Don’t Put Off Your Bucket List

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Photo by Louis Cahill

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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48 thoughts on “Don’t Put Off Your Bucket List

  1. Every year, add another couple destinations, some global, many here in the US. The more I research, the more I wish to discover, especially the Yellowstone Park Rivers. ON a bigger scale, New Zealand and Seychelles….

    • First and foremost Louis, thank you for sharing your Fathers story with all of us, Im Sure, it’s never an easy topic to bring up and just the shear sound of the word makes my teeth grind and my body cringe, “Cancer.” I truly appriciate this freindly reminer that you can’t have the “Head Down, Grind, Work” mentatlity 100% of the time. You need to take some time for yourself enjoy life.

      Fly Fishing Bucket List:

  2. I retired at age 52 for this very reason. I could have worked 10, maybe 15, more years but to what end? Sure, mo’ money, but less life at the end of the run.

    Best decision ever.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly, I am lucky I love what I do for a living, but I know people who don’t want to go to work because they hate it. They haven’t the guts or determination to find what they do like, and cannot understand people like us who cannot wait to get up and out.
    You should never have to justify yourself, if you know its right.
    Tight lines.

  4. Great story, Louis! Same thing happened to my father. Retired 8 months and died of a massive heart attack. I made the same vow as you.
    Bucket list
    British Columbia

  5. When you’re on your deathbed, I’m pretty certain that you’ll never say I wish I would have worked more and fished less…where there’s a will there’s always a way – bottom line. It might not be immediate, however with enough planning you can make trips happen. I can’t even begin to tell you how much time I spend researching potential fishing areas, asking questions on forums, looking at aerial pictures or topo maps, setting up flight alerts, looking at lodging websites to see who is closest to fishable areas. The devils is in the details…and at the end of the day it all boils down to HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT? What are you willing to exchange in order to make this trip happen?

    Time is the currency of life, spent it wisely but preferably on fishing.

  6. I had the opportunity to fish the Tongariro River in New Zealand last year while on my honeymoon! Even though it was only for a half day guided trip, it was amazing! I hooked into 2 but was unable to land them, while my wife landed an amazing Rainbow! I would love to go back and do some back country fishing! Also on my list:
    Where ever I can get a Tarpon

  7. Firstly you are so right. Its far easier to daydream about places you’d like to fish than to get off your butt and go fish them. There are many places I dream about; New Zealand, Kamchatka, South America but of all places I think the most memorable would be to return to fish the rivets and lakes of my youth in California and Oregon. So many good times and lessons learned. That would be my ideal bucket list.

  8. Thanks for the great article. In March I finally fished for tarpon in the Keys–something I’ve wanted to do forever. I’m now obsessed with doing it as much as I can. For me, it seems challenging to try and balance pursuing something I love but only benefits me with living a purposeful, meaningful life that benefits others. I would comment that I’m pretty sure some people do think on their deathbed that they should have spent less time fishing. I know it’s not popular to take the counterpoint but again, for those of us who do end up putting in a lot of time on the water the challenge is balance. I’m trying to figure it out now as I’d like to sell everything and spend the entire tarpon season on a skiff but am aware that perhaps that would be out of balance.
    Anyways, thanks for sharing your father’s story and how that’s helped you live the life that brings you joy.

  9. WOW That makes me feel so much better. Never procrastinate, get it done and move onto the next item. Oh FYI use these apps or web page to plan those outdoor events.

  10. Excellent article and advice here! As a young father trying to make ends meet, and raise a family, I find it is a tightrope walk. I am fairly certain that I am doing it right though, being a good dad, supporting my family and fishing as often as my wife will let me get out. I couldn’t agree more about living right now, because you never know when your time is up. One thing that has really been wonderful has been searching out great fishing close to home, there is more than enough water to satisfy me for a lifetime within my home state of MN. I plan to start bucket list of places when I am older and the kids are out of the house…for now I am really enjoying the local fishing! As for people that may question your fishing habits just tell them to go back home and sit on their couch and binge watch some BS on Netflix.

  11. Heart warming read Louis. Fly fishing nourishes my soul like nothing else can. It keeps me young and for lack of a better word fresh. The trick is to find that balance between obligations and fishing.

  12. Right on Louis. 2 week trip to Montana this summer for me and my wife. ” Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did” Mark Twain, 1879

  13. Kudos on the topic, Louis, and your sharing.

    My bucket list is not place specific but experience-specific. I am attending Georgia TU Trout Camp with my 12 year old grandson this year with me as a staff member and Luke as a camper. Next year, I want to take Luke someplace special to fish. I do not care where, but I want it to be special. After Luke and I get to travel, I want to travel and fish with my granddaughter (she is 10 now… need a couple more years yet). Up to now my wife and I have been taking Luke and Elizabeth to Universal, Disney, etc., but I want them to experience bucket-list quality fly fishing with me.

  14. I see the opposite happening with friends. They are getting so involved with their kids they forget that passion that they had for outside things. I look at it like this. Going fishing on the weekend (or during the week) during high tarpon season or maybe taking a trip once a year will make you a better parent. Your kids will see that you are passionate about something other than driving them around. You can introduce the kids to it if there is interest and once they are old enough you will have a fantastic trip to bond with your children. Rather than at another motel playing travel sports.

  15. I took this advice to heart last year after reading your article about wearing sunscreen and the spot that showed up on your nose. The article struck home. What’s the point in letting life pass you by? Might as well enjoy the journey. I called my dad and father in law and said “let’s go to Alaska.” We’re leaving in one month to fish the Kenai for a week. I’m sure we’ll create memories that last a lifetime and look back at that week with fondness for the rest of our lives. I don’t think you can put a price on that. Thanks for the inspiration!

  16. I’ve tried by starting with what’s close to me. I can dream about a million places thousands of miles away or I can fish what’s down the street. I’ve found fish in places you’d never expect and beauty great as any magazine. I make a point to look at every piece of water I cross, does it look fishy, can I see a trout, can I take a few minutes to look? I might not have the time then but, maybe I’ll cross this stream and have a couple of hours to spare down the road. It’s the ole grass is greener syndrome, Montana is amazing but I’ll bet there is somewhere pretty amazing a lot closer to each of us.

  17. You hit the nail right on the head, that is exactly how my wife and I live each week.
    There are no guarentee’s in life. Work hard, cherish life, your family and get out and live your life today. Do not wait for the perfect time, it does not exist…..


  18. Thanks Louis… great reminder. My Dad also left far to soon, never even make it to retirement or even my high school graduation… I came very close to taking an even earlier exit and I am not ready. Grab your rod and a friend, make some memories and enjoy the amazing moment.

    Hope all is well, Matt

  19. Like some one else already mentioned. I have been focusing on local. Mainly because of my job. I am on call a lot but I also have a very understanding boss and a fair bit of flexibility. The boat stays packed and when the weather looks on my morning ride to work I stop in for a few minutes then take off to go chase those unknown blue lines on the map. I may never make it to Alaska or the salt. But I’ve caught walleyes in my flats skiff on a Tuesday in water that the deep vee guys can only dream about accessing.

  20. MY wife and I had this conversation last night. We are sacrificing now financially so that we can make some of these things reality in the near future before our health goes away and our age limit our adventure. Yellowstone backcountry with my family and fish the entire length of my home water (big walnut creek).

  21. took a year off work once, to live out of the car and get some backpacking/mountaineering/fishing done, across the US West. Most every week, some nice old retired couple in a RV at the trailhead would tell me, “you’re doing it right, we waited until we retired and now Kathy’s knee/Tom’s COPD/etc won’t let us do much..”

    now I’m out of money and options, will never be able to travel to fish again.. luckily carp are close and difficult, provide good flyfishing entertainment..

  22. I fished a river on my bucket list yesterday, been putting it off for weeks for one bad reason or another. Finally, decided to make it happen. It was the best day of fishing I have had as a Tenkara angler.

  23. i have done 2 on my list, and 1 I got rained out (New Zealand) … 20 or so to go lol, albeit I’m only 30. Now I’m off to go practice Spey be steelhead is next in the list

  24. I used to feel a little guilty because I don’t mow the lawn and take care of it as well as I should. One day I was talking to my neighbor over the fence. He is close to if no 90 years old and active golfert & snow skier. I some what alloligetically said I didn’t mow the lawn as often as I should because I figured when I am on my death bed I’m not going to wish I had mowed the lawn more, and that I loved to go fishing. He said Terry you just go do what ever you want. I have been taking his advice ever since. To be truthfull I was taking it for a long time before he ever gave it to me.

  25. Powerful piece , Louis. You’re not only a great writer, but you have your priorities straight. Think I’ll start on the Toccoa. No telling where that will lead me.

  26. Great story. Puts things in perspective. Thanks for sharing and it reminds me of my family. Tight lines friends

  27. Awesome reveal Louis. Haven’t slept all night. Fishing the Henry’s Fork in an hour or so. My dad is gone but my mom told me this used to be one of their favorite places. He will be with me on the water today.

  28. Boy…bucket list. I lost my dad at age 14 when he was only 49. One of my only regrets as an adult is that I never got to do ‘man trips’ with my dad. I lost my wife when she was 62. I am SOOO grateful for the bucket list things we did together.

    I love to fish. My bucket list these days…. I try to do one good fishing trip each year with each of my 2 adult sons. The destination is of lesser importance.

  29. You wrote a fine article there, Sir, and there have been some very thoughtful responses by those who have commented on it. For what it´s worth my own feeling is that you reach a stage where your life belongs not only to you but to those who you love and who depend on you in one way or another. I have a son in University and a daughter soon to follow him. I know that my own bucket list will have to wait a little while yet but there is always a stream, or a river or pond not too far away. You are right to remind us of how important it is to visit these places.

  30. The remote wilderness of the pan handle area of northeastern Idaho.

    Definitely agree with your sentiment, Louis — life is too short. None of us know how long we’ll be around to enjoy time spent with family and friends.

  31. My sentiments exactly. One of the many reasons I live in Alaska. Our time here on earth is finite and I don’t want to waste it. Great reminder to “seize the day”, follow your passion, and make things happen rather than just wishing for them.

  32. Louis, this article really hits home right now. My father, who I loved like my boyhood hero that he was, dropped dead of a heart attack at the ripe young age of 51. I was nine years old at the time and am still heartbroken by his passage, mainly because I was at that age where we were going to spend more time hunting and fishing together “next year.” Dad ran an oil business and when the bottom fell out in 1983 and Hurricane Alicia destroyed his and my mother’s dream home on the beach, he just could not handle the stress. There was so many, “‘next year” experiences we never shared. I realize now that slightly different prioritizing may have left us as a family with fewer material possessions but it might very well have given us a few more memories along the way.

    I am now 40 and I have a son and small daughter whom I make a priority of sharing the world through the outdoors, whether hunting or fishing or trail running. I am an attorney and I am busy as hell most of the time, which is fine. However, I am beginning to feel the tug of years and I realize now more than ever that my health and vigor will not last forever. Therefore, when the wind lies and the sun is forecast to shine brightly during a random week day I now make it a point to load the skiff and hit the flats. I can always reschedule that conference call, although that spectacular sunrise will never happen again.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I hear your message loud and clear… and I am jealous you spend 100 days fishing each year. Very jealous and very happy for you!

  33. Thanks for the great article. My mother and father both were dead by the age of 60 never having lived their dream of living in Florida. I am 70 and have been in Florida for almost 40 years; I didn’t wait! Oh, I have fished all over this state and country and will continue do so. My wife and I have been retired for 10 years. We own a motor home traveling four to seven months each year; fishing all the way!

  34. Living my list, sold everything packed my life into two bags and moved from Chicago to the south island of New Zealand.

  35. Great post and hits close to home. My dad died of lung disease when he was 56. He had fished all his life. He liked to eat what he caught so he mainly gear-fished but he had fly-fished Yellowstone in the late Forties and he taught me to fly fish with some old split-bamboo rods he had lying around. He was in the VA hospital in Fresno, CA, and I went to see him after I got back from a 6-month deployment in the Navy. He was at peace with his situation but during our conversation he looked at me and said “But there’s so many places left to fish…” I went back down to the boat in San Diego and about a week later my wife called and said your Dad passed away last night. I was young and clueless and it didn’t hit me until years later that he had been waiting to see me one last time before he checked out. We can fish for ourselves but we can also fish for our Dads whose fishing days ended far too early.

  36. Thanks for sharing your father’s story. Every day is a gift at my age but I’ve found that having a passion -whether flying, golf, gardening or fishing -makes the gift all the richer. Having come to this realization almost too late in life and having taken up the fly rod in my twilight years, I find myself growing younger in certain ways and happy to fish wherever I can, whenever I can.

  37. Great article, I wish you 200 days next year. I have places I want to fish again: Puerto Rico, New Zealand, Arkansas…there are always new waters. lately I’m fishing the local creek 5 minutes and I’m on the water 2-3 days a week a few hours. I feel best out fishing. Don’t ignore your home waters long ear sunfish and stocked rainbows put a bend in your rod too and a smile on your face

  38. Bucket list (fly fishing) destinations started in 2015 with a float trip to the South Fork of the Snake. It then morphed into a trip to southern Baja for large Dorado, then transitioned to Westslope Cutthroat summer of 2016.

    Just recently checked off the Rooster fish a month ago during a trip to Puerto Vallarta.

    Remaining bucket list fish / destinations:

    Bull trout — Fernie, British Columbia
    Tarpoon — Costa Rica / northern Yucantan penisula
    Yellowstone Cutthroat — Lamar Valley/Yellowstone National Park
    Brown trout — New Zealand
    Leopard Rainbows – Alaska
    Artic Char – Alaska / Canada

  39. So sorry about your dad. He sounds like he was a wonderful dad and very good man.

    Thank you for sharing your story and thoughts. My mom just had a stroke and my
    dad is battling cancer. My brother had a heart attack several months back. My mom always tells me – Don’t put things off that you want to do or it might be too late.

    Glad you are living the life your heart desires.

    God bless.

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