Fish Boy Is Sorry

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Photo by Louis Cahill

A quick heads up, this story contains some adult language and ideas.

I was fishing a little mountain lake with my buddy Dan when he told me, “the last time I fished this place I was on a date”. “Why the hell did you bring a date up here”, I asked. “Well”, he said, “things were getting kind of serious and I thought I should show her what she was signing up for”. “So you took her fishing”? I laughed, “you should have locked her in your apartment and disappeared for three days, then showed back up stinking and drunk, that’s what she’s signing up for”!

Fly fishing has developed it’s own culture and it’s own code of misconduct. It reorients priorities and skews a person’s perspective of what “normal people” will tolerate. For some guys it’s like Mardi Gras. A fishing trip is an excuse to blow off the steam they build up at work or home and then they’re back to normal. For others it becomes a life style choice. For some an occupation. Living with a fisherman has got to be tough. I know my wife puts up with a lot from me and, to her credit, does it cheerfully. However, if you talk to any hard core angler it’s not uncommon to find a long list of ex-wives and girlfriends who just couldn’t, or wouldn’t take it anymore. Fishing, like any other addiction, complicates relationships.

Many of my best friends have made big life decisions base purely on fishing. Uprooted their families and moved across country without jobs or left their families alone for months at a time to guide in some far flung location. I have a friend who commutes over fifteen-hundred miles between his family and the water he guides year round. I know guys who have walked away from homes and given them up to foreclosure to be on the water they feel called to fish. I totally understand it and in most of these cases so do their wives. Those have to be special women, my wife included, who stand by their men when they answer that strange primeval calling. You can rationalize it any way you like but that’s really what’s going on. We are turning our backs on the civilized world and answering to our genes. We are walking away from warm safe desk jobs to stand in a cold river or face storms and sharks at sea. We’re going out after some big ass white whale and the women who love us are, for some reason I can’t fathom, choosing to follow us. I imagine the same thing goes on for women who are called to fish. I’m not talking about the weekend warrior princesses but the ones who dedicate their lives to it. The ones who are obsessed. I know a few. Some of them end up in relationships with other addicts. Often husband and wife both guiding for a living and usually very happy.

I know a couple who are junkies. I’m not talking about fishing now, but actual heroine addicts and it’s funny how they remind me of some of these fishing couples. They are each as big a fucking disaster as a human being can be and their life is unbelievably difficult as a result of their choices. But when you see them together, dealing with some disaster or doing some shitty odd job to scrape up a few dollars you can’t help but get a warm feeling inside. As screwed up as they are you can just see how much they love each other. I’ve never seen them exchange a harsh word. They are totally united in their disastrous existence. Is that what we’re like? I’m sure I don’t have the perspective to say but I know I have made sacrifices to do what I do and so have a lot of other fishermen and their loved ones.

Some guys never find a partner. Either stumbling from one dysfunctional relationship to another or giving up all together and practicing catch and release. Guys who think about women the same way they do fish. Trophy hunters. They just want to land them, not keep them. That’s in no way unique to anglers but the irony is too much to resist. I’m sure there are some fine trout streams or bonefish flats in Never Never Land.

To be honest I try not to spend a lot of time evaluating the maturity of my own life choices. It will not change my behavior and I don’t need to stare too long into that mirror. Neither am I judging the choices made by others. I’m just fascinated that, that choice is out there and every day someone is making it. Every morning someone decides not to put on the tie, or the apron, or the hard hat but instead to go stand in the river when they should be getting a real job, or doing their taxes. And every day someone is loving them, or leaving them for it. Every day, families are pulling together or breaking apart over a tug at the end of a line. Like a lot of the big things in life neither fishing or relationships are easy. A person should be congratulated if they master either, let alone both.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline

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20 thoughts on “Fish Boy Is Sorry

  1. True story. I fit in there somewhere.

    I am lucky to have found that woman who deals with my bullshit. Why? Who knows, although I would like to think it is because I can lick my eyebrows, that cannot be it. There is a reason, I do not question it, just count my blessings, go fishing and hope the door isn’t locked when I arrive home 4 hours later than expected.

  2. I really liked this post…until you mentioned doing taxes in the last paragraph, which reminded me I still have to pay more taxes from last year. Which I should have done instead of buying a fishing boat (I hope Revenue Canada doesn’t read this).

    It also made me realize my girlfriend will probably eventually dump me because of fishing. Now I’m a little depressed. I’ll have to float/cast away my sorrows on my fishing boat. Out of cell phone range, so Revenue Canada can’t call me.

    Beyond that, this was good post

  3. This fish girl is not sorry. I work for Flyfishing Outfitters,
    Traveling often and being gone for days, weeks months at a time. My job takes me to beautiful places where I can fish. It works for me, but I have yet to find a man who is truly supportive and willing to deal with distance, time away from each other and the fact that I work for and with mostly men. Oh well. I like my life and my lifestyle.

  4. I know a guy whose family refers to his wife as a “fish widow”. I think this term should be part of our language.

  5. While I recognize this question is a bit off topic, I’m going to plow forward anyway. I’ve often wondered about men (and women) who guide for a lifetime. Many of those I’ve met no longer fish (or hunt) like they did in their youth, but rather guide only. Have they given up the sport or have they evolved to a level that they fish using those they guide as part of their gear? I’m always fascinated watching a truly accomplished fly fisher. Their cast and presentation is truly a wonder to watch. Think how much grander it is to watch a novice, in the hands of a master, emulate the master’s ability. I’m not a guide but highly recommend everyone, no matter your level of expertise, hire a guide now and then and let them refine your skill with theirs. Steel sharpens steel.

    • As a guide I would say you hit the nail on the head. Fishermen who turn their passion into a lifestyle often think of fish that their clients caught as their/our fish. When I’m fishing with a full boat (4clients) here in Alaska each line is a test subject. I am now rowing a boat with 2 lines with what I know will work to begin and 1 line with what I’m seeing the food source transition to and another that is something fun and wild. My clients understand my tactics and welcome the experimentation, I find it is the best way to know what is going on through the day.

  6. Went pheasant hunting one morning and came back late morning with two bob whites. Girlfriend was making a latte in the kitchen when I came in and placed the birds, full plumage, beside her cup and said, ‘We’re having those for lunch, figure out the tastiest way to prepare them’. I headed to the shower and before I closed the door I noticed her walking up the stairs rather briskly – figured I’d see all my shit on the lawn in a matter of minutes. Got done and walked into the kitchen to find her plucking the breast areas then pulled the meat off. The whole time in the shower if thought for sure this was the one time I should have kept my mouth shut – the whole time she was upstairs Google’ing how to clean the birds. Dammit, this one is a keeper. Since then she has followed me on countless escapades in the wilderness. Why, after 14 years, she continues to oblige my random actions, to include high mountain hikes to little known lakes and streams, I’ll never know, but I do know I love her with all my heart.

  7. Kris and I have been married more than half of a pretty long lifetime, and now we fish probably 70 to 80 days a year. Mostly it’s a half day once or twice a weekend, and then some long trips and some long weekends each year. We fish together in a vague your-turn-to-pole sort of way, or on rivers or ponds we fish apart in a see-you-in-a-couple-of-hours sort of way.

    We’ve done a lot of things together: raised kids, owned dogs, been to Spain, watched a lot of baseball and opera and movies. We’ve done a lot of things apart. I still go to work, she doesn’t. She birds. I play the guitar.

    I like fly fishing, she likes fly fishing, but if she didn’t fish with me I’d fish a few days a year and do something else the rest of the time. I don’t have that fire that drives me to a river, or to saltwater. I don’t need to fish, I like to fish.

    It’s hard for me to fathom that obsession that drives some to water, especially where it’s not shared with a partner. I see it all the time though, guides who give up the muggle life to guide, and I don’t so much admire it as wonder at it. I couldn’t live it.

    And don’t tell Kris, but she terrifies me when she runs the skiff. She poles pretty well though.

  8. this really hits hoje

    Drift boat guide for 10 years, had a kid, got a desk job b/c that’s what society tells me, quit after a year, now I’m rowing a drift boat again. All the while, my wife of 12 years has supported all of this. I’m a lucky dude.

  9. Hey Anne, If You are ever in Belize (or Wisconsin) lets have a Belikin. long distance relationships are the only ones that seem to work for me.

  10. I created a solution that allows me a lot of fishing trips….I taught my son to love fly fishing. If I go to my wife and ask permission to go fishing it’s a certain NO. If my son goes to her and asks if he can take me fishing it’s an absolute YES. Teach your son to love fly fishing.

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