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Fishin' Buddies

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I am not afraid to fish alone. In fact, sometimes I prefer it. I enjoy the complete solitude and hours of uninterrupted thoughts. I focus better not having to worry about where my companion has wandered off to or whether or not he/she is having a good time as well. I can move faster, cover more water, and enjoy the freedom of fishing to a greater extent.

However, on any given day, a fishing buddy turns a fishing trip into something more meaningful.

For starters, there is the drive to the water. This makes the outing fee more like a road trip in the Animal House sense of the term. We usually meet in the early, predawn hours and silently pile into one truck or the other - we take turns driving of course. We have lunches and thermos bottles, coats and cell phones. All are stashed all over the cab of the vehicle. We have taken to rigging up at home so we don't have to mess around once we hit the water. We get pretty excited once we get near the river, and it is difficult messing around with tiny flies and tippets when you are raring to fish. Fingers don't work well when the adrenaline is flowing.

The drive itself is a series of 1 hour treks between bathrooms these days. Maybe it's our aging prostates or shrinking bladders or gallons of coffee, but it is hard to make it all the way in one straight shot. Thankfully, we know where all the MacDonald's are on our way to the streams. This also gives us a chance to get a couple Egg McMuffins and a potato cake or two. Calories we will surely burn. The talk is always good-natured and enlightening. We talk about work (most of us are teachers so there is always complaining to do about kids and parents and administrators and grading papers), and we talk about our families. We rarely talk politics or religion, but once in a while we can't help ourselves. WE don't always see eye to eye, but respect the difference in our opinions. These talks are rarely too serious but provide just enough insight to keep us interested and distracted from the time.

Of course, we talk about fishing as well. We ponder what the river will be like today. Discuss stream flows and fishing reports. Look up a the sky a lot, stick our hands out the window to check the temperature. Predict the hatches. We also enjoy reliving past trips, remembering the successes we have had and goofing on each others' mishaps. We like to rib each other, but know it is all in good fun.

Once on the river, it is nice to have somebody to talk strategy with. Even though we fish the same five or six rivers 90% of the time, each section of those rivers are different at different times of the year and we all have a different approach. We fish year-round, so June and December are completely different outings in the same fishing hole. We kind of guide each other at times as well. One guy will stand over the left shoulder of another or in the "sight window" where he can see the fish if glare prohibits the angler from doing so. We help each other know when to set the hook, let each other know if a fish is on the move, and net larger fish for each other once they are on the line. We take pictures. Shake hands. Take a nip of Jameson's from the flask. Enjoy the moment together.

There are times we will even "tag team" a particularly large and stubborn fish. We will rig up different flies and take turns making 20 or so casts until we spook the fish, catch the fish, or give in to the fish. We help each other with fly selection, technique, and general fishing knowledge. We are better fishermen as a group than any of us are all by ourselves.

Lunch is rarely long, but generally shared. One buddy of mine, who happens to still be learning the sport for the most part, brings the best lunches to the river. It doesn't matter if we are eating out of the bed of the truck or at a picnic bench or in the middle of a canyon we have hiked into. He will bring smoked salmon, sliced avocado and tomato, fresh bagels, cream cheese, hot coffee, and chocolate. It is his "ritual" he says. I love rituals.

But most of all, we laugh. Generally, the trip is a constant roast of each other. The other day I happened to be catching a rather good number of fish, while my buddy was not having as much luck. He wasn't skunked, but I was pulling in three to his one. After a while, the earnest "good job" turned into sarcasm. While I played the fish, maybe a bit longer than I needed to for the size, he quipped, "Now if you could only learn how to land them." Funny guy.

We have a lot of respect for one another, and know we are all good fishermen, but we keep each other humble by reminding each other of our moments of disgrace. The fall in the middle of a tiny stream, casting with no fly on for five minutes, casting to a rock you thought was a fish, casting with three feet of leader because you forgot your extra in the car. We love showing off the trophy pictures or counting fish landed into the double digits, but when we can bring each other back down to earth, we jump at the chance.

And the trip gives us hours of discussion afterward. On the trip home we relive our glories and curse our failure. For days afterward we can play the "remember the time when" game. We have days to compare other days to, places that remind us of other places, and fish that will forever remain our benchmarks.

I know I love to fish alone. Solitude is in short supply these days, so I take my share of it when I can. Knowing I can make it alone gives me strength. But it is the sharing of these moments with others that make them special. It is the communal nature of fishing that makes it a brotherhood (or sisterhood). It is the moment spent together in victory or defeat that makes it worth the effort.