I was a gear-chuckin’, spin-fishing, bass-mad angler in my youth.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m still a fan of throwing the hardware, whenever, wherever the right opportunity presents itself.
But a certain “opportunity” changed my fishing attitude many years ago, when I was invited by a young woman whom I was dating to drop in for a visit to her family’s small cabin on the banks of an obscure Michigan river.
I distinctly remember my thoughts as I drove to this place: Yeah, I was pretty twitterpated, so I was excited to see her. I felt a little trepidation, however, at the prospect of meeting the whole family. But most of all, I couldn’t help but wonder, as I drove through northern Michigan, “why in the hell would anyone have a cabin on a little river?” In my world, cabins in the north country were supposed to be on lakes, and involve things like sailboats, and water-skiing, pontoon boats and fish fries.
After I arrived, it took her father no more than five minutes to put me in a pair of Red Ball rubber waders, hand me a Fenwick rod, and point me downstream with a handful of wet flies. I, of course, obliged… what else would you do?
About two hours later, my muse’s mother thought I might have gotten lost in the woods. So, she made a peanut butter sandwich, and put that with an apple in a paper sack with a can of Coke, and sent my girlfriend off along the riverbank to find me.
Which she did.
But at the time, I was hooked up on a trout, and I shouted up the bank some fateful words: “Do I have to come back now?”
With that, she set the sack on a tree stump, turned around, and went back to report to her father that I was fine and well, and no less, hooking into fish, with little or no desire to return to the cabin.
I think when he heard that he figured I might actually be “the one.”
And as it turns out, she and I just celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary this week.
There’s more to the story, of course.
The truth is that my father-in-law became my fly-fishing mentor on many levels. He would invite me to the Opening of the Michigan trout season, which I would learn was an unmarked holiday held in high esteem by any angler who really cares about the culture of this game.
He taught me how to iron out wrinkles in my cast. He inspired me with tales of fishing in Montana and Alaska, and other places… all the while, however, underscoring the sacred importance of the home river.
As it turned out, my father-in-law became one of my best friends. And I still cannot help but wonder about—and be grateful for—what and exceptionally fortunate turn that was.
He passed away in 2012, but still think about him most times when I go fishing. I wish he could have heard about some of the places I’ve been, writing stories for Field & Stream, and now, TROUT magazine. I think, I hope, he’d be happy to know how I try to bring all of that back home.
There are so… so… so many stories related to fly fishing that are equal or far better than my own. And almost none of them revolve around fish caught or photos taken.
The best stories, which I’d say reflect the real essence of fly fishing—from A River Runs Through It and beyond, are stories about families, and friendships, and relationships—augmented (of course) by beautiful, wild creatures and stunning natural landscapes.
Without the family angle, however… well, nothing else really matters.