How Sick Are You, Really?

(Note: This article previously appeared in High Country Angler Magazine)

If you’re any kind of fisherman, you’ve probably had the finger of accusation pointed at you from time to time. Usually it’s a spouse, significant other, or family member. “You think more about fishing than you do about me”. “The guy at the fly shop sees more of you than I do.” “You never look at me the way you look at that reel.”

And let’s face it, nine times out of ten it is true. There is no hiding from the fact that as fishermen, we are, to differing degrees, struck down with the sickness. For some, the symptoms are relatively mild, the cure relatively straight forward. A couple of times a year, you head to the river for some quiet time. A few hours, a clearer head, and you are back to your normal station in life, a functioning, productive human being. For others the situation is more complex, the symptoms hold deeper, the cure less attainable. Social interaction becomes problematic, personal hygiene an irrelevance, the need to have two feet planted in water somewhere an unquenchable thirst. The question that preys most on the mind is this: How sick am I? Am I sick at all? Am I OK and everyone else is sick? Jeez, doesn’t that guy with the slightly bulging eyes look like that bull trout I landed in Idaho last fall?

So how do you find out if your sickness is mild or untreatable? Where do you go for an impartial diagnosis? Certainly not to a medical doctor. They’ll either be infected themselves, or else “one of them”, that is, a non fisherman, and so in no position to make any judgements. Psychologist? What the heck would they know anyway, they’re probably too screwed up dealing with other people’s problems in the first place. Family? Gimme a break, they’re the ones pointing the finger in the first place, so no hope of impartiality there. No, the only hope is through an honest and searching self assessment.

So grab a pen, paper and a bottle of Scotch ( in vino veritas ), and take the “Is It Me, Or The Whole Damn World Who Is Sick?” test. Answer the following six questions honestly, and for each answer score the same number of points as the answer you choose.

1: You arrive home from your latest fishing trip. Your kids: 1) Rush in to your arms, and welcome you back with cries of “Did you have fun, Daddy?” and “We’re so glad your home, let’s help you unpack.” 2) Greet your arrival home with total indifference, resuming their video game with barely a glance in your direction. 3) Run screaming to their mother, yelling “Mom there’s a strange, hairy, smelly person standing in the kitchen trying to hug us!.”

2: The real reason you okayed your kids getting that new hamster was to: 1) Teach them about the responsibilities of caring for another living creature. 2) Give them something to do so they wouldn’t hassle you so much about taking them to soccer practice or dance recital. 3) That light tan patch of fur on Fluffy’s back is the perfect shade of color for those caddis nymphs you are planning to tie for your upcoming trip to Montana.

3: That attractive blonde from the accounting department has been casting furtive glances in your direction lately, and blushes slightly every time you meet her eye. You decide the best course of action is to: 1) Empty your bladder, take a deep breath and going up to her and say that although, as a fisherman, you sadly have zero social skills, you would love to take a walk along a riverbank with her sometime. 2) Ignore her, on the assumption that once she got to know you, she’d dump you anyway. 3) Just the thought of trying to initiate a conversation with her makes you empty your bladder before you make it to the bathroom.

4: Your mother calls to point out that it has been a few months since you’ve dropped by to visit, especially disconcerting considering you live only three blocks away. Your response is to: 1) Realize that she is correct, and decide to cancel that trip to the river this afternoon, and drop by and visit, and maybe mow her lawns for her. 2) You figure she is correct, you have been neglecting her lately, and decide to drop by to visit this afternoon, but, what the heck, you’ll take the 3wt along just in case there’s enough light left at the end of the day to hit the river for a few casts. 3) Patiently explain to her that for the last few weeks the blue wings have been hatching, in fact the best hatch in recent memory. It’s only supposed to last for a couple more weeks, and you’ll be around to say “hi” after that, then making a note to have her number added to your blocked caller list.

5: Your daughter comes home breathless one evening, telling you that Steve just proposed, and she accepted. They want to tie the knot at the end of June, which corresponds with the stone fly hatch in the Gunny Gorge. Your response is to: 1) Break down in tears at the thought of your little treasure getting married and leaving the nest. But Steve is a great, sober guy with a great job, and you’d hoped all along she would choose him and not that jerk on the Harley. 2) Break down in tears at the thought of your little treasure getting married and leaving the nest. But Steve is a great, sober guy with a great job, and you’ll get him a 5 wt as an engagement present, hopefully gaining a fishing buddy as well as a son in law. And thank God she didn’t pursue things with that spin fishing jerk on the Harley. 3) Break down in tears as you realize that you’ll have cancel the trip to the Gorge this year, unless you can talk her into an on river wedding. Damn, life sure would have been a heck of a lot easier if she’d just ran off with that guy on the Harley.

6: Your wife announces that she has been thinking about learning to fish. She saw on Oprah the other day how fly fishing is naturally suited to a woman’s physiology and disposition. If she likes it she’ll be able to come along on your fishing trips, and won’t that be fun? Your response is : 1) Lend her your 5 wt, and organize for her to sign on with the local outfitter’s women’s fishing program. This is your dream come true, finally something you can share together outside of your normal domestic relationship. 2) Lend her your 5 wt, and organize for her to sign on with the local outfitter’s women’s fishing program, but lovingly explain that for you, fishing is a means of having a life outside of marriage, but you are sure she’ll make many new friends along the way herself. 3) Break out in a cold sweat, and after surveying all the options, set her up with the crustiest guide you know, and tell him there’s an extra hundred in his tip if she comes home with the words “I hate fishing, and that guide’s a real jerk” on her lips.


6 – 8: Relax, you’re fine. In fact, getting out and fishing a little more wouldn’t do any harm.

9 -11: You still fit well within the bell curve of accepted social norms. Carry on as you are, but the need for constant self assessment is advised.

12 – 14: Check yourself into a psychiatric facility specializing in the treatment of narcissism and denial while you can still do so voluntarily. It will make it a lot easier to maybe get out later on.

15 – 18: As Macbeth stated: “ I am in blood steeped so far, that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as the go o’er.” In other words, too late to turn back now. Withdraw immediately from society, buy that remote tract with the Unibomber shed on it you’ve always wanted anyway, ditch the razor and cell phone, and fish your ass off.


Riding The Wave

Some things we have control over, others little or none whatsoever. Typically, our sphere of influence plays second fiddle to our much greater, but often less relevant, sphere of concern. So while we trust that moisture will return here to the valley floor sooner rather than later, it is important to get out and enjoy these balmy days while they last. Ride the wave while it is there to be ridden, rather than wish it were another.

For me fishing in January is generally confined to a few brief hours around the middle of a calm, sunny day, a narrow window of opportunity with a goal nothing more elaborate than to stand in a river somewhere and fill the lungs with fresh air, the cold in the extremities calling me back to the hearth before long. All the better if during that brief communion, I get to feel the strong, if somewhat sluggish pull of a fish on the end of the line, a reassurance that despite the short, cold days and icy nights, life still stirs down there in the deeper reaches of the river.

Never before have I felt inspired to air up the boat this early in the year, transplanting the piles of stuff which nature decrees must accumulate on any surface or object that remains stationary for too long. Ski boots, snowboards and miscellaneous camping gear was swiftly relocated, the boat dragged out into the light of day a couple of months earlier than is custom. On several occasions I’ve floated in February, as much a rage against cabin fever and winter’s seeming endless icy grip as any serious expectation of catching fish.

But this time around, the consistent warm weather and accommodating water levels were too much to resist. I called up brother-in-law and ArkAnglers owner Greg Felt, who fortunately was of similar mind, and away we went. The kayakers playing at the river park, the bikers and hikers out and about, and dogs swimming in the river all spoke of a day in April or May, not January.

All things considered, the fishing was excellent. Floating the town stretch, we boated four, including a couple of lovely rainbows, missed a few more, and all that in shirt sleeves to boot. Stonefly nymphs and hare’s ears seemed to be on the fishes menu, with the one stomach we pumped revealing a healthy diet of primarily olive colored caddis larva.

Speaking of healthy diets, a routine visit to my doctor a few weeks ago, occasioned by turning fifty, revealed a couple of things, not the least of which is the mind’s propensity for believing what it wants to believe, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. When the good doc informed me that since my last visit, some five or six years ago, my waistline had accumulated eight to ten pounds of carry on, my first reaction was one of disbelief.

“There must be something wrong with your scales. I’ve always weighed this much since I turned thirty.”

He smiled patiently. “Whatever.”

Ruminating on this a few days, I declared to my wife that I was thinking about losing some weight, but not enough to actually try. She suggested that perhaps I give up the frosty stuff for a bit and see what effect that has. So the Mellsop household declared an early Lent, no alcohol for forty days. Rest assured that should this experiment see my weight start a downward trend, I intend to make the requisite caloric adjustments to other parts of my diet to accommodate a resumption of my love affair with a PBR or two every now and again.

So it is good to remind yourself every once in a while that denial is more than a river in Egypt. Consequently, right now, seltzer water is the beverage of choice. As Greg says, “It tastes just like Coors Light, but without the unpleasant aftertaste.”