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Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

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Friday, April 05, 2019
As Seen On TV
Tuesday, May 07, 2019
It’s all in the stars


Picking your poison
The earth orbits around the sun just as my life has always revolved around fishing. And yes, I know I’m preaching to the choir. It’s what we do. It’s who we are. But if you take a moment — as I have — to really evaluate how much of our life is predicated upon this unique obsession, one that drives us through all manner of deprivation, economic and emotional hardship, it is a little breathtaking.

Granted, there are times we stand out in the rain or endure blistering heat for reasons other than fishing, but they tend to be singular events — a football game in late November or a family barbecue in mid-July. Those are the things in life that just happen. With fishing, we plan for them, we run to them, we welcome them with gleeful abandon. If we have to wear sunscreen masks that make us look like angling terrorists, so be it. If we have to don a suit more reminiscent of a Hazmat technician or deep-space explorer, no problem.


We relish the entire process of preparing for such eventualities if for no other reason than being able to rag on our fishing buddy.


“Hey, dude, I told you to buy the Fish Boss 5000 jacket with Gore-Tex Weather Killer Supreme membrane and monsoon-stopping technology.”


Or, the ever snarky and popular, “Yeah, extra horsepower would come in handy right now.”


So how is it we know all this stuff? It’s because we no longer fear the H-word. When it comes to fishing, we will readily violate our now-ancient pledge to, at all costs, avoid homework. Now it is cost be damned if that’s all there is standing between us and the perfect fast-taper rod. Moreover, the research we do has become part of the adventure, no longer a task to be dreaded.


In my case, this mental exercise of picking my poison has affected how I view certain other outdoor pursuits. Although hiking has a rich heritage passed down from countless generations, for the life of me, I can’t fathom why anyone would participate in this pointless activity. When backpacking took the concept to a more complicated and expensive level in the 1970s, my college friends couldn’t comprehend why anyone so invested in the outdoor lifestyle would balk. Get a pack, they would say. Then don’t forget the sleeping bag, foam mat, freeze-dried food, tiny stove and 47 other micro-sized items and let’s clank up a mountain together.


Every time they asked, I responded with the same question: “Is there a lake, river or stream where you’re headed, one that has fish in it?” Almost always, the answer was no. It seems that hikers are forever going somewhere without any real intention of going anywhere. In the rare instance when I received a positive response, it generally came with caveats. As if to sweeten the offer, they might add how the hiking crew would most assuredly be walking past lakes, rivers and streams that held fish. To me, this was utter blasphemy. Who, in their right mind, would do that? It was the literal interpretation of bait-and-switch and eventually the exchange would devolve into remarks questioning my physical abilities.


“Well, if you can’t keep up, we understand.”


Right there, I knew they had no idea just who they were dealing with. I am a fisherman. Put a rod in my hand, point me in the direction of a fish and I am capable of walking farther and faster than any Forrest Gump. And, I would be carrying tackle, lots of tackle.


I have the same attitude when it comes to non-outdoor activities that many people apparently enjoy. For instance, I’m not a Sunday drive kind of guy. Driving just to feel the wind rush through the remaining amount of hair I possess is not high on my weekend or weekday to-do lists. Never has been. That said, I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to how many miles I’ve traveled in fishing-related endeavors. If there was a platinum club for highway milers, I’d like to think I could get access to the lounge. I could also get combat pay since most of those miles were spent pulling a boat, which pushes the complexity and pain index to a level even inveterate backpackers might not accept.


Perhaps even more confusing to hikers is that serious fishermen will suffer all of these indignities without any guarantee of success. At least hiking delivers most, if not all, of its expected rewards, marking the precise location where our trails and perspectives go in different directions. To me, a fisherman gets to revel in the same vistas, sounds and smells of the outdoor experience with the added benefit of figuring out how to catch a fish.


Recently, I was talking with a friend in northern California, someone equally talented with flyfishing and conventional gear, who found himself on a beautiful river where the steelhead were biting. There was only one problem. The steelhead obviously preferred a spoon over a fly. Unapolo­getically, he told me how he whacked them with a spinning rod and a spoon, a choice most flyfishermen – purist or otherwise — would have never considered.


Clearly, the poison we pick isn’t always the same. Even so, I can’t help but think of my first reaction when someone tells me they had a great day on the water.


“Oh really. How many did you catch?” I will inquire.


“I didn’t catch a thing, but I still had a good day,” they respond, most likely with the politically correct glow that comes with having said something that would never come out of my mouth.


As much as I’d like to agree to avoid hurt feelings, I seem to always end the conversation by saying the exact same thing:


“Yeah, but you would’ve had an even better time if you’d caught something.”


* * *

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