By Robert Bryant
Growing up in an area blessed with great fishing, it was only natural that both my boys became as avid fishermen as I. If you ask my wife she would say that we fish more than what most people consider socially acceptable. I’m still not sure what that means…I ponder it occasionally, usually while fishing. Both of my sons have become excellent fly fisherman, a skill that I only wished for at their age. As a wise man once said, “Sometimes fishing is not about the fish at all” and that is how it was for all of us growing up together, kids and parents alike. Fishing gradually morphed into fly fishing and the fishing trips were just what we did naturally as a family. The trips were as often a spur of the moment idea as they were well planned events. We just fish and that is who we are. Our trips took us to beautiful lakes and streams, but the real beauty I found was in the comfortable companionship I found with my family on these trips. And yes we eventually got my wife to understand why we fish more than what others consider socially acceptable. As the boys grew into young men they also became excellent fly casters. I would often stop and watch them cast with the smooth action and graceful power they both possessed. Catching fish was an extra, the real joy for me was watching them.
As the boys moved into adulthood and college our fishing trips together became less frequent. Whenever we did have the opportunity to spend time together, we went fishing. Again, it was not so much a planned outing as it was just something that we all assumed that we would do when we got together because that is who we are. Fly fishing brings us closer together as a family than any other outing or event that I can think of. And again, as often as not, I would watch and see that old grace that the boys got from somewhere (I hope my casts look half as good as theirs). Sometimes we talk a little, sometimes we talk a lot, but the real communication being shared is through our being together and fishing. Fishing is really not about fish at all.
About one year ago my older son was deployed to Afghanistan. He is an Army officer and I know he is proud to serve his country and feels a great responsibility towards the soldiers in his command. Just before he was deployed, we got together with his new wife and did what came naturally…We went fishing. Watching him cast again, I remembered the times growing up, the lakes and rivers we fished. Again there was that natural grace and form that always seemed to come natural to him. As a father watching your son shoot out another graceful cast, trying to not think the unthinkable, but knowing the possibility exists that faces any soldier going off to war, I was somehow comforted by the peacefulness and grace of watching him cast. This was our way of saying goodbye.
During the deployment, I would remember the times we fished together and, as often as possible, fish with my younger son. The absence of my older son was somewhat comforted by the fishing, but we were still not together and would not be for some time. My younger son, also an Army officer, faces an uncertain future as do all soldiers during wartime. He has always looked up to his older brother and knows the fear his mother and I have for his brother and all soldiers currently deployed, but we do not voice. Maybe he feels these communications through our times fishing.
Two weeks ago my older son came back from his deployment for some well earned R&R. My wife and I figured that his wife could have him for the first week and we would go visit him the second week. This time I did agree with my wife that fishing that first week would probably be considered socially unacceptable, at least by his wife. The second week we did get together and, naturally, we went fishing. We fished a small tailwater that showed some afternoon hatches and got a few rises. I know for him this was therapeutic and relaxing, something he needed and looked forward to after all he had experienced during the last eight months. Watching that old graceful cast and seeing him relax also provided me some relief from the fears that had been contained since he left. Why does fishing do this for us? I’ll leave that up to the psychologists, but I am happy to know that we both have found our way to communicate what is so hard to say in words.
All too soon the weather cooled down and the hatches stopped, but we still fished until our fingers were numb. Those who fish during the winter know the feeling. While we knew the prime fish activity was over, we did not want to leave. Our wives had to drag us from the river, my wife muttering to our new daughter-in-law something about social acceptance and fishing. We spent the rest of the evening over an excellent dinner and good wine. I remember thinking that this was an excellent finish to an excellent day. And naturally, the talk over dinner turned to trips we have planned when he returns from the remainder of his deployment in another four months.
So he left yesterday to return to his command. Another four months of uncertainty and fears. But we both said goodbye, knowing that we spent time together doing what we both find as the most meaningful way to share time. We also know that when he returns, after a period of time that my wife, and daughter-in-law, considers socially acceptable, we will all be on a river or lake somewhere sharing time again with each other fishing, because that is just what we do and what we have always done. Fishing really isn’t about the fish, but they do make us do what we do. I thank God for that.