By Reed F. Curry
Some of the best aspects of fishing have little to do with catching fish. I can recall one delightful fishing trip when I never saw the water. I was, perhaps, twelve years old. My fishin' buddy and I, while planning the next day's assault on the finny population, saw a hitherto unknown, unnamed pond on a topo map. It was located deep in some woods with no roads within a quarter mile, but we believed we would find it quickly by compass bearings.
We set out on our bikes at the usual hour of 4:00 A.M. (this was the era when parents didn't expect to see their children on a summer day) with rod cases strapped to the frames like rockets (our analogy), the requisite daily supply of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches... and dreams of monster bass.
Twelve hours later, after a dozen abortive excursions through twisted thickets and shallow swamp, we had still not seen open water. Pedaling our one-speed bikes through the deep sand of the old logging roads had taken its toll on our energy, but not our desire. Suddenly, rounding yet another curve, the road abruptly ended. Intent only on moving the reluctant machine forward, I didn't see my companion stop and crashed into him, sending us both off our bikes. We lay on a sandbank for a moment, stunned, and then convulsed with uncontrollable laughter. Complete catharsis. A few minutes later we set out for home, without a word being exchanged, our sides aching from joy.
And sometimes a good trip has water but no fish. During my salad years, a friend and I camped by one of the Crown pools on the fabled Miramichi, lured by hopes of salmon. The water was unseasonably low. Any salmon that might be in the pools would have been black, so we daily hoped for rain at the headwaters to allow fresh fish to come upriver. For three weeks we flogged the pools from sunrise to sunset, one going upstream, one down, only meeting at the camp after dark for a dinner of prime rib "warmed" over a fire, washed down with Ned Kelly's Outlaw whiskey. Each evening we talked of fish, fishing, and life until the fire was gray coals.
Over the entire three weeks, not one salmon rolled at our flies, nor were any seen. The only "fish" we ate we took on the last day of trout season. From a pool formed by a small stream entering the main river, we took five 15" brook trout at sunset on as many casts --- they were delicious. Since trout are not considered fish on the Miramichi, we were still technically fishless when we broke camp and headed for the St. John. Disappointing as the fishing may have been, I remember that as a wonderful fishing trip, largely because of the company I kept.
In the backlash of all the years of pleasant fishing I find one common thread... the fishing companion. The choice of companion often varies according to the type of fishing. I know people who I wouldn't want to share a boat with on a bluegill pond at sunrise, yet they are excellent companions on the stream. Perhaps this is because fishing a stream is a solitary undertaking -- you might not see your friend for half the day, and when you do, a long tongue is no bother, but rather pleasant. In contrast, the stillness of a lake as the morning fog burns off demands contemplative silence, only to be interrupted by the sound of waking birds, and the creak of the oarlocks.
The perfect fishing buddy doesn't talk of the forbidden subjects (work, politics, finances, etc.) on the walk to the stream. Only three areas of conversation can safely enter the sacred precinct of angling --- fishing, family, and personal cosmology. All other subjects are too mundane to take to the water. Talk of fishing is, of course, appropriate at all times; concerns about family are legitimate to share, because these are universal; and one's view of the universe is in keeping with the environment, open space gives voice to large thoughts.
I can, and do, enjoy solitary excursions to the stream. But there are times that the proper companion brings the best to a day at streamside.