"In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing…our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman." – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It.
A whole week of no politicking, no whining, no griping and no cheerleading. How lucky can you get, good people?
Well, I’m back now, so the reprieve is over. I took vacation last week. People keep asking me, "Where did you go?" and I say, "At 4 p.m. Friday I left the Banner and went to my house. I went to the store and back home. I went to the movies to see the new Indiana Jones flick and went back to my house. I went fishing and went back to my house…" and so on and so forth. Four-buck gas, who ya kidding?
I actually spent more on gas than I intended, but spread out over the week, rather than a one-shot trip somewhere far and away. Saturday and Sunday I did very little at all. Monday morning I set about, you guessed it, fishing.
I had lined up three places to fish, private ponds and such, over the week. I happily set out early for the first one Monday morning. Pardon me if I don’t reveal their locations and owners…then they wouldn’t be private anymore, would they?
Well, after stringing up a fly rod and jaunting merrily to the pond’s edge, I proceeded to flail the water to shreds for two solid hours without so much as a nibble. I never saw a fish jump, swirl or even so much as go belly-up to the surface out of sheer boredom.
"Hmm," I thought to myself. "This doth not portend kindly." I didn’t actually say it that way, of course, but it reads kinda cool and uppity-like, don’t it?
Tuesday morning, I went to a second private pond, the possessor and location of which is also a state secret. This time, I brought my homemade wooden pirogue and my now five-and-a-half month old Lab pup, Bogie, named for Humphrey Bogart. I call him Mr. Bogart when he’s bad. You know, like your mama would use your full name when you were in trouble: "Roger Emile Stouff, where are your shoes, boy?" When Bogie’s being adorable and cute – that being 99 percent of the time – he’s Bogie. When he’s bad, he gets a stern, "Mr. Bogart, get out of the tomato garden, now!"
Bogie turns out to be a great pirogue dog, sitting for the most point calmly and enjoying the view, except of course when dragonflies got too close, then he is constitutionally required to pursue. Still, he didn’t tip us over and responded well to my instructions to sit calmly.
Well, you guessed it, two hours at this pond, and not a bite. I am getting pretty frustrated at this point, so I haul out the pirogue and head to the first pond I had tried the day before since it was nearby. No luck.
It’s Tuesday, you understand, and plans for later in the week had me pretty occupied. And for a man who takes "fishing vacations" I was starting to wonder if in fact the same man who wrote a book called Native Waters and appeared on two episodes of "Fly Fishing America" on national television was, after all, just a big stinking phony.
Here, then, what follows is that thing you’ve always heard about called (insert reverb and booming voice:)
AN ACT OF DESPERATION
The aforementioned fisherman, who wrote a book about living a life of fishing and his evolution to the esteemed status of "fly fisherman" as a veritable religious endeavor…who made national television and traveled to Montana, the Holy Land of fly fishing…that individual went home, threw his fly gear in the corner, picked up two spinning rods dusty from four years of disuse and threw them in the truck. On the way, he stopped to buy a box of slimy, squirming earthworms.
This, lads and ladies, is an act of utter desperation.
You know what happened?
I did not get a bite. On slimy, stinky, wriggling worms. Nada. Nyet. Nein. Non. Zero, my hero.
It’s kinda like, oh, let’s see how I can get you to relate to this. It’s kinda like, uhm, getting left at the altar. No, that’s night right, it’s worse than that. It’s more akin to…being condemned to death by firing squad then at the last minute they decide to stone you instead. Naw, that’s not a brutal enough analogy either.
Tell you the truth, it’s worse than anything you can imagine.
Degraded and despondent, I went home to sulk. Later that night, a buddy and fellow fly fishing author Pete Cooper Jr. gave me a call and asked what I was doing Wednesday morning. As I was pretty despondent by then I gave a noncommittal answer, and returned the query as to what Pete was doing Wednesday morning.
"Paddling you around Lake Martin to catch a bass," he said. Well, my heart leapt. Not only has Pete become a good pal that I’ve wanted to fish with for a long time, but the estimable author of Fly Fishing the Louisiana Coast and Redfish along with countless magazine articles, is something of an icon on the fishing scene in Louisiana.
Lake Martin is up near Breaux Bridge, a small lake of jaw-dropping beauty. I woke Wednesday morning feeling sinusy, which by day’s end turned into a considerable chest and head cold, but I got up at four a.m., walked the dog for half an hour, then set out to meet Pete in Broussard where he then drove me to the lake. By just a smidgen before daybreak, the canoe was in the water. I had a bamboo fly rod of heavy-bass, light-saltwater grade made by my friend Harry Boyd of Winnsboro to cast large poppers at the base of cypress trees.
You know what happened?
I didn’t get a bite.
A couple hours into this, Pete’s shaking his head and wondering if the world’s turned on end, takes out his own fly rod and makes some casts to no avail.
"I just don’t get it," he says.
"I do," I admitted. "I shut down the whole lake. I can do that, you know. I go fishing at ponds, I shut them down to where the fish won’t open their months for a T-bone steak. I go to the creek, the fish get lockjaw with Brinks padlocks in place. I once went with a pal redfishing and shut down all of Atchafalaya Bay, and maybe all of the Gulf of Mexico too, far as I know. It’s not your fault. Take me on home, I need to go find a voodoo queen or something to take this hex offa me."
The next day was Thursday. I got up early. I felt like pure hell. I could barely breathe, my head felt like an over inflated balloon and I was coughing violently, but there was one pond left to try. Figuring that would be the last day I could go out, I loaded up on cough medicine, sinus medicine and a shot or two of nose spray and I loaded the pirogue and the pup and headed out to this final version of the promised land.
You know what happened?
Ha! Gotcha! I caught eight!
Ya, that’s right. I got six bass, one of which was creepin’ up on four pounds, and two stumpknocker bluegill, all before breakfast.
Now, you know how rumors get started around this town, of course. So no matter what you may have heard, I did not resort to a hoop net to catch fish, as someone falsely accused me of doing, whose name I shall not repeat, but his initials are K-E-I-T-H-L-A-N-D-E-N.
I was ecstatic. Bogie was ecstatic because he got to sniff and lick the fish-tails. The alligator that was following the boat around thinking the phrase "puppy food" meant something very different than Bogie and I do, swam jubilant circles in shared joy. Or maybe he was just confused, expecting me to go home empty-handed as usual.
I fished another 20 or 30 minutes without a bite, and decided to quit. I paddled to the spot where the truck waited on the bank and loaded the pirogue up, put the dog in the cab with me and we headed home. I made no more serious fishing trips after that, ending on a positive note and riding the wave of triumph as far as that sucker would carry me.
That’s the fishing report. That head and chest cold put me down for the count pretty much from there. Other than fishing, earlier in the week, Suzie – who caught the cold too by Thursday – and I went to the movies, had some "bawled crawfeesh" and did some household projects. We rented I Am Legend (good, but The Omega Man was better), Bee Movie (Seinfeld was a hoot!), Cloverfield (yawn, snore, Godzilla meets Blair Witch with requisite shaky camera shots ad nauseum) and the first season of Dead Like Me (absolutely rocks!) All other plans pretty much fell under the curse of the hack and snort.
So that’s my vacation report. Nine days of utter – if hacking and congested – bliss. Then it was time to come back to the ol’ grindstone and, as it were, write this column. If fly fishing really is a sort of spiritual endeavor, in many ways, consider these 34 column inches my sermon. Or confession. I’ve never really been sure of the difference. Maybe it’s just a parable, after all. I mean, all of it. Life, the universe and everything.
But I consider myself to be in good company in my congregation, the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Harry Middleton, Eric Clapton, William Shatner, Charles Kuralt, Jim Harrison and, of course, Norman Maclean:
"When I was young," he wrote, "a teacher had forbidden me to say ‘more perfect’ because she said if a thing is perfect it can’t be more so. But by now I had seen enough of life to have regained my confidence in it."