Something worth keeping

The fish, we always figured, was the bonus, not the purpose. We did not grow up with the Robert Redford “A River Runs Through It” validation and so dunking worms was just fine.

Catch-and-release was an accident, not a manner and so indulging in $1,000 waders just so we could throw the fish back was just, well, all too polo clubbish in my neighborhood’s way of thinking.

“Do you know what the best part of fishing is?” once philosophized UM football coaching legend Don Read during a visit and while seated at a table. “You don’t have to catch fish to have a nice time.”

That’s my Montana and one, a way of life, I inherited from previous generations. Now, we’re trying to pass it on down.

I liked the Redford movie. I thought it was pretty, the story very good and the acting up to par. I just thought the best part was the words. McLean’s accurate artistry was an account lost somewhat on the screen in our state’s visual magnificence.

So, we have had to endure with some pretend and pretentious anglers, noses blued from scraping our big sky, that the film lured here and who are unfortunately mistaken for the homegrown true-blue genuine fly fishermen who treat our rivers and streams with due respect, and our population with proper reverence. My brother once remarked to me, as we groused of our diminishing wilds being lost to outsiders’ discovery, that, “sometimes, New Yorkers are the worst kind of Californians.”

My wife and I joined with one of our sons on a recent trip to a Hi-Line lake with six grandchildren along for the ride — and the fishing, so we hoped. The 11-year-old managed quite well and hauled a lunker to the shore where it took to the reeds and wiggled away, snapping the line in defiance. The grandson was not discouraged. His response was positive in that his appetite for the quest had been whetted.
He fished all day and certainly will again.

The others, 9 and younger, all fished a bit, splashed, talked, skipped rocks, swam and generally disturbed the lake access we had staked out for the afternoon.

So, the fishing was difficult, and the excuse was certainly needed.

Five hours of flailing at the water included a dozen or so casts of my own. A couple were award-worthy, most were decent and some were just plain whipped and winged. One apparently cost me part of my reel. Unable to find the piece, we were forced to retire the pole for the rest of the day.

My hands were needed elsewhere, anyway. Eileen, Matt and myself spent most of those hours untangling lines, extracting hooks, baiting barbs, re-rigging lines, digging through tackle boxes, chasing down bobbers and trying to rescue gear from grabby weeds and bushes without tumbling into the murky depths located at the edge of our stance.

My patience has gotten better.

The fishing was just the excuse for our journey, our gathering and an afternoon well worth the commitment. Catching, combined with the requisite cleaning and caring, might have just been too much work for the laziness of that day. Still, we talked of the nibbles, the bites and, of course, the big one that got away.

That’s the fishing I remember as a boy, except the times as I grew older and walked the creeks (cricks?) with my dad, and trolled the lakes with my grandfather. We caught fish then and that’s what is to look forward to now as the kids grow (not too soon, I hope).
Still, the fish is not entitled, not owed us anymore than is tomorrow.

It is a bonus, a gathering topic and not the sole reason. These trips are not so much about what we go after, but more for what we come away with.

The memory is a keeper.

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