting salary become the means to an end.

I loved the Highway Patrol and revere the associations with my many brothers and sisters over the 27 years that I wore the uniform. Somewhere on the marker that notes my final resting place will be a reference to this great organization, as important a part of my identity as the name next to it.

My blood is still French blue……..

Convenience Can Be Expensive…..

Low tech thieves risk biting dogs and nosy neighbors to boost a delivery from Amazon left on your porch by FedEx or the US Postal Service. The sophisticated package booster is alert to your cleverly hidden camera in a doorbell and will park his vehicle a few feet down the curb so as to preclude the capture of his or her license plate. Many of us have had bar-b-cue grills, bicycles and hose reels stolen, all aggravating and terribly inconvenient. Recently a thief walked into our open garage and helped themselves to Sharon’s purse, left in the car seat, which was a major and expensive event for us. (The smart key for her car set us back 500.00 and that was just the beginning!) If you are reading this post, then you are at least computer savvy enough to be at risk for another, far more sophisticated kind of thievery that is rocking our world. Privacy is no longer a matter of closed doors and window blinds. Let’s have a look at what is going on, in terms that do not require Sheldon Cooper’s skill set to understand.

Your online identity is for sale. A recent Fox News article notes that cyber-security experts have attached a price tag of just north of $1,700.00 for for this information that typically contains such things as credit card data, your SSAN, billing address and the names of your children and purchasing preferences. There is an active market for your identity on the “dark web”, information that enables high tech thieves to rely on technical expertise rather than a strong back to steal from you. Although the price fluctuates, much like the stock market, a Netflix account, Uber login, or AirBnB account will fetch around $10.00 each, a la carte. Your g-mail log in can be bought on the dark web for as little as 1.00 while your I-Tunes account is worth around $15.00. If you rely on PayPal, and we do, the account information for this little gem will bring around $250.00 to the enterprising cyber thief. Did you ever have unauthorized purchases on a credit card? In spite of chip readers and other retail technologies, credit card information in the hands of a internet thief can be quite lucrative, the price for a single credit card on the dark web ranges from $5.00 to $20.00 with savvy dark web buyers paying as much as $100.00 for two complete card ID’s or $350.00 for ten. When you secure an online purchase with a credit card, you are “guaranteed” the security of the card information. By whom and what is the penalty for compromise? Years ago, I received a Sunday morning phone call from a Discover fraud investigator. Our Discover account had been used to purchase a large assortment of baby clothes and furniture. I established a rapport with the investigator and was able to obtain the delivery address for this purchase. One of our investigators was able to locate this address and the young, very pregnant resident who, after careful questioning, confessed to pulling our card information from a file in her place of employment, a movie rental store. She and her attorney pressed us for a compassionate response given her condition. These pleas fell on deaf ears and we went to court resulting in her sentence to a term in jail. (This was not her first use of a customer’s card to steal). Dark web operatives are much, much harder to detect and adjudicate, than this high tech porch thief!

An old technology is the use of passwords to gain access to various accounts, the first level of security. There is malware, such as “Keylogger” that will capture every one of them, a handy acquisition for the dark web operative and obviously terribly inconvenient for you. The recent FaceBook fiasco, in which millions of account records have been compromised, is a treasure trove for dark web operatives with each complete social media account worth about $40.00 to the thieves. Do you have a Smart TV? Yes? Perfect as these essential components of virtually every household in America are also capturing data about your life’s preferences. There is a little understood aspect to viewing your favorite shows called “Automatic Content Recognition”, capturing remarkable marketing information for use by companies who will rely on it to direct market to your preferences. It is just another way that your behavior is being tracked, a potential bit of intelligence that can be used by dark web operatives. This information seems harmless, and usually is, but can become a part of your dark web profile and provide lead information related to your retail preferences, and by extension, account information. Wow!

The astute reader, by now, is asking about counter measures. Yes, they exist and dark web operatives are constantly refining their arsenal of counter measures to the counter measures that we rely on! It is a never ending game to these folks. I have friends who have been alert to these possibilities for years and avoid the internet when making purchases, instead relying on brick and mortar retail. When we talk, I promote the cost advantages and convenience of the internet and they respond with the horrid cost and inconvenience of a compromised identity. When you are not compromised, the convenience afforded by the internet is a great thing. An enterprising hacker can turn this convenience into a tremendous inconvenience by simply shopping the dark web.

Convenience can be expensive……

ARS, The Latest Mental Disorder……

Even if you do not know the difference between the muzzle and butt stock of a rifle, you likely will immediately recognize the iconic silhouette of the venerable AR-15, the maligned moniker given to “black rifles” or the media approved descriptive, “assault rifle”. This image has given rise to a new mental affliction that I now refer to as ARS, or “assault rifle syndrome”. This malady manifests itself in the form of hysteria, rage and blind finger pointing at an otherwise excellent class of firearms that are at once, innovative, accurate, incomparable, controversial, hated, loved and virtually indestructible. This syndrome is born of the images of US soldiers and Marines, carrying these rifles into combat in the jungles of Vietnam and the deserts of Afghanistan and the heart breaking images of an M-16, thrust into the ground, balancing on it’s bayonet, with a fallen warrior’s dog tags and helmet resting on the butt in the form of a crude battlefield cross. This rifle has become the very image of the American warrior, seriously challenging the hysterical masses who refuse to see the utilitarian side of this firearm. It will never enjoy the crossover love that an old Willys Jeep invokes, reincarnated as the popular CJ series, or less popular Hummer, a descendant of the Hum-V of recent military fame. Folks afflicted with ARS see these rifles with pistol grips, flash hiders, collapsible stocks, exotic optics and “high capacity” magazines as devices designed for the sole purpose of killing our citizenry in mass shootings. Can we take a minute to look at these firearms objectively? If you refuse this offering, I understand, as ARS has proven to be a stubborn and irreversible malady, but I still appreciate your reading to this point.

Black rifles came into being in the early 60’s, having been designed by a fellow named Eugene Stoner who sold his design to a company named Armalite who subsequently sold the manufacturing rights to Colt. This rifle was the M-16. The rifle was introduced to our combat troops in Vietnam who pretty quickly realized they had a problem firearm on their hands. It was poorly made, jammed easily, and was being fed inferior ammunition that was inconsistent in manufacture. It led to a number of unintended combat deaths. Out of this adversity came a steady evolution of the weapon and ammunition which led to subsequent models such as the M-16A2, which then led to the production of superior rifles, the M-4 and M-16A3. Who can question the ergonomics of these newer rifles, now coming equipped with rails to mount optics and other equipment as well as telescoping stocks for rather obvious reasons? Still, the combat history was overshadowing the advancements made, particularly in a civilian adaptation of this platform. The rifle was not popular with the big manufacturers, until Sen. Dianne Feinstein authored the infamous AWB, or assault weapons ban, that was signed into law by Bill Clinton. This “time out” for civilian ownership of this type rifle gave the tinkerers and arms manufacturers the time they needed to begin perfecting the AR concept. The logic behind this law was these guns somehow contributed to crime because of how they looked. In 2004, when the AWB quietly expired, the popularity of a rifle that possessed the incredible utility of the military version exploded and manufacturers began building them in numbers. From a military perspective, the old M-16 had been replaced by rifles with far greater range and reliability. On the civilian side of the market, AR styled rifles were being chambered in a wide variety of calibers and possessed incredible long range capability. The market exploded with innovations in optics and mounting systems that silhouette shooters and target masters loved. In the field, these rifles became excellent hunting platforms, inherently reliable and extremely durable with unbelievable ergonomics. From a market loser, the AR platform became the lifeline of the gun industry, as they are now one of the most popular firearms in existence. This photograph is of the Springfield Armory Saint, currently in my gun safe.

The AWB, of course, resulted in no shift in crime statistics. If your are afflicted with ARS, you will likely ignore this inconvenient truth. The folks who are attracted to these rifles were not the descendants of Al Capone, and did not dwell quietly in basements stoking their hatred of mankind. Instead they turned out to be competitive shooters, bench shooters, hunters, active duty military, police officers and enthusiasts who love to tinker with guns. A case can be made that black rifles are perhaps the most successful innovation in the shooting world since smokeless powder.

A common refrain often heard from folks with ARS, is that we don’t “need” these rifles, and particularly increased capacity magazines. This same logic would apply to the “need” for a Corvette, or the “need” for a motorcycle. I suspect very few folks “need” to own a jet-ski. For the most part, pilots don’t “need” to own an airplane. In America, we routinely cross the “need”/”nice to have” barrier. Are deranged people killing others, sometimes in large numbers, with black rifles? Yes, on occasion they are. Anti-social behavior occurs daily, often with tragic results, such as the killing of 168 folks in Oklahoma by a sociopath with a truck load of fertilizer. It is important to note that drunk drivers are killing far more people, with no demand that alcohol be eliminated (we tried that once and failed miserably). Deranged folks have used vehicles to intentionally run down other people and kill them. The “need” argument cuts across the very fabric of a freedom loving people, which of course, we are. “Need” is a poor test for many activities.

In summary. The AR style rifle is an ergonomic masterpiece. To be an ergonomic masterpiece, it looks menacing for the reasons mentioned above. If you are grappling with ARS, this is the only argument you have against this firearm. At the end of the day, it is only a semi-automatic rifle, used for the same things that less menacing looking semi-automatic rifles have been used for over many years. If you do not suffer from ARS, at least you have a little history to support your position. Beating up this rifle is not moving the football!

The Feeling that Provides Healing…..

“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!

Spider Rigging……..

I thought we might take a quick look at a “fishing” technique that will produce crappie, and presumably other species as well, when traditional methods either fail or are too slow. No, I am not talking about carefully “rigging” a spider, although the name would imply some sort of intimate relationship with a hapless arachnid. I am talking about a technique that has become wildly popular these days, particularly in the pursuit of crappie on our lakes and rivers. A disclaimer is due up front, as I have never resorted to this technique for any number of reasons, and if the truth be known, likely never will. In short, “spider rigging”, sometimes referred to as simply “rigging”, involves placing an array of long rods on the bow and/or sides of your boat and slowly trolling along in quiet water where crappie are either suspended or staging. I use another descriptive for this technique, “mobile trotlining”. It will catch fish at impressive rates, I can attest to this fact having had my butt kicked on a number of occasions in crappie tournaments where this is permitted. One should tread carefully when casting disparaging commentary on something he has never done, however; I feel relatively safe as I have also never cranked fish up with a shocking device or used dynamite. Let’s have a look at this technique.

The photos accompanying this article are worth a thousand words. I fish because I thoroughly enjoy matching wits with a critter that has a brain the size of a BB. The challenge, for me, is to slip quietly along a brushy bank or in standing timber, working a jig quietly around likely looking cover, feeling for that “bump” that signals that a fish fight is about to happen. After a quick wrist snap (hook set), you must then “work” the fish out of the brush that you are fishing, careful to not break him off or hang him up, until you can get him boat side. There are visual clues that a crappie has fallen for your presentation, but mostly your ability to feel the bite is what catches a fish. It takes skill to maneuver your boat in heavy cover, pitch, dip, flip or cast a bait and carefully work that bait around, in and through the structure you are fishing. A limit of fish may come quickly, or not, and you enjoy the intimacy of being in the “fish houses” rather than slipping by or over them.

A limit of crappie for the freezer is a good thing, but is secondary to the fun of fishing with a rod in your hand. When you see the various advertisements that populate social media sites, in which anglers proudly show off their phenomenal catches of fish, you are most likely looking at the results of a day spent spider rigging. Early in the season, before the fish have moved up on the banks, rigging is THE way to put fish in the freezer. It would seem the basket of fish is the prize, rather than the fun of fishing. A trip might change my mind, but I don’t think so. As much as I love a mess of crappie fillets, I also love the challenge of catching them one at a time!

It is worth mentioning that a good number of tournaments are “single pole” tournaments, thus precluding riggers from entering. I have virtually abandoned tournament fishing, but quickly learned to not mix it up with riggers in the tournaments that I fished. The big boys, in the national tournaments all rely on rigging to be competitive. An array of baits, presented at different depths, slowly fished near cover are going to produce more fish than a fisherman standing in the front of a boat with a single rod in hand. I must also confess that in spite of the heavy weights on a riggers lines, I am sure that I would end up with one giant mess of tangled lines when I failed to jump up from my seat in time to keep a nice fish from swimming across the other lines. As if that isn’t enough to deter me, the thought of installing all of that hardware on the deck of my boat seals the deal.

So, what have we learned today? First, I am old school and no longer view fishing in a competitive sense (although my single pole partners would argue this observation). A mess of crappie is a secondary consideration, with the fun in catching them trumping the freezer. When single pole fishing, it pays to watch the riggers around you, as their technique will quickly help you to understand where the fish are and at what depth they are holding. A single pole fisherman will often take more time in finding the “pattern” for the fish he is after. I am convinced it takes more skill and experience to catch crappie with a single pole as opposed to rigging. At the end of the day, the rigger will spend more time in front of the camera than a single pole angler, as an array of rods will provide a great deal more opportunity for photo worthy fish. Finally, you are less likely to execute an ungraceful exit from the boat while rigging, as opposed to casually bumping some underwater hazard while standing, rather than sitting in the front of your boat. This consideration is of obvious value anytime, but particularly early in the spring when the water is really cold. I am not an experienced rigger but am experienced at invoking unimaginable oaths when popping to the surface in 50 degree water.

Fortunately, there is plenty of room on our waters for both kinds of anglers to enjoy their day. Rigging or pitching, dipping and casting, a day on the water beats a day about anywhere else!