Don’t Put Off Your Bucket List

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Photo by Louis Cahill

You’ll have to forgive me, I’m going to tell you a story you might not want to hear.

On more occasions than I care to count I have found myself the subject of judgment if not out right scorn from strangers, colleagues and even family over the amount of time I spend fishing. Sound familiar? Chances are, if you fish as much as I do you’ve run into the odd individual who, for what ever reason, feels that you owe them an explanation for what you’ve chosen to do with your life. I’ve seen people galled that I am “wasting my life”. Folks, sometimes visibly angry with me when I tell them I spend well over a hundred days a year on the water, demanding an explanation. As if they were a disappointed parent. This used to irritate me but I have come to see this jealousy as an opportunity to have some fun at their expense. I taunt them a little. I draw them in and let them get really comfortable with the idea that I am a worthless fool and they are setting me straight before I explain it. And because I don’t like being judged I enjoy watching their faces drop when they hear the answer.

My father was a pilot. He had his pilot’s license at fourteen but he had already been flying for years. He flew the F86 for the Air Force. He could do things with a plane that scared the pants off of experienced pilots. He was truly gifted and he loved it. It was his purpose for living. When he got out of the service he could have flown for a living but his father had started a business and asked him to come to work for him. He would have done anything for his Dad so he did and he hated it every day.

He chain smoked and after suffering a heart attack in his forties, reluctantly, he gave up his pilot’s license. He put his energy into golf. He was always athletic and competitive. He loved to gamble and always won. Gambling, it seems is only a problem if you lose. My brother tells the story of seeing my father win fifteen-hundred dollars on a single hand of cards then give the money to the local girl scout leader to take the girls to camp. That’s how he was. When he passed away about all he owned were his clothes, an old Chevy and his golf clubs. His family and friends never wanted.

At fifty-nine my father had all he could take and retired early, leaving his brother to look after the business. The youngest of three kids, I had just graduated college. He had spent forty years working at his father’s business, raising us kids and taking care of my Mom and he was finally going to live a little. My Mom was an avid golfer too. They were frequently men’s and women’s club champions. They made a plan to travel and play all the great courses they had always wanted to play. They were as excited as kids at Christmas. It was winter and first course on the list was the Doral. They packed up the car and headed to Florida. They played golf the first day and on the second they went to a you pick ’em orange grove. Never one to act his age, my father climbed into a tree to reach some oranges and fell, cracking a rib. He went to a local clinic for an x-ray. Along with the cracked rib they found small cell lung cancer. He was gone in four months. He never played another round of golf or flew in another airplane.

Given the opportunity, I don’t know that my father would do anything different but after watching him waste away far too early I learned a valuable lesson. I was never going to put off doing the things that I wanted to do. I traveled, made art and made good friends. It took a while but eventually I found that where I belonged was on the water. There has been a fair amount of sacrifice that’s gone along with that choice. I’ve made peace with the idea that I’ll never have a big house or a nice car. I love my Subaru and I found a wonderful woman who I love too. She gets me and never complains about all the time I spend chasing fish.

I know a lot of guys that have a fly fishing bucket list with all the places they want to fish before they die. I actually sat down to make one. I put the first river on it, then got to thinking and called up Kent. Before long we were fishing that river and I never finished that list but I’ve fished some amazing water and made great friends. I can’t see trading that for a list in a notebook somewhere.

Not that you need my advice, but here it is. Don’t put off until tomorrow water that you can fish today. If you find yourself at work daydreaming of fishing some place, take the hint and get your ass in the car or on a plane or what ever it takes as soon as possible. It’s often not convenient or easy or affordable but figure it out. They may build a pebble mine or something and that place you’ve been dreaming of may not be around any longer. Worse, maybe you or I won’t be either. Like I said, it might be a story you don’t want to hear.

If you have a fly fishing bucket list, please share it with us. Post a comment and tell us the place you most want to fish.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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29 thoughts on “Don’t Put Off Your Bucket List

  1. This was a good read, and something I try for. Living life by the seat of my dreams is what brought me to Texas. It’s what got me into fly fishing, and it is what is driving me to Colorado after next year’s FlyStock.

    I have not fixated on one river, but near the top CONUS is the South Platte and Lake Michigan for carp.

  2. My Bucket List
    Belize..could very well cross this off this year.

    Mongolia would be nice but not necessarily on the
    “bucket list”

  3. I fished one that was on my list… the West Branch of the Penobscot in Maine. I wish I fished enough to be able to narrow it down to specific rivers, but I’d be happy if I could go anywhere in Alaska, Montana (again), Canada… remote water anywhere where the water is clean and clear, deep and fast, and I can’t hear a car or anything other than the river and who I’m fishing with.

  4. I love the story, i have a nice ,ar and a nice house and i work my ass off for it. So many times i sit and say to my self, i would give it all up for a small shack on the east cape so i can chase roosters or a little cottage in the keys so ican become a backcountry adventurer and learn the many areas in the everglades and fish for poons, snook, reds, bones ,permit and many many more species. I have a wife that understands my passion its just that i dont have a solid plan on how to make enough of a living where we dont suffer with stuff like rent, food etc. She is great and loves my passion for fishing, which i do get to go to the keys for the month of june with my flats boat, it just makes me want to do it even more, if you understand?l. I do appreciate what i have, i just want it to become my way of living instead of a hobby that i have to work my ass off to enjoy once a year. There are so many places i would love to fish, but i think i could be happy in a place with lots of species and plenty of warm weather. R.i. getgs cold in winter and all the game fish are gone and thats when it hurts me the most! I wish there was a way for me to fish hard all year long! Thanks for the story! I can really appreciate a man like that! Mike

  5. Finding myself at the ripe age of 21, being a junior in college, and unsure of himself on what I really want to do with life at this point in time, this post really hit home.

    I have debated it for years now whether or not to chase the dream, live cheap, and do what I love or conform to society and do the “right” thing. It is never a easy choice but from the word go the choice has always been clear.

    Thanks Louis for a good read. I needed it.

  6. Dude, a couple of foot notes:

    He did play one more round. It was with me at Glen Oak, the course he called home. On oxygen and morphine we played 18 holes to a gallery of friends. The cancer had spread to his bones at that point and he broke his hip on 15 but finished the round. I love him more each day!
    As for you wasting your life: The world would be a much better place if more people “wasted” their life as you have. You treat the world as a boy scout treats a campground. Always leaving it better than you found it.
    Now my bucket list: Any creek with you but please make some where warm 🙂

  7. My Dad loved to fish, my Mother as well. He worked for over 30 years for the same company, looking after my Mom and I. He dreamed of the day he could retire and fish as much as he wanted. Serious illness gave him early retirement but he was not able to go fishing.
    I too have taken a lesson from my Dad, I work hard and then I fish easy, close to a hundred days a year. You can’t wait to do what you love.
    Another great piece, Louis. Thanks

  8. Very nice touching story , with a great message. I can relate to it a great deal and it reminded me of why I fly fish.
    Number one on my bucket list Big Tree River, NWT Canada for Artiic Char

  9. Great story. My dad in 1997 up until then I tried to to fish with him at least once a year. He didn’t love to fish like I do but did enjoy it. Now I try to fish as much as possible with my son. My bucket list is any small wild stream. Would also like one day to fish Alaska.

  10. I failed to mention that aside from the “bucket list” topic, the story was great Louis…as we just saw with the tragic news of Jose, life is too short. A life without regrets is saying YES to fishing trips!

    • Thanks you everyone for your support! I was a little unsure about how this would go over. It’s not a happy story but one I felt compelled to tell. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  11. Here is to wishing on checking off that bucket list. I am currently watching my father kill himself after working his ass off for years. He has COPD and just can’t kick smoking and drinking which have both repeatedly put him in the hospital over the last few years. I will typing up that list and tying as often as I can and I might even make it to closet river to Charlotte a few times soon (South Mountains State Park, NC). Thanks and keep posting.

    Did get to hit the farm pond for an hour this week between trips to the hospital fat sun fish and young bass.

  12. Awesome story. Hey Louis that picture reminds me of one of my home waters. I havent seen it in quite sometime (esp deserted) thanks for making the bucket overflow again. Any chance that picture was taken on a trib to Lake Ontario?

  13. This story is an omen. I have been waking up for the past three months with a very uneasy feeling that I do not have much time to do what I want to do. I am not sick, I don’t see a career change in my future. It is just an uneasy feeling…I am running out of time. It is nice to see that I am not the only one with this on my mind. I just wish I knew what is driving my angst.

  14. Thanks for the profound and enjoyable read. I have so many things on my mind right now that there’s smoke rolling out of my ears! Great pic- I have had the pleasure of fishing that stretch also.

  15. great subject to highlight. Bucket List: Perth, Australia for the yellow finned Permit, Baja Mexico chasing Rooster Fish, and Seychelles/Maldives for the Grand Trevally. And Kenai rainbows.

  16. I was immediately reminded of the expression that a man on his deathbed doesn’t regret not spending more time at the office. This brings me to the central point….What is ultimately satisfying for us is to be and do human things. Fly fishing is designed to be a wondrously innate human thing: being at one with nature, problem solving, hunting, casting, reading water, moving, experiencing the elements. Almost everything else we do in our lives is anti-human, whether it is passively watching television, staring at a computer screen, heating packaged food, or standing in line. I strongly believe that doing human things – the things that humans seem meant to do in their design – is the secret to being happy and fulfilled. But of course, that also means you won’t be rich, and your life will not be “conventional.” It’s all a balancing act; just make sure the balance point tips you in the right direction.

  17. Hey Chris we’re all running out of time, which is the point. I’m 62 and feel just like you Chris everyday, but that is also making me do more w/most days, even when I may not feel like it. Caught a few nice Pompano just this morning out of the Gulf, the water was pristine. I’m shootin’ to fish 100 days this year! I’d agree it is a good Omen use it.

  18. I can relate to this story in so many ways, thanks for simplifying such a complex philosophy that I have always found such a hard time articulating… I feel like I want to share this with everyone who thinks I’m crazy for devoting half of my life to my passion – fishing.
    p.s. what a great addition to the story Tom’s commend is! Thanks for sharing guys.

  19. I know I’m late to the party but my main bucket list goal is/was to be a guide. In the past month I attended the Sweetwater travel guide school in montana. I have quit my corporate job and accepted a position with a resort in Missoula, mt. I leave town in one week to pursue my dream. This is the dream. During guide school I realized my passion for helping others catch fish and learn our sport while gaining an appreciation for the outdoors. This is a decision most could never make, but for me was inevitable.

  20. Good story, hits really close to home. I lost my mom to cancer when I was 21. She had a pain in her shoulder for a couple of months and when she got an x-ray they found cancer. She lasted 5 months. It taught me that life is short and precious. Shortly after that I was introduced to fly fishing. Ten years later, I am “living the dream” somewhat, working and guiding in Montana in the summers and working on my teaching degree the rest of the year, and have decided-at least for the time being that this is what I will be doing for the rest of my life. I don’t really have a bucket list, other than more saltwater fishing. I feel fortunate to be able to fish 2-3 days a week. I had an epiphany last summer on Montana’s Smith River during a long day of rowing a gear boat. My mom was looking down at me smiling, I knew that the choices I have made would’ve made her proud. The trout bum lifestyle might give you sideways looks every once in a while, but I think most people would do it too if they had the guts to pull the trigger. Keep up the good work! Matt Hargrave

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