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The Charm of Fishing

I started fishing when I was five years old. I don’t remember the name of the stream but I remember walking over a canal on a wooden bridge to the larger section of the water to join dad, uncle and “Papap” to fish. Being just five I also remember struggling with the new equipment and feeling somewhat frustrated. At some point, dad or uncle took me over to the canal, threw a couple of worms on the hook and let me begin to catch sunnies. Sunfish are the crack cocaine of fishing for little boys. Let a little boy (or girl) catch a few of those and that’s it, game over,  they’re hooked for life.

My grandfather was a huge fisherman. I’ve often said that my family drove through the Lehigh Tunnel on the PA Turnpike for the four major holidays of the year; Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and “Opening Day” of trout season. Most of my early years of wetting a line was in the streams, rivers and lakes of the Pocono Mountains. Big Boulder Lake was a favorite for small, but many and eager, largemouth bass. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to fish some of the most storied fishing locations on the eastern seaboard and in the west. I’ve done striped bass fishing in the Chesapeake Bay and off Montauk Point. I’ve gone for northerns in the St. Lawrence River and in Minnesota. I’ve enjoyed the spring and fall walleye runs in Deseronto and Nappanee on the north shore of Lake Ontario. I’ve done the shad run and fished for small-mouth in the Delaware River. I’ve gone for cobia and dolphin off the east coast of Florida

After years of spin and bait casting, one day I had a conversation with Father Sean “Chief ” O’Neill who asked if I had ever done any fly-fishing. I said I owned a fly rod and fly reel but had only gone once years ago. After he introduced the idea that we should fly-fish together and that he would help me out, I introduced him to a private stretch of a Pocono trout stream to which I had access. A few fat rainbow and brown trout later, he was impressed (with the trout, not my technique).  I was also hooked (sorry …) and a friendship ensued.

With a brother living in Missoula, Montana, soon we fished the big rivers of Montana and Wyoming like the Yellowstone, the Blackfoot, the Madison, the Gallatin and the Fire-hole. Chief is an excellent fly-fisher, well read with lots of experience and a good teacher. We’ve had some good times together over the past few years – some on streams, some at Cabelas.

Unlike me, he will not touch a spin or bait casting rod. And worms are an anathema. I still enjoy all types of fishing, but a fly rod in my hand has a certain attraction now. There is no such thing as fast fly-fishing. Trout are wary.  Conditions change from one pool to the next requiring changes in tactics, approach as well as tackle and flies.  The sport has to be approached with a certain sense of slow patience. And at some point, being out in the middle of nature on a beautiful stream, you realize that fishing is not necessarily always about fishing, or even catching, fish.

So what does the sport feel like. Check out the video below. I know that some will ask, “Is it really like that? Aren’t those guys just actors? Answers: Yes and no. It’s about the preparation, the slow, relaxed conversation the night before, the anticipation that something good “could” happen. And the fact that sometimes, a few dozen, or hundred, casts later, something magical actually does.

A print on my wall (thanks Fr. Steve) says it all…The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.  (John Buchan)

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