THE LAWSON’S PEAK BOOKS

How Pete Cooper Jr. Ruined My Life

You ever had an experience where you accidentally, unthinkingly and unknowingly, hurt someone?

I mean, you didn’t intend to. It was all an accident. But the consequences were unmistakably bad.

My pal Pete Cooper Jr. might know. You see, Pete Cooper ruined my life. Here’s how.

Back in 2005, I was asked to appear in not one but two episodes of Fly Fishing America which, at the time, aired on ESPN. In one episode, I would fish on the Blackfeet Indian reservation in Montana with native Joe Kipp; in the other, Joe would join me to fish in Louisiana.

I went to Montana for the filming of the first episode, and fell head-over-heels in love with Big Sky Country. The mountains, the foothills, the prairies and…the rivers! Streams and creeks, oh my! To the end of my days I doubt I shall ever see anything more beautiful than Otatsa Creek in Glacier National Park, or a more awe-inspiring sight than Chief Mountain standing sentinel over us as we caught cutthroat trout.

But upon returning to Louisiana, I said to myself, “Well, that was a once in a lifetime experience,” and went back to fishing for bream and bass in stone-still, green-black water, like I have all my life.

Perhaps you’re thinking I should have titled this column “How ‘Fly Fishing America’ Ruined My Life” but no, I realized that in the first place, I’d never fly again, so therefore, in the second place, I’d never see Montana again.

But in my Internet wanderings concerning all things fly fishing, I ran across several items on Louisiana Fly Fishing’s website by someone named Pete Cooper Jr. In addition to some great fishing reports and stories from the Gulf marshes to inland lakes, he talked about this mysterious place, this creek nestled in the foothills of Louisiana where there was rock and sand and fast, clear wild water.

In time my curiosity got the better of me and I contacted Pete. I already knew of him, having reviewed his book Fly Fishing the Louisiana Coast for an online magazine, positively and glowing, I might add.

For this, Pete Cooper repaid me by ruining my life. No good deed goes unpunished, they say, and while the book deserved every bit of praise I lauded upon it, if I had known what the future held I would have taken a far more hostile approach to my review.

You see, here’s what he did: He gave me directions to this El Dorado, this Shangri-La, clear and explicit and hard to mess up directions, so like a naïve, innocent babe I jumped in the truck with Suzie and we went there.

And there it was. Fast, clear, murmuring and laughing, dancing over stone terraces, cold and swift. I had to shake my head. Was I still in Montana? No, of course not. I caught one fish there that late November day, and when we got home, I lay awake all the night, staring at a dark ceiling, listening to the creek singing in my brain.

But Pete Cooper was not done yet. Oh, no.

The creek was like a song that gets stuck in your head, and it drives you crazy until you just can’t stand it anymore. That’s how I was. And eventually, the following spring I think it was, Pete and I met face to face at the annual get-together of the Acadiana Flyrodders Club.

To my surprise, here was no devilish, behorned, pitchfork-wielding creature. Instead, a tall, gentle, laid back being who resembles Eric Clapton – or maybe Eric Clapton resembles Pete – funny as the dickens and likes good cigars and can tell a great yarn with the best of them. Needless to say I took to him at once, and we made plans to go back to that creek together when the weather warmed.

In this way, Pete Cooper sealed my fate. Snapped the trap. Doomed me.

What did he do that was so terrible, you ask? I’ll tell you. He taught me how to fish creeks and successfully catch bass on them!

Yes, that’s right. A swamp and bayou boy, and there I was, catching spotted bass on a creek running through hog-backed hills far, far from home.

I say he taught me. Really, he did his best. I am a difficult student. Stubborn and inept. For instance, Pete said I needed to fish No. 6 poppers in yellow and black on a 6-weight fly rod. Like any youngster I nodded but silently decided to fish No. 8 poppers in orange on a 4-wt fly rod. My casting had all the efficiency and aesthetics of a drunk trying to reach the light switch string hanging from the restroom of a seedy truck stop, and I caught few fish.

But that’s not the point. Finally I conceded he knew more about the topic than I did, and followed his advice. I caught fish. Not many. But the trap was snapped. I was snared. And this gracious, funny, kind man some 20 years my elder merrily kept at it, leading me down the path to damnation trip after trip after trip to the creek.

Over time, creeks began to take over my mind, drive me slowly insane. Once it was my greatest delight to put four gallons of gas into the boat tank, drop the boat over into the bayou just a hundred yards from my house, and motor out to the lake and the cove to spend a pleasant day fly fishing.

Little by little, I decreased the time I spent fishing out of a boat. My trips declined as well. I got to the point where I preferred to get in the truck and go many hours north, rather than 15 minutes by boat to the lake.

I’ve always been somewhat of a nut, a bit of a wild-eyed psychotic, about fishing. Nothing new there. But this whole creek fishing thing that Pete Cooper lured me into has consumed me.

In the winter I am twice as depressed and irritable as when I was a lake fisherman. In the spring, I waste the equivalent of a small mutual fund’s contribution in gasoline. I change my truck tires more often than I used to. During the summer, I used to groan and moan about how it was too hot to go to the creek. But last year I went anyway. Twice. I sweat like a pig out there, nearly keeled over from heat exhaustion…and had the absolute best time a junkie could have.

Once fall comes, its back and forth to the creeks, every chance I get. I lie to loved ones to get out of other responsibilities, so I can go to the creek. I skirt the edge of financial ruin in my checkbook, dangle on the precipice of being without basic utility services and max-out the credit cards to go creek fishing. I will go to any ends, prey on any weakness, find any excuse, to go to the creek. I’d probably knock over a liquor store if I thought I could get away with it, but it’s hard to go to the creek when incarcerated.

Perhaps I’m being a bit too hard on ol’ Pete. He of course had no idea he was dealing with an addictive personality, nor did he know about my tendency to only go off half-cocked at mundane things like work, but full-bore, wide-open, fifth gear overdrive about things like wooden boats, photography, puppy dogs, shotguns and creek fishing. Perhaps he didn’t know that his introduction would send me barreling down interstate highways to the Smoky Mountains, northern Arkansas and maybe, just maybe, one day back to Montana.

Used to be when I’d take my fall vacation, I’d stick around the house and nap a lot. I’d lounge in my chair and watch television until my eyeballs merged inwards into one, like a Cyclops and had to trade in my eyeglasses for a monocle.

Winter’s upon me. But spring will return. And when it does, I’ll be fishing a creek somewhere, hopefully at least some of the time with Pete Cooper. Better the devil you know, than the angel you fear.

1 comment to How Pete Cooper Jr. Ruined My Life

  • blufloyd

    Yep. Creeks are sneaky. Glad there is a couple world class smallie streams hidden in the cornfields around here or I’d be blaming somebody for something too. I like to let them steep till Mid July and I like to fib about what I catch in them. Keeps it more peaceful that way. I got a couple posts over on Uncle Larry’s board.

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