The Geezer Hatch

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Photo by Louis cahill

Photo by Louis cahill

By Louis Cahill

Ever heard the phrase, “the geezer hatch is on?”

I’ve used it myself. It’s a common way of saying there are a bunch of old dudes on the water. It’s pretty common to hear younger anglers and guides grousing or making jokes about old guys who can’t see their flies or wade like a mummy in a black and white horror film.

In the past decade, fly fishing has taken on the soundtrack of extreme sport and with it some of the attitude. Too many of us feel compelled to judge our fellow anglers and that comes down pretty hard on the over-seventy set.

Like any cross section of humanity, old guys run the gambit from pompous assholes to salt of the earth. On the whole, the younger guys I know treat them pretty well but once they are out of ear shot, there is often a comment made that reveals the judgment.

Maybe I notice it because I’m at the point in my life where it’s painfully clear that we’re all going down that road. It may also be that I habitually pull for the underdog and have a heightened intolerance to inequity. I’m not saying it’s a major problem, just an underlying prejudice that rubs me wrong sometimes.

_DSC8126This is where my friend Mike Ray comes into the picture. I’ve gotten to know Mike over the last year or so and had the pleasure of fishing with him both on the river and in the salt. Mike is a great angler. A solid caster, in spite of a badly scarred hand, and an all-around fishy guy who’s company I thoroughly enjoy. He’s about seventy, a retired lawyer who’s done well for himself.

If you didn’t know him, if you hadn’t fished with him, you might be tempted to throw him right into the geezer category. (Sorry Mike.) If you spend some time around the man, you see something completely different. That’s how prejudice works.

In fact, what you find is a guy with a youthful spirit, an open mind, and a hell of a nice cast. But there has always been something more to Mike that I just couldn’t put my finger on. There is an air about him when he put on his waders and climbs in the boat that is nothing short of a transformation.

There’s a calmness that comes over Mike when those waders go on. A comfort and a confidence that you don’t see in many anglers. His body language changes. The way he stands and holds his cigar, the way takes a knee on the bank, and I think even the way he sees the world become something completely different. Something old and familiar.

On a recent trip to Patagonia I found out what it is.

At dinner one night, after we had all had a bit to drink and were telling some stories, Mike let something slip. He didn’t make a big deal of it, or really talk about it at all. He’s incredibly humble. It just came up in conversation that he had been on the ground in Vietnam during the Tet offensive. He is incredibly humble about it, saying…

“Its true that I was injured, during Tet, while scrambling planes but the real heroes were those grunts out there who were in danger constantly, under the worst conditions.”

That may not mean anything to a lot of you. We, as a culture, don’t talk much about that war and even less about the winter of 1968 when over 80,000 Viet Cong troops overran allied command centers, taking US forces completely by surprise. It was the first time in a generation that the US Armed Forces really had their ass handed to them. It the history books it’s marked as a US victory but it sure didn’t feel like it at the time. 543 Americans killed and 2,547 wounded, the highest weekly number of casualties of the war. It changed the way America saw the war in Vietnam.

I’m just old enough to remember that war. To remember seeing it on television. My father and my great uncle were veterans of Korea and WW2. I’d seen what combat does to men. I knew then what I’d seen in Mike. It wasn’t waders he was putting on. It was a uniform. There on the bank of a river halfway around the world, he had somehow come home.

We fished again the morning after that dinner conversation. It was a challenging day. The Patagonian wind howled. It beat us all into submission. I put away the dry flies and picked up the streamer rod so I’d have some weight to throw into that wind but at the take out my shoulders and back ached from casting.

As we pulled off our waders Mike asked me, “Have you ever had one of those days when nothing went right? Well, that was today for me. I’m really embarrassed about how I fished.”

My first thought was yes. I’ve had those days, hundreds of them. Days on the water when I was beat down, when everything I touched turned into a cluster. Days when I thought about giving up fly fishing. I’ve had more than my share but never in my life have I had a day when 80,000 troops overran my position, when 543 of my friends and coworkers were killed. I looked at Mike’s twisted hand. I’ve never had a day when I was one of 2547 men injured while serving my country.

“Mike,” I said, “I don’t give a damn how you fished. No man who lived through the Tet offensive has anything to be ashamed of, ever.”

Like any cross section of humanity, old guys run the gambit from pompous assholes to salt of the earth, but remember the next time you’re watching the geezer hatch come off, some of those old men have done a hell of a lot more in their lives than cast a fly. I hope to be one of them some day, but I will never be the man that Mike is and that so many of them are.


Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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47 thoughts on “The Geezer Hatch

  1. Hell yes!
    Mike, I hope to fish you again soon! I hope that October invite is still on the table because I haven’t forgotten about it!

  2. Mike is the perfect example of how life experiences are past on when when you are in pursuit of a passion (fly fishing). I’ve got a great Doctor friend who’s 86. He can’t wade like he use to and I have to help him get his waders on, but to hear his experiences of volunteering for over 20 years in South Africa are more memorable than the rivers we’ve fished together.
    God Bless Mike and others who can share those life experiences!

  3. Great Post Louis, you just made my monday. I’m looking forward to the “Young Punks Hatch” post you’ll write in…..time…

  4. Thanks Loius for are great article. Being 90% of 70 years old I often get the feeling that us “geezers” catch a snigger or two from the youngsters. However I must admit that some of the “geezers” look at the younger generation as “upstarts”. Maybe there are “geezers & “upstarts” but I recently realized there is a lot that the generations can learn from each other. It is important that the “geezers” keep up with the latest innovations in fly fishing & don’t stagnate. It is equally important that the “upstarts” remember that some of the “geezers” have been fishing for 40 or 50 years and have accumulated a wealth of knowledge. It’s a pity that we “geezers” forget valuable pieces of the knowledge we gleaned over the years though!

  5. Thanks Louis;

    Although our numbers are dwindling a lot of
    us are still out there fishing and trying our best
    to find the peace that eludes us.Fly fishing does that.
    It ain’t but a thing Mike!

    Thanks again Louis

  6. Having officially attained “geezerhood” with my recent sixtieth spin around the sun, I appreciate this post more than you know. I spend my fair share of time with the “upstarts” and find their energy and enthusiasm contagious and refreshing. And I appreciate beyond words their acceptance. If they make an “old joke” when I get out of hearing range (which, by the way, is getting shorter by the day), then so be it. We’re an irreverent lot anyway, fly fishermen, and if you’re not getting your chain pulled, you’re not part of the family.

    Hat’s off to you, Louis, for looking beyond the surface and stereotype, for understanding the contribution and sacrifice, and for acknowledging in a warm and genuine way the worth of a good man.

    Not too shabby, for a kid.

  7. This link was shared with me by a good friend who knows Mike well, and I read it with joy. Louis, I think you nailed the essence of this man. I have had the pleasure of knowing Mike for about 20 years now. I met him as a young man in my early 20’s. Over the years I have gotten to know Mike and his wife, along with our group of friends. I look forward to my annual (if not more frequent) visit with Mike and Dianne in NC every Fall and cherish my time spent with them, not just fishing but sharing time talking about life (and eating great food!). Thank you for writing this, I think it is a true testament to Mike and his spirit.

  8. Love the older guys and gals! I would say that the majority of millennial hipster fly anglers that I run around with are inspired to see older fellas out on the water. Fly fishing is a passion that crosses age, gender, class, and language, I think that’s what makes it great! Old folks are awesome.

  9. You never know what an old geezer might hve for you.
    Two years we ago were building a house and in the mean time we rented. The owner was an old dude with a messed up eye and face. Scary at first but quite affable. We’d shoot the breeze and talk about stuff from time to time.
    Well come to find out that he is a medal of honor winner from Vietnam and is none other than Lt. Tom Norris. The Nave Seal Tom Norris who rescued Lt. Colonel Hembleton which the movie “Bat 21” was based on.
    Needless to say, I never brought it up but one day he came over and as usual I would always address him as Mr. Norris to which he says one day, “Oh just call me Tom.” I said, well, Mr Norris, I know who you are so I’ll just stay with Mr Norris if tha’s ok with you.
    We went on to fix a sprinkler together that day and there we are on our knees digging in the dirt and mud and I’m just in awe and privileged to know the man.

    • Goo question Brenda. In my experience male anglers are very respectful and supportive of women anglers. The only trash talk I hear is directed toward the gals who are pushing themselves in your face on social media but have little skill to back it up. The guys I know see women anglers as the most evolved examples of the gender.

    • Brenda,
      My Mom and Dad taught us kids respect. I’ve had good times shooting trap and fishing along side women. Recently met a lady about my age (geezerish) on a local trout stream and had an enjoyable conversation with her after I inquired about some of her home made gear.

      • Yes RESPECT. The art of flyfishing was built on the shoulders of “geezers”. Hats off to you whether you are Joe Humphreys or Jack One Weight Miller from the old school in PA. Who was my fishing buddy in Nashville. I appreciate all of them for they all contributed to the sport.

    • Great post, Louis.

      I just returned home from some of the same rivers in Patagonia, where I fished (again) with two friends who served as Marines in Viet Nam, and were together at Khe San.

      On my worst day, in 30 seasons in Alaska, I got a flight home, a warm shower, a hot meal, a few drinks… and no one was shooting at me.

      Most geezers have a grace and dignity about them that I find inspirational.

      Thanks for the insightful post.


  10. What a compelling post that proves we should never forget our Veterans, they are the salt of the earth. Thanks for sharing
    P.S. I have added your blog to my blog roll, just found your blog today and it was worth the find!!!

  11. Back when I lived out West, I found a curious frustrating phenomenon that hounded several of my fishing endeavors. I would be fishing for steelhead or trout, on more or less well known rivers. The following sequence of events repeatably would happen:

    – Wake up early, drive a ways
    – hike for some decent time in lonely canyon until away from the “crowds”.
    – hike a bit more, cross the river by wading “aggressively”
    – almost drown a couple times, fill waders with sweat then a trickle of icy water, break skin at least a couple times

    And finally, exhausted, having worked hard for it, I would find a beautiful secluded piece of fishy water.

    And right there would be a “geezer” fishing the hell out of it, not worse for the wear.

    So, I have a lot of respect for “geezers”. Apparently many of them are fitter, smarter and get up earlier than me. I hope to be one of them some day

  12. Ya know….I really don’t care if the younguns don’t respect us….we know what we did. We staffed the military and fought a war. That is more than most of them have done. They fail to realize that we kept the sport going during some tough times just so they could laugh at the geezer hatch. I have experienced some of the disrespect…..which I don’t mind…what I do mind is how some of them, trash the streamsides and lakes, tear up the roads and trample aquatic growth. We may have a hard time seeing but I don’t remember seeing any one of my generation flyfishers doing that. Maybe my eyesight has been bad all my life.

  13. thanks for all the kind words, I am somewhat embarrassed since so many guys gave so much more than I did (some of their names are on the Wall). We all did our part and are proud to be back and able to enjoy the advantages this country has given us,
    Thanks, Lewis. Your words that day on the river were the kindest thing anyone has said to me since I returned to the “world” in 1968.
    Cheers, and tight lines!

  14. I think every young dude should get be required to old and then return to their youth: a firsthand glimpse into their future would straighten them right out. Nice write-up about a good man.

  15. As an up and coming geezer at age 61, there are days when wading is a lot tougher than it used to be. On the Big Horn you see anglers of all ages bonded by the love for the fishing and the outdoors. I have seen young jerks and old, vets and non vets, men and women. Most guides are pretty nice, but a few feel that the river owes them a living and the rest of us are just in the way. Most waterways are public and benefit from federal dollars and conservation groups to which many of us belong. If there is one area to leave all the political garbage and the horrible things in life behind, it is your local trout stream- no matter what age. If you want to solve a problem go work out- if you want to escape the superficial world and dive into nature- go fishing!

  16. Good article. Showing respect to your elders ought to be a universal cultural value. I think we have just become a culture obsessed with youth. The (media / advertising) message sent to young people that “it’s all about them”, I believe, makes this all but impossible. They can hardly help thinking older people are out of date, or worse. I’m not sure what can be done about it.

  17. No need to post this and spoil the story, but since you used it twice I just wanted to let you know that the expression is “run the gamut” not “run the gambit.” Nice piece though!

  18. This is a great post – pure class! One of my favorite streams has an old worn pine bench overlooking a nice flat run, where some of the old guys gather at dusk. Sometimes they don’t even come to fish, they just look on, watch the hatch, and joke around with each other. I treasure the times spent in their company and have learned a lot from them: not techniques so much as a general spirit in which to approach the sport, and life too for that matter.

  19. My great uncles were in WWII. My uncle in Vietnam. I served in the infantry in the first gulf war. Yes war will leave lasting scars both physical and mental. Like the large trout the old guys are still around because they were smart enough and tough enough to do so. You might be that old man on the river one day…if your lucky.

  20. Louis,
    Great article. I commend you for your position on the Geezer Hatch. We are out there just trying to enjoy the fruits of our bounty and the solitude and peace of fly fishing. I will continue as long as I can wade with a staff. After that, I will find a way.

  21. Great post. I have a friend I met in Alaska. We fished every summer for a few and I mean everyday. He was 78 years old then and we connected well. I have seemed to gravitate to older folks my whole life I think because of the journey I have had the privilege to embark. We had a few stories in common I guess. You are spot on about respecting those “geezers” and as I get a little older I respect them even more for just being able to get out there and wade stout creeks and rivers and cast a fly from sun up to sun down during the Alaskan summer. We caught a lot of Salmon on the fly and occasionally caught rainbows either by choice or by mistake. His name was Ed and I wrote a story about Ed that I feel tells a similar story as yours and like yours really touched me when I wrote it. You can read the story here, if you like The Life Long Angler

    As a combat veteran myself I want to salute you Louis for saluting our veterans as well as all veterans who have made and continue to make it possible for us to fling a fly and meet on the river. Keep up the great work.

    In closing I would like to add my own rather interesting “geezer” story. It was my first or second time fly fishing. It was in Colorado and it was the Platte River. When I arrived I had the hole to myself and began attempting to cast a Woolley Bugger into the river and was struggling but I was young and on my own and I was loving life. It wasn’t long there after when a pickup truck parked above the hole I was fishing and the grey bearded gentleman sauntered past me and began casting his fly perfectly with a bamboo fly rod. It was awesome watching this man and I did so for several minutes out of the corner of my eye and remember thinking I suck so bad at this fly fishing thing that I am going to find another hole to learn my new passion and leave this old man his section to fish. I never thought derogatory toward this man and I actually respected his age and the fact that I was new to this culture and being a hillbilly from Tennessee wasn’t sure how to act as far as fly fishing etiquette goes on the river so I left purely out of embarrassment as well as respect. The “geezer” never said a word and I was afraid to myself and I left. I only wish now that I would have talked to the man because several years later while reading a fly fishing book in a tent in Chicken Alaska I realized who I had shared water with when I saw a picture of the author and then read a description of his truck. It was John Gierach and ironically John was and is my inspiration to write and I only dream of a 100th of his success as a writer. Hail to the geezers and pray that one day we will be one ourselves.

    Sorry for such a long post but your post touched many old feelings and good ones too and I needed to write this and it was great morning therapy and an even better motivation to start an article so I don’t miss my deadline.

    Ken McBroom

  22. Really nice post. I connect with both ends of the Geezer Line. My fly fishing mentor was my father-in-law. We spent many productive days wading the middle Tennessee smallmouth streams. As he went from middle aged to geezerhood it took us a little longer to get the waders on and the flies attached, but any time near a river with a favorite partner is time well spent.
    Charlie was a great guy who had been an Army Air Corps pilot during World War II. I loved to hear his stories of flying from England and France, especially since my own dad didn’t talk much about his war on the ground from Normandy to Germany. (Thanks for honoring veterans, by the way. I did my Army time during the Vietnam War but did absolutely nothing memorable.)
    Now I’m hitting the geezer stage myself. I don’t quite wade like a mummy, but for the first time in 40 years of fishing I’m shopping for a wading staff. My own son-in-law doesn’t fish (golf, for God’s sake). However, I have hopes for my grandson, also named Charlie. And I’m saving my old sweet-casting St. Croix 4-weight for when he’s ready. Just hope I’m still wading then.

  23. I am in a club which is predominately has an average age of 70 plus. When I first came here they mentioned a guy in the back of the room by his self looking pretty grouchy. I decided at that moment that that was the guy I wanted to know. He is now my mentor and friend. He is a certified casting instructor, a super fly tier, and a master bamboo rod maker. I am now in the process of being taught how to make rods myself, and have a great fishing partner to boot. Yea it takes some time to get waders on, but I am 100% disabled from time in the military, so most times he waits patiently for me.
    Thanks for the post for the Vets and old guys. As far as I am concerned OLD GUYS RULE. Would recomend to all the young guys if you want to really know fly fishing, make an old guy your friend. You’ll never regret it.

  24. Great post!- we’ve all learned from those before us–and lucky when we make the connection.
    remember all geezers are just a young mind in an older body- wondering what the hell??!

  25. Thanks for posting Louis. I’m part of the gezzer crowd now but like Mike I still like to get after it….being on the bow of a boat,wading a flat in the Bahamas or walking the beach.
    Old guys like me cherish the memories of years gone bye but our passion still burns to hear line singing off the reel and yelling “fish on” and after a long day relaxing and sharing stories of fish on,fish lost and just being with other anglers to create new memories to pass on.
    Tight lines always

  26. Louis,
    Thanks for sharing that. Too many times we’re consumed by first impressions that limit our abilities to see & appreciate the life of others.
    Your article about Mike was a great reminder about looking deeper!

  27. The best old guys are the salty assholes. While us young guys are lashing the water with our newest articulated chicken abomination hoping for one big fish they are casually letting a 16 bi-hackle lazily j-hook through the current. Catching more than us and certainly the big ones too.
    Lots to learn from most out there on the water. J Prine told us to say hello in there. We should listen.

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