When I was twelve years old, my folks got rid of the television set, and to
this day nearly twenty years later, I havenít figured out if it was a blessing
or a curse. At the time it was undoubtedly a curse. Adolescent logic, of course,
precluded my ever inviting friends over, fearing that I would be labeled
"the freak with no TV" in the schoolyard. My days from the 3:15
dismissal bell to lights out at nine seemed destined for a solitary emptiness.
Luckily, my cell was located in the middle of the Georgia woods, a tract that
included a 4 acre pond. With no television and thus a surplus of spare time, I
ventured outside daily, armed with either a fishing rod or pellet rifle
depending on the time of year. Word soon got out that I was a pretty fair
outdoorsman and I was soon confronted with the dilemma of schoolmates wanting to
hunt or fish the "preserve", as I liked to call it. I usually managed
to hustle my clients past the glaring bare spot in the TV room on the way to
"guided" squirrel and bluegill outings. At 14, a navigational error in
the woods fatefully put me on the banks of someone elseís private pond,
fishing rod in hand. The 10 pound largemouth I landed that day told me that I
had arrived as both fisherman and trespasser, and it still graces my wall, a
reminder of my seedy past.
Outdoorsman and naturalist by day, I spent the evenings devouring any outdoor
magazine I managed to lay my hands on- I mean cover to cover, advertisements and
all. I would commit to memory the ins and outs of ice fishing for Minnesota
perch. I yearned for the sound of a big brown slurping my delicately presented
Olive off the Madison at sunrise. I dreamed of the searing runs of a bonefish in
the Keys. Never mind that I had hardly ever left Georgia, seen ice only in the
freezer, never touched a fly rod, and felt searing runs only once after a bad
I pored over the hunting articles with equal intensity. Anything having to do
with deer hunting called for memorization, as I had begun early lobbying for a
deer rifle and made tentative plans to be the first kid to ever ride around town
with a ten-pointer lashed to the handlebars of a bicycle.
Of course I read all the others too- articles on bear, moose, pronghorn, and
a bunch of other animals that I had about as good a chance of ever killing as a
unicorn. It didnít take long to realize that most outdoorsmen did not see
squirrels as Huntingís Holy Grail. I was particularly taken with the
bird-hunting articles, swept up at an early age with the fine shotguns, graceful
dogs, and overall elegance inherent to wingshooting.
Astutely following the advice of each and every gun dog columnist, I set
about training Champ, our mixed-blood coon hound, how to fetch. Champ and I
spent quite a few chilly mornings hidden out on the fringes of the pond, the dog
sound asleep and me reminding myself to keep swinging when the moment came. The
moment actually came once or twice, and if Iíd been swinging a shotgun rather
than a pellet gun, Champ might have gotten the chance to do me proud. Of course
if that hound ever became a retriever, Iíd probably be writing my own gun dog
Somewhere along the line, however- I think around age sixteen, my priorities
got all out of whack. Girls, cars, and beer- donít remember the order- began
taking up inordinate amounts of my time. I let my outdoor magazine subscriptions
lapse and , strangely enough, my folks were not willing to foot the bill for
magazines about girls, cars, and beer, despite my protestations about wanting
them for the articles.
I managed to get into the woods a few times during the latter years of high
school and college, enough to discover that Iím not much into deer hunting. Me
and that deer rifle I had longed for so dearly spent a couple autumn morns
nodding off while perched in a Georgia hardwood, and I rather enjoyed the sport
until I finally saw some deer.
They marched into a clearing single file, eight of them, including two decent
bucks. I just knew Santa and his sleigh were about to pop out of the woods right
behind Blitzen. I have no idea why I didnít shoot one. I still have that 30-30
somewhere, though I imagine Iíve sighted it in for the last time.
At age 27 I reached maturity. Iíd found the girl I would marry, cared more
about getting from Point A to Point B than how I looked getting there, and
discovered that the downside of too much beer was starting to outweigh the
upside. I was in the process of moving from some run-down urban dwelling to
another when the bottom fell out of an old musty box that hadnít been opened
Epiphany is not a word I use a whole lot, but when those old magazines dumped
out all over the parking lot, I sat down in the Georgia heat and I read.
Dripping sweat in the parking lot of a shabby apartment complex in mid-July, I
sat on the curb and read the first magazine I got my hands on cover to cover,
advertisements and all. I already knew the plots of the stories and themes of
the articles, for this magazine was no stranger. A twelve-year old boy read this
magazine 15 years ago, numerous times and with equal fervor. It was a scrapbook
of my youth.
A week later, after subscribing to every outdoor publication available, I
blew the remainder of my lifeís savings on an old aluminum jonboat and motor,
fixed up with a depthfinder, bow-mount trolling motor, and swivel seats. It didnít
take too long for me to realize that I was a bush league big-water bass
fisherman. In the South, if your not perched atop 20 feet of sparkling
fiberglass with 200 horses behind you, then youíre just kicking around in the
Besides, I am a bank-beater, and the only thing shoreline casting will catch
you on a Dixie impoundment in August is a heat stroke. The depthfinder and
trolling motor served mainly as distractions, toys that kept my lure out of the
water. Honest, I tried to enjoy probing an underwater hump or point with a piece
of plastic, but I normally wound up beating the banks, satisfying myself with
the challenge of putting a lure tight against cover and repeating the process.
I actually had a few good days, mostly in the springtime, when reservoir bass
are shallow and people like me can catch a few. But I grew up a creek fisherman
and speak the language of eddies, lips, and shoals while the big boys focus on
humps, points, and breaklines. I ended up selling that bass rig for far less
than I paid for it.
My foray into fly-fishing got off to a rocky start. I walked into a snooty
fly shop to buy what seemed like a little bit of gear for approximately the cost
of a beat-up bass rig. I boned up on the fly-fishing lexicon before I went in,
and must have come off like the guy at the party who throws around fancy words,
but obviously doesnít know what most of them mean. Anyway, the clerk saw
through my talk of tippets, reel actions, and other trout words and basically
sold me what he wanted to, looking down his nose the entire time.
The part about trout fishing that I love is the moving water. Show me a
stream and I can pretty much show you where the fish hang out. Resting on a big
rock in the middle of an urban tailwater river near my home, the overkill of
attempting to be a serious fly-fisherman in Georgia struck me. A guy about my
age stepped into the river as if out of an Orvis ad, head-to-toe in the finest
trout regalia money can buy. This guy was whipping out long, beautiful
double-hauls and making enticing drag-free drifts.
He waded over to my resting place and I commended his obvious skills. The
fellow commented on various hatches, aquatic life, and seasonal patterns of the
rainbows and browns, explaining that the trout were feeding on emergers or
midges or something like that. I was impressed. Once the guy got his microscopic
fly tied on, he waded back out to the run, fished it gracefully without as much
as a wind knot or a strike, and headed upstream with a shrug. Not five minutes
later, a gangly teenager with a Zebco 33 and a bright yellow Roostertail stepped
into the same run and promptly pulled out a limit of disoriented stockers. He
said itís all he ever uses but didnít mention much about hatches, aquatic
life, or seasonal patterns.
Despite a few wrong turns, my rebirth in the sporting pursuits continues
unabated, and the person who bears the brunt of that conversion is my wife. One
month sheís dating a guy who regularly gets home at three or four in the
morning; and the next month heís getting up at three or four AM to go catch
redbreasts. Not many women will put up with a man who views Christmas as a
necessary evil because it keeps him out of the duck blind on a day off.
Katie has often told me that I pursue the outdoors as if trying to atone for
the decade or so that I rarely got out. Yet with thirty in the rearview mirror,
I often catch myself wondering how much longer itíll be before I can no longer
wade a creek all day. Life is short, the ad says.
For now, the calendar is filled. Bass fishing on rivers and streams March
through August, doves in September and October, and ducks through January.
February is a month of loathing and home improvement until the rivers clear up
and the life cycle begins anew. Iíll even hit the big lakes in springtime, the
trout stream on opening day, and even climb a deer stand now and then, though
armed with a book rather than a weapon. This year I finally acquired a real
retriever, a Chessie named Ruby, apparently bred for selective hearing and
occasional fetching. I pray that Champ wouldnít be jealous.
A child will be joining the family soon, and I hope I obsess over him or her
the way I do about my hobbies. Katie is a little worried about my priorities,
not realizing its my parentsí fault, this outdoor thing of mine. She neednít
worry because I plan on being the best father in the world, or at least in the
top ten. And as soon as that child is old enough to read, I have no doubt that
Katie will adjust well to life without a television.