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Friday, January 15, 2016

Mid-winter daydreaming. Thoughts of fishing, and snow, and long ago

It’s a cold, grey January afternoon here in Lynchburg, Va.
My screensaver on my office laptop is a shot I took during a fishing trip last July on the James River, about two miles above Snowden dam.

It was hot. The water was warm by then. The fly hatches were three months removed and the smallmouths were only eating what lives in deeper pools.
But I was fishing, and that’s what mattered.
I remember these long dreary days from when I was a boy. Sitting in class on those seemingly endless Friday afternoons, dreaming of fishing with my friends and knowing that tomorrow was Saturday but I wouldn’t be going to “Nonesuch Creek” or the “A-Bridge” or Smalley’s Dam or any of the other fishing holes we would pedal our bikes to.
I’d be indoors, until after Bugs Bunny was over, and then I would go out to find my friends and maybe play street hockey or skate on the frozen patches in the little storm-runoff-fed creek behind our houses.
Eventually the pull of fishing would get the best of me and I would break out my trusty old True Temper rod and reel and head over to the county park to practice casting.
The truth was I was plenty adroit at casting my line, I didn’t need any practice. But I needed to feel the rod in my hands and I needed to watch the line peel off the spool and I needed to crank the handle and feel it coming back.
In those frozen hours in “Chelsea Manor Park” I wasn’t casting a 5/8” threaded nut that I’d borrowed from my old man’s hardware bin, I was throwing a Rapala broken back on Dale Hollow Lake, like I’d seen Jerry McKinnis do on “The Fishin’ Hole.” I was sitting on the bank of Nonesuch Creek with Johnny and Richard and Tommy and talking and joking like young boys do, until the rod tip bent and another catfish or carp was on our line.
Those winter days seemed like they’d never end, but just when we thought winter had won and would go on forever, spring arrived, and the rivers and creeks beckoned once more. The days grew longer, the fish began biting again, and our friendships ran deeper and deeper.
These days I sit in my office and dream of being on the water again. Last weekend I was rearranging some boxes in a closet and glanced at my tackle box and rod there in the corner. I was ready to load them into the car and head to the river just to see what might be hungry, and I still may do that. Having never been around a healthy stream in mid-winter, I never had the opportunity to try cold weather fishing. I think about it here and I might do it one of these weekends.
But the magic and the charm of daydreaming about my summer fishing holes are what I think about today. I remember that boy who loved fishing so much that he’d endure the chill winds of February to stand in an open field and cast a stainless steel 5/8” nut toward a hula hoop about 50 yards away, just to see if he could hit it. I think about how much he loved the sport, and how often he thought about it because he loved it, and at ten, or eleven, or twelve, there wasn’t anything to be worried about or to occupy his soul. Back then, there were no deadlines, no reports to write or customers on campus to call on. He wasn’t a dad yet, he had few responsibilities beyond cutting the lawns of his customers or delivering newspapers or cleaning up after the family dog.
He whistled his favorite songs and smiled at the thoughts of how, any day now, the weather would break and his best friends would be riding along with him on their bikes, heading for a day of fishing and just being boys.
Nowadays, he is a single dad. He works at his alma mater. In what spare time he has, he builds decks and writes books and works hard to provide for his daughter who is –unbelievably- already a college freshman.  
And when he gets the chance, he writes about things like this.
He daydreams now and then about Lake Como and his best friend Mark and the bass they’d catch in the lily-pad cove. He thinks of Johnny and the backwater section of Lum’s Pond where the biggest bass and pickerel lived.
He thinks about that white True Temper rod with the red reel and cork handle and all the fish it brought to his hand. He’d give a roomful of $300 graphite rods to find that old fiberglass pole if he could.
He misses those days sometimes. Life is great and things have worked out well for an outdoorsman like him.  He landed in a part of the country where so many great streams and rivers can provide him almost limitless opportunity to fish. It’s beautiful here, but sometimes these cold days take him back forty years or so to a young boy who waited anxiously for his Field and Stream subscription each month.
He watched “The Fishin’ Hole” and dreamed of the day he’d be an adult and be able to fish places like that. He remembers the little red tackle box and the Daredevil spoons he bought at the Western Auto store. The cork bobbers and the Eagle Claw hooks (because nothing else was good enough!) and the Uncle Josh’s pork rind in little glass jars. He misses a time when fishing…anywhere, for any species, was good enough.
Because he was fishing.
My friends are grown now, and dispersed all over the country. I haven’t fished with Johnny or Mark in probably 25 years…maybe longer. But on these cold, overcast days when a canopy of grey hides the sun, I find myself daydreaming once again. This time though, I’m not the ten year old boy impatiently idling away an hour dreaming about fishing with his buddies this spring.
I’m fifty-two…and I’m wishing I could be him again.

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