Fishing Buddy

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

A Story by Eric Seaman 

“You get to know your fishing buddy like you do your favorite stream and you can read him as you would new water when things are out of sorts.”

In my years of fly fishing I have fished with many different people. I’m sure that many of you, like me, have a small group of 2 maybe 3 “fishing buddies.” Guys we can run with at a moment’s notice. Guys who, when we get to the water, need no words spoken as to who starts at what spot. No jealousy or fish envy. No competition other than being out and netting as a team. If one guy is hot, the other gives in to the better looking water until things “even out”. Sometimes one would even sit and simply watch the other fish a run, encouraging him.

“Nice, good drift, that’s the spot, he’s gotta be there, let that bug hunt, there he is!”
I live in the west, wedged between Montana and Washington in that little sliver of Idaho. I’m a sales engineer for a big company and about 14 years ago I got a new regional manager, Tom who was a sportsman, fishing and hunting, but never fly fishing. He was raised in Northern Illinois and Michigan and was now in Southern California. While traveling, we would got to know each other, as is natural, and I regaled him with stories about the rivers and places I would fish.
Being both outdoorsman we made a strong connection. One day he said, “I’m coming up to work in your area and I want you to take me to one of your spots.” So I did. It was late in the summer and the water was down but I wanted to take him to a beautiful place for living the moment and not just the fishing. A wonderful spot with a wall on one side and semi open flat behind to make back casting easier. We were on the inside bend and it was perfect for a first timer.
It was hot and we didn’t really catch much other than a few little fellas, but he had been afflicted. Some of us are very susceptible to certain diseases and we called fly fishing “The Disease” and we both joyously relished the affliction.
Our range extended from the southeastern tip of Colorado straight north and west, nine glorious states. Over fourteen years we fished a hundred different rivers. We would try and name them as we drove from one spot to the other, always giving up in the end. Every once in a while one of us would blurt out a name of a river and the other would say something like, “Yeah I remember that one, that’s where you got sap all over the crotch of your new waders when you straddled that log.”
One time, in the late winter or early spring, we were fishing upper Rock Creek. It was one of those bright, sunny Rocky Mountain days with snow still on the ground but not entirely covering everything. It was cold especially in the shade but not bitter. We had split up to fish and I eventually come around a bend and see Tom standing off in the distance bare naked snapping his shirt in the air. I could see the rest of his gear spread out on the bushes and rocks.
Naturally I paused and watched the show, like anyone would while creeping around in the wilderness, seeing but not seen. He was wringing his shirt out and seemingly talking to himself. When I finally approached him he started rambling about taking one more little step to get to a spot and the next thing he knows, whoosh he’s looking straight up through about three feet of water.
Oh, did we laugh! I still tell that story to anyone who’ll listen. Tom would say that while frightened, there was this very peaceful moment of realization. How beautiful the world and the sunlight looked through the blue tinted water.
Like a true fishing buddy, he moseyed back to the truck in his skivvies, changed into some dry clothes, had some whiskey and watched me fish a few more runs till dusk. No complaints.
A fishing buddy is the guy that calls you first thing when they know you’ve been out on a fishing venture without them. They listen to you tell the tale, they ask questions, they laugh, but they are never envious. It’s funny how that translates to all the other stuff that revolves around this affliction. Sick children, arguments with your wife, situations at work, leaky pipes, broken cars, life in general. It also includes the joys. Graduations, milestones, new babies, promotions, thoughts, ideas, advice, faith. It’s a wonderful thing.
You get to know your fishing buddy like you do your favorite stream and you can read him as you would new water when things are out of sorts.
I’m a relentless wader, not foolhardy but I’ll figure a way to get from A to B. In the summer I’ll simply dive in and swim if need be. Once on the McKenzie in Oregon when we got back to the truck, Tom was talking to his wife on the phone and said,
“Yeah he’s here, I lost sight of him, then I see him “Tarzaning” across the fuckin river.” God we would laugh.
Faith. I pray, I talk with God. I try my best to live out my faith and reflect it in my words and in my actions. I’m not a Bible thumper or anything like that nor do I preach or try to convert others, but faith can be one of those fishing buddy topics. Tom and I covered that from time to time.
Once in late fall, on a wonderful day, we were walking along a river single file and we came to a log that bridged across the water. A swift stretch, semi-violent, and naturally I balance beamed across it and kept walking, and about five minutes later I turn to talk to Tom and he’s gone.
I see him on the other side fishing and figure he saw a spot he liked. A few hours later we reconnoiter and I asked him, “what happened, where did you go?”
“Well you went across that log”, He says.
“So?” I replied. “It was giant, no problem”
“ Yeah well, you wear that St Lazarus medal around your neck and you got that God/faith thing going on.”
There is this long pause and I hold my hands out while shrugging my shoulders urging him to finish the thought. “OK, So what.”
“So what? You fucking dummy, I don’t and I can’t take those kinds of chances.” We both howled after that.

Fishing buddies, I’ve had three, my Dad, Tom, and DJ. Now I have only two. At 9:18 am Tuesday June 3, 2014, Tom passed away. He was 52 years old.
I knew he had his demons. I feared this day would come. I tried to stay at work, but couldn’t. I shut down and bolted for my home waters. The place that I took him that first time so many years ago. I drove the hour of dirt road with the radio off. I could smell the outdoors and feel the cool air. Before I knew it I was at water’s edge. I rigged up a 2wt rod he had left with me. Normally I use a five weight, but he loved this rod.
It was warm so I wet waded. I fished for about an hour with no action at all on perfect water. I sat down to think about saying goodbye. Sitting on a rock blankly looking at the water, I took out a flask of whiskey, took a good gulp and poured another into the river.
I told him I loved him. I told him that I missed him.
I sat for a while and then tied on a new bug through watery eyes. When Tom and I tied on we would wrap the tag end around four times, counting aloud, “One, two, three, and one for “The Shank.” The Shank, is a nickname he gave my Dad. The official nickname was “Long Shank.” He would only smoke when my mother wasn’t around and he would buy these long ass 120’s because you got more for the same price. While lighting up would say, “I think I’ll have a long shank.”
This time after “One for The Shank” I added, “and another for Tom.” I think that’ll stick.
So, I stood up, stripped some line and laid out a roll cast. I mended a couple times and had a take. It was a girthy cutthroat about sixteen inches. I was standing on a rock and the water wasn’t ideal for landing so I stumbled along the giant boulders that made up the bank, to a little eddy. There was a big boulder underwater that I had to work the fish around. The 2wt was handling it magnificently. The fish seemed to be cooperating, going around the submerged boulder from fast water to slack, then into the eddy where I was standing.
I held him there for a few moments. The two of us just feeling each other through the line, then I eased him in close. Once netted, I leaned against the rock wall, took the hook out, laid the rod down, and just looked at him. With the net still in the water I gently eased him out and held him with two hands, just floating him. I swayed him softly a bit and while motioning both hands forward he started to swim away and I said,
“So long Tom.”

For my Fishing Buddy,
Eric Seaman

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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14 thoughts on “Fishing Buddy

  1. Nice tribute.

    Two things all fly fishermen should have: a great marriage and a great fishing buddy. If you have these two things, appreciate what you have, for you are among life’s most fortunate. I thank God that I am among life’s most fortunate.

  2. Wow. Great story. I just lost my Dad last year and he was the one who introduced me to fly fishing. Something I’ll never be able to repay him for. Enjoy the time you spend with friends on the river. You never know when it might be the last time.

  3. My fishing buddy just moved a few hundred miles away. This post reminded me that I need to spend more time with my original fishing partner, my father.

  4. Truly touching, a well written piece that in one way or another we all can (or will) relate to.


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