Herbert Learns a Lesson
by Ken Hackler, Crystal Lake, IL
Now that winter is here it's time to put away the fishing pole and grab the remote.
But I can't close out another fishing season without inflicting just a few thoughts on
ou about the sport that occupies so much of my time and daydreams.
Catching fish is important to me. For years, the people-who-go-fishing-but-never-catch-any-fish
have been trying to convince me that just getting out in the woods, away from the
hustle and bustle of everyday life, is more important than actually catching fish.
For years I believed them. But the hustle around here isn't that bad, and I haven't
seen anything bustle for a long time.
So I'm coming out of the closet and admitting it publicly. Catching fish is important to me.
Fishing is what I do to catch fish. Hunting is what I do when I just want to commune
with Mother Nature. Once in a while that's fine, don't get me wrong. But if I really
want to enjoy nature, I do it from the comfort of my living room by watching PBS.
No sense in getting too far from the fridge.
My friend, Herbert, is an avid fisherman also. He lives in western Colorado, and
last May he went up in the mountains to go fishing. I used to live there also, and
knew the area well. From experience, I knew that the river in May was really bad
for fishing. I told him it was a waste of time to even try. Better to hit the lakes in
May, since the ice is just beginning to pull back from the shore.
"With spring runoff the river is too high and muddy," I said. "It would be a shame to
drive all that way just to say hello to Mother Nature."
He came back with a ridiculous story about catching a five-pound rainbow trout.
Since he was telling me this over the phone, I couldn't see if his fingers or toes were
crossed. After listening politely to his version of reality, I understood how frustrated
he must have been to make up such a whopping big story. He even went so far as
to name witnesses, but, being relatives of his, their credibility has to be questioned.
He also claimed to have proof in his freezer, but I didn't embarrass him by asking
to see it.
That's the funny thing about fishermen. They can't come home empty-handed no
If they don't catch any fish, fishermen come home with a story. Even if they didn't
get so much as a snag on an old tire, there is always at least one that got away. Or
two or three or six, depending upon the proficiency of the angler. More seasoned
and mature fishermen will seldom settle for just "one that got away," preferring to limit
out on missed fish. Anything less wouldn't look good for someone so experienced.
They never come home and say, "Hi honey. I had a great time today, even though
I didn't catch anything after driving fifty miles to get there. Didn't even get a bite.
But I saw a lot of birds and insects and stuff. Now I can go back to work for another
week feeling much better about the world."
In November, when Herbert and I were stalking wild trout in the Colorado River
near the small mountain town of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, I hooked into a really
big one. We watched in awe as the huge fish leapt and danced across the water in an
attempt to get away. I fought the monster for what seemed like hours, finally getting
it close enough to net. That's when my line snapped. For a brief moment we looked
each other in the eye, man-to-fish. Then he winked at me and I knew he'd won. In
a flash he was gone, taking one of my really good flies as a souvenir. Probably has
it mounted on a plaque in his den, along with a dozen others from previous triumphs.
I took it very calmly, for a few seconds, before kicking every rock in reach. After
several minutes this of stress-relieving activity I realized that my big toe was probably
broken, and my stress level began creeping up again. While hopping around on one
foot searching for a toe splint, I fell over backwards into the icy river. The freezing
water numbed my body from head to toe, which took care of one problem.
But it didn't improve my mood considerably.
On the way back to the truck, Herbert stopped laughing long enough to explain, in
medical terms, why I was limping.
"You must have sprained a 'limp-node' on those rocks."
My response to his diagnosis was appropriately conveyed by a simple gesture.
"Oh yeah," he said. "Well at least I have a story to take home. What have you got?"
I paused, then smiled slowly, "I have the truck keys."
Herbert learned a valuable lesson while thumbing a ride back home that day. ~ Ken Hackler