By Louis Cahill
“If the river was whisky and I was a diving duck, I’d dive to the bottom and never come up.” – Muddy Waters.
Whisky and fly fishing just seem to go together. I’m certainly guilty of carrying a flask of rye on the river from time to time. I toasted my first Pacific Steelhead with a nice sip of Red Breast, courtesy of my buddy Jeff Hickman. I confess, I’m having a bit of Ardbeg as I write this.
I joined some friends for a weekend in North Carolina this fall and found my buddy Mike had just shy of two hundred bottles of scotch whisky behind the bar. Most of them way better than I’m used to. I slept like a baby in my hammock, on the porch that night and woke to find that I had stuffed my keys and wallet into my boots. I only do that when I have the suspicion that I’m on my way to doing something stupid.
Most of the river drinking I’ve experienced isn’t that classy. I remember fondly one incredibly cold day on the Oak Orchard with Kent Klewein and Charlie Murphy when we passed a bottle of cheap bourbon against the cold. The three of us shared a long run, the guy at the head taking a drink and tossing the bottle into the river to float down to the next. As we stepped down the run, the last to drink would walk back to the head and start the parade again.
At this point I probably sound like a stumbling drunk, but I really don’t drink that much. Especially when I’m fishing. I’m either not a good enough drunk or a good enough angler to do both well at the same time. I have one buddy who carries his own cooler on the boat and drinks two dozen beers on a float. He fishes just as well on his last cast as the first, and he’s damned good. Not everyone is like that.
Things got interesting on the boat one afternoon when my buddy passed out cold on the oars. We almost T-boned a log before I could run back and stomp the anchor. I had to pry his hands off the sticks and pull him out of the seat. I fished from the rower’s seat the rest of the afternoon. I couldn’t wake him up to run shuttle so I had to leave him ass-up across the cooler and take an Uber to get the truck.
Another friend I fished with regularly changed completely after he had a drink. Nicest guy you’d ever meet sober but one drink of liquor and he wanted to fight. A couple of times I had to physically subdue him. It eventually meant we couldn’t fish together any more. It still makes me sad.
Sometimes for better and sometimes worse, it seems that fly fishing and whisky are stuck with each other. No judgments from me. Just know your limits and keep things safe on the water. If you have any funny stories about your own shenanigans, please share them in the comments.