A Life Spent Fishing

A life spent fishing is one full of hope — a late-winter muse. // Illustration by Gary W. Odmark
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A Life Spent Fishing

Maybe Alfred Lord Tennyson had it right. I don’t remember. But as an older man — notice how I cleverly said “older” and not “old” — spring conjures up thoughts of . . . hope.

I am big on hope because I am a fisherman. And nothing exemplifies hope more than fishing. I read somewhere the day God created spring was probably the same day he created hope. I cannot disagree. They are almost one in the same.

It’s not like you can’t fish in the winter. Many do, myself included. But spring is different. It is the beginning of the cycle, not the end when you can shed your layers and get back to being yourself, comfortable in your own skin.

I have been a fisherman my whole life and a fishing writer for the bulk of it. Still, the keenest insight I’ve ever had about my pastime/vocation came not through personal experience, of which I have plenty, but from a movie. It was a Robert Altman film, not one of his masterpieces — neither “M*A*S*H” nor “Nashville” — but a delightful Southern gothic/shaggy dog tale called “Cookie’s Fortune” that included one of the characters being accused of an alleged murder because of circumstantial evidence. The sheriff maintained he had no option but to hold the man, though his deputy insisted the charge against the accused was poppycock. And when the sheriff demanded to know what made his subordinate so all-fired certain, the deputy cut right to the chase: “Because I’ve fished with the man.”

You get to know a lot about another person when you spend entire shifts within the confines of a boat or on the dock. It is, in many ways, like going to a Tigers baseball game with a pal but better; you both have an interest in the proceedings, but the rewards are more personal. And you have a heckuva lot more to do with the outcome.

“In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”
— Alfred Lord Tennyson

Fishing is a great social equalizer. You can put a stalwart Rush Limbaugh fan in a boat with a guy who thinks Bernie Sanders is a little bit too right wing, and they can find common ground. Over the course of a day, they will likely discuss all manner of societal problems or pop culture phenomena, maybe without ever coming to a single meeting of minds, but they will have been united in the task at hand: trying to outwit critters with brains the size of BBs. Why that is such a formidable task eludes me, but, trust me on this, it often is.

Over the years, I have formed many of my closest friendships with fishing rods in hands. When I travel to places I used to live, the folks I am most anxious to look up are those with whom I’ve fished. And, if it’s at all possible, we will get a chance to wet a line again.

Spring is when life begins anew; as you reassemble the plumbing in your summer place, the possibilities are all right there in front of you — as they are every day of fishing.

One can fish alone, for sure, but it is often so much more enjoyable when shared with a compadre, working as a team: handling the landing net when your partner connects, weighing the alternatives, experimenting and knowing that even if you fail, you’re not out anything but the time you spent with a friend, of which there is just too little these days.

Fishing is an opportunity, one of the best, to establish, maintain or grow friendships. It can be serious in the moment but is frivolous in the big picture. What matters is — in this age of tweets, texts and emails — spending quality time with another soul, something we can never do too much of. And that is my hope; maybe, just maybe, if we spend just a little more time fishing together, we can, in the immortal words of Rodney King, just get along.


Bob Gwizdz is a career outdoor writer and avid angler who lives in East Lansing. His works have been published widely.

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