On Life, Hope and Flyfishing

Reprinted my permission from Mingo

Lately it seems the world is full of nothing but shitty news about bailouts, ripoffs, shameless executive greed, corrupt, incompetent politicians and a rotten economy that has forced many of us to push our retirement plans out further and further into an uncertain future. I’m sure many others are sick to death of working their nuts off while watching deceitful rotten lying sacks of shit get rewarded over and over while the rest of us take it in the proverbial cornholio from morning to night every godamn day.

I’d like to share a recent experience that may hopefully
give some of you reason to smile, regain perspective and perhaps realize
just how lucky we truly are. Yes, damned lucky…….despite all the bad news and bullshit.

I recently had the last conversation I will ever have on this
side of reality with a lifelong friend of almost 40 years. He died a couple weeks ago after a long and painful battle with cancer. We did not see each other much over the past several years after he and his wife moved permanently to his small farm on the Yachats River. He spent the past decade supplying Oregon coast restaurants with fresh herbs and produce and he fished the little Yachats and his beloved Alsea every chance he had. It pains me deeply to think we will never again fish together, laugh together or drink together in front of a roaring fire in this world…… I truly hope we will meet again to share laughs, go fishing and quaff some cold beers along whatever twisting rivers there may be in the next one. The pain of saying goodbye lingers still. My friend is gone now, and I miss him terribly.

But this story is not about sadness. This story is about hope and the
healing powers of laughter, fishing and friendship. I have been blessed with other great friends………and one of them is dealing with his own long, painful struggle.

I will never forget that moment several years ago when he called me at work. He sounded really down and he said he had something he needed to tell me. I knew he was dealing with all kinds of shit from the ex-wife-from-hell so I figured something else had happened with child support demands or something else. I was working a spreadsheet, prepping for a sales presentation. I told him I didn’t mean to be a dick, but I let him know I only had a couple minutes before I had to leave.

“Mingo……I have some bad news bro. The doc just told me…..I…..have leukemia”.

“Holy shit………………………………………. what can I do?”

“Keep me laughing brother……just keep me laughing……the doc says I should not plan on living past 50 tops……so keep me laughing”.

My friend and I had been through a lot together. He had already beaten
cancer once when he was 23, and now he had to face Leukemia in his 40s?

This was not right. We were supposed to continue getting tossed out of bars for being too boisterous when we were in our 70s for Chrissake!! I wanted my friend to live. He had always had some passing interest in fishing and he liked hearing my stories. It was time to make it happen, because neither one of us knew how much time he would have left.

We made plans to meet up and go steelhead fishing that weekend. I started him out with a spinning stick, something he was already somewhat familiar with from boyhood trips to Lake Washington. Making time to fish is not always easy of course….work and family responsibilities come first, but we made it a point to get out whenever we could. His first trip with me was epic. With the common beginner’s luck that can really skew perspective, he hooked 4 silvers and 2 steelhead his very first day out. I had the thrill of being with him when he hooked and landed his first-ever steelhead; after a couple minutes of basic instruction I left him alone with his thoughts and went downstream to try my own luck. I heard him let out a war yell ….”HOLY FUCK! I got one!”. He fought it with preternatural ability, and after I tailed it he hoisted it up to the heavens and let out a yell that rattled the mountainside. He carted his hatchery fish home, put it on
the BBQ, called some neighbors over and celebrated like a caveman after a successful hunt.

Two old friends, one facing a very difficult health crisis, had found a new way to hang out and spend time together.

We caught a lot of fish that first year. He said it helped him completely focus, totally relax and block out everything. He needed it. I needed it. There are more funny stories from that period than I can even remember, among them the clear lesson that yes, a steelhead can swim backwards, at alarming speed, right out of a knotless release net…….and that holding a mint bright 15 pound hatchery buck to impress some tourists, even when you are standing 25 feet from the river, is no guarantee it will not squirm out of your hands, pingpong off a dozen rocks, make its way back to the water with a shocked Mingo in hot pursuit and take off like a torpedo into the depths leaving me standing like a tazered idiot in a bug-eyed stupor.

And beer. Plenty of tasty, cold beer. Some people retreat to a world of radical therapy when they are facing a health crisis. Not my bro. He came into this world a partier, and he was going to live life on his terms and nobody else’s.

After a couple seasons using spinning gear, my bud started paying closer and closer attention to me when I’d use a flyrod. I showed him a few basics after a typical skunk day of chasing summer runs and he said he wanted to try it for real.
“Cool. Let’s do it!”

The first day out he suffered the usual spaghetti tangles, wind knots and a dozen flies snapped off in the trees. He also managed to hook and land a couple trout and fall in the river……..twice. I wasn’t sure if this form of fishing was going to stick……….but at the end of the day on the hike back to my rig, he had a shit eating grin on his face. He asked me how much a decent flyrod costs.

He started to flyfish. And he would tell me after every trip how it was one of the very few things in his life that made the madness stop, that made the stress go away for a bit, that allowed him to focus and keep the pain at bay. It gave us a great way to hang, and I know it was great therapy for him. It was easy for me….I’m an addict, like most of you reading this. I have no choice in life…..I MUST fish, or I will die. I was born that way and I’ll leave that way……but my friend came to love it later in life, and for different reasons.

We’d head out to the Middle Fork as often as possible…….

And we would hit the Cedar from time to time……where he proved he was quite adept at his own techniques like the notorious “lip and strip”………..

He was there to snap this shot of me and a fine little trout one hot summer day ……..

We had some great days on the lower Cedar before the port decided to destroy the entire stretch and channel it into a shallow sterile riffle in the interest of “flood control”. A travesty, and a story for another day……

Neither one of us will ever be mistaken for a Rajeff brother if you watch us casting, and neither of us give a shit about turning flyfishing into a fashion show. My bro already had turned exclusively to hip boots on my advice after he blew the leg seams out of two pairs of chest waders with his giant ham-like Italian calves. I figured the hippers would keep him from getting into any more wading trouble.

Lincoln Park was the scene of the notorious lesbian attack, right after this photo was snapped………….she was very interested in getting a close look at his searun as he bent down to unbutton it…I’ll never forget the scene as the 6’2″ , 250 pound lesbian rushed him while he was bent over trying to release his trout. “Let me see that! Is that a cutthroat? Is that a cutthroat? I wanna see it! LEMME SEE IT!!!!!”

“Back off dude, give me some fucking space!” Her pendulous mudflaps were flopping outside the armpit holes of her wifebeater as she tried vainly to get a look at the fish he was trying to release. Pure comedy. I was laughing so hard I forgot to take another photo. Only in Seattle…………………….

Gradually I taught him to nymph with an indicator. I swelled up with pride two
years ago when he came back from his annual early spring Sun Valley ski and flyfishing trip he takes with his grade school chums. These guys have known each other since they were 7 years old, and they’re comically competitive with each other. The previous year he was a total rookie but he still managed to catch a couple of trout. Two
years ago, he took the pool cash and schooled the others by landing 14 nice rainbows from the Big Wood on nymphs while they managed just one between them. Heh.

My friend gave me my nickname…..Mingo. This involved a day of hot Hawaiian
sun, massive quantities of rum and beer, our wives dancing to Henry Kapono’s band in bikinis and nonstop
laughter on the outdoor patio at Duke’s
on Waikiki. Nicknames are born from days like that. He became Magwa, I
became Mingo.

Magwa has always lived life on his terms. He decided to retire early 2
years ago to pursue a life of his own making without the pesky
annoyances of a boss and a job. He had been careful, he had planned and he was ready and able to pull it off. Like my wife and I, he and his spouse both hate the weather in Seattle so they were deliberating between a move to Palm Springs and Hawaii. We sold them on Oahu…..a decision that was once again born of a day of joking,laughing, guzzling beer and assorted mayhem at Duke’s on Alki.

Magwa likes his life there. He is warm when we are cold and
he fishes whenever he feels like it. He runs into Dog The Bounty Hunter at the gas station, he volunteers to help flood victims with the Red Cross, he’ll grab a spinning rod if he’s in the mood, or use his flyrod if he feels like chucking a streamer. He lives his life on a constant quest for the perfect maitai, on his terms, without any pretense, bullshit or illusions. He refuses to dry up and hide, to become a teetotaler, to give in or give up. He’s the toughest guy I’ve ever known and the greatest friend I’ve ever had. He’s slept outside in a tent on safari with wild elephants stomping around right outside, he’s been in a land rover stuck in the mud that barelyl pulled out in time to avoid the charge of a pissed off lion who did not like his wildebeest dinner interrupted, he’s fished for tigerfish, rafted the Zambezi, had his boat charged by a bull hippo, boated the Nile, scuba dived the Red Sea and caught fish on a Fijian reef after a night of kava and beer drinking with tribal elders. We’ve chased steelhead, salmon, trout, roosterfish, marlin, tuna and sails together…..and when we’re in the islands we all make it a point to spend as much time together as possible together, fishing, drinking, joking and living life.

Last month, after my other friend had just died, we were all together in Seattle during Magwa’s short visit. We were helping him put some of his furniture in storage and when we were done, we all went up to the West 5 for a couple cocktails. Magwa ordered a round of drinks and told us he had something to tell us. My wife and I were tensed up and started to freak…………

“Well…….I just got my latest round of tests back and……..”

Long pause………………….

“They cannot find any trace of cancer in my blood, my marrow, my whole body!”

My wife cried. We toasted, we drank more, and laughed
until the bar closed.

I’d like to think that just maybe, somehow, the fishing helped in some tiny way. Maybe it started that typical fisherman’s night time sentient stream of hopeful, impossible R.E.M. dreams full of giant steelhead, sailfish and 75 pound emperor wrasse smashing poppers in an impossibly blue atoll reef. Perhaps it kicked in some fierce interferon microscopic bloodstream samurai that attacked and subdued his cancer cells, beat the living shit out of them and devoured them like girl scout cookies.

The point of this story is simple. 99% of the garbage we read, hear and worry about is not important. Spend time with your friends. Call one tomorrow and set up a fishing trip. Laugh like a mental patient. Party in whatever way is meaningful to you. Enjoy a cold brew. Don’t let someone else’s wadded up panties turn you into an uptight douche. Don’t be afraid to be silly. Act like you’re 14 years old and surround yourself with people who make you smile. There are enough glum asswipes out there trying to bring you down.

Don’t let them.

Because in the end, we are lucky people. Maybe 1% of the bullshit you encounter every day is even worth caring about, because you can’t control it anyway. We are not 3rd world subsistence fishermen who have to catch something to avoid starvation. We don’t have to feed a family or a village. We use feathers and expensive plastic wands to fool a fish, fight it to submission, snap a photo and let it go. Maybe we keep one to eat from time to time, but it is not life or death if we get skunked.

Life is pretty damned good for us. Call a friend, spend some time, hang out and go fishing. Do it now. Don’t wait for tomorrow.

One final thought…….Magwa was told not to expect to live to 50 when he was diagnosed many years ago. He is about to turn 51………and I know we’ll still be fishing, drinking and laughing on his 70th birthday.


Categories: Discussion | 1 Comment

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One thought on “On Life, Hope and Flyfishing

  1. Chuck Gold

    Certainly a touching story, albeit a sad one. I was saddened by the choice of foul language that was repeatedly used in the narrative. It seemed out of place, and somehow lessened the the impact of the struggle for life that was a thread throughout the story.

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