Breadcrumbs

The Writings of LaVarr B Webb

A fisherman is old. . .

When his first fishing partner, his Dad, has been dead for 20 years or more.

When his old fishing partners have sons of their own to fish with,

and

When his own sons are, generally, too busy with their careers to go fishing.

A fisherman is old . . .

When his mind is a golden book of memories that can be read to old fishing buddies and grandchildren alike.

Like the time, when he was just a kid, and his Dad hooked a big rainbow, lifted it on to a narrow neck of land that jutted out into the stream, and worriedly watched as the fish flopped, with deep water on each side, then his Dad yelled, "Son, grab that fish." He rushed out to throw himself on the fish, but just as he reached out, the rainbow threw the hook and slipped back into the water, and the hook, powered by the tight line, buried itself in his thumb. As he stood there bleeding and hurting, his Dad cried, "You lost my fish!"

Like the first fishing trip after he was married, and he hooked a very large brown trout, six pounds or more, and after fighting with it for several minutes, tried to lift it up out of the stream, but it was heavy, and its nose kept catching on the lip of the stream bank. He, afraid of losing it, called to his beautiful new wife, "Reach down and grab the fish," but all she did was dance up and down, saying excitedly over and over, "You got a big one; you got a big one!" Finally, he, knowing that he had a big one, tried to gently ease it up and over the bank, but his line broke, and he watched helplessly as the fish, carrying his only Mormon Girl fly and his new tapered leader, flopped back into the stream.

Like the time he took a troop of scouts up to Chalk Creek, and told them that he would tend camp, prepare meals and wash dishes while they fished. After fishing into the second day, the scouts came back to camp, and complained, "There's no fish in this creek." So he said, "I'll make a deal with you; I'll go fishing, and if I catch my limit, you guys will have to tend camp, cook the meals, and wash the dishes.

The kids "Haw, hawed." "You can't catch any fish because we used up all of the worms." He left them jeering, and as he walked up the stream, captured dozens of fat, lively grasshoppers. Within two hours, he caught his limit. As he approached the camp, the scouts again began to jeer, "Didn't catch any, did you? There's no fish in the creek, are there?"

As he laid those fat rainbows out before them, their jeers turned to, "How did you catch them? What did you use for bait?"

He said, "Grasshoppers." Within seconds, there were scouts all over the hillsides catching grasshoppers as, he, happily, went back to his camp chores.

Like the time he was teaching a young granddaughter how to fish. She caught one, and cried, "Grampa, what do I do now," and he said, "Pull it out." So she gave a hefty heave, and the trout cleared the water and sailed toward her head. She dropped the pole, and ran, and as the fish flopped on the ground, he called, "Come back; where are you going?" Hesitantly she came back to his side, and asked, "Does it bite?"

Like the time the whole family managed to get together on a fishing trip. On the stream, he, lagging behind, giving his grandsons, sons, and sons-in-law first chance at the stream and its holes, ties into a fat, five pound cutthroat trout, battles with its twisting, rolling, and leaping power in the swiftly moving stream, and brings it to the bank in front of his oldest son. As he reaches down to pick up the fish, he hears his son say, "Dad, I don't know how you do it. At least ten people fished that hole in the last hour, and didn't get a thing."

A fisherman is old . . .

When, on a fishing trip with part of his family, he sees one of his grandsons wearing a Walkman, the headphones of that high fidelity miniature tape player clamped tight to his head, and he realizes, sadly, that his grandson's world is not made up of camping trips, fish stories, the big one waiting in the next hole, or the singing of the wind in the pine trees, but rather, this boy's world revolves around the all pervading beat of hard rock bands and "music" his grandfather cannot comprehend, let alone enjoy.

A fisherman is old . . .

When on another fishing trip, he hears the exultant cry, "I got a big one, I got a big one," and he looks up to see another grandson, perched on a large rock, high above the birch and wild rose lined banks of a deep hole, trying to lift a thrashing, two to three pound cutthroat up to where he is standing. Then he watches, unable to help, as the fish, with a desperate flip, throws the hook, dives back into the water, and he hears the anguished cry of the grandson, "Oh, no, I lost him." Then he smiles as he remembers that his son, the boy's father, perched on that same rock, lost a similar fish about twenty years before.

A fisherman is old . . .

When the clock radio in his RV sounds off, and his wife looks at its brilliant digital numbers, and says, "It's only six o'clock. You had better stay in bed at least another hour, and he does."

When he hears the furnace go on, and watches his wife fix breakfast in her fancy RV kitchen, and he remembers with nostalgia the cold back and burning belly and the sooty black pans of an open campfire,

and,

When he chuckles as he remembers standing as close as possible to that open fire, and then kneeling down and feeling the branding heat of the rivets on the fly of his old Levis.

A fisherman is old . . .

When he reads that the purists, the artificial bait only clique, advocate that, "The true sportsman will return all fish into the stream or lake in which they were caught, so that other fishermen can have the experience of catching them," and then he remembers when, during the Great Depression, fishing licenses cost more than a days wages, and fishing wasn't just a sport, but a means of putting meat on the table, thereby helping to defray, not only the cost of the license, but the cost of the trip as well. When he goes to buy a favorite reel, and is told that it will cost him $35.00, and he says, "Hell, I can remember when that little old thing only cost $2.98,"

and

The clerk looks him right in the eyes and says, "Mr. Webb, you have lived too long."

A fisherman is old . . .

When after 50 or more years, he drives by the productive, free flowing Mill Creek of his youth, and finds the old fishing holes dredged, the native wild shrubs, weeds, and grass on the banks grubbed out and replaced with sculptured lawns, neat concrete paths, and condos, hundreds of look alike, two story, wood-brick condos, and the stream, itself, sterile, and spanned every few hundred feet by "perfect" little redwood bridges.

Or when . . .

He returns to a stream that he, as a boy of ten, fished with his father. There he finds, not the willows, the birch, the wild rose, and the massive Ponderosa Pines that had lined the banks and patched the green meadows, but, rather, he finds the meadows overgrazed and dusty, the Ponderosa nothing but stumps, the stream banks barren, eroded slopes, and what had been a graveled, beaver dammed stream bed, mud bottomed, churned by countless herds of cattle, and scoured by unrestrained and relentless floods.

A fisherman is old . . .

When he probably knows more about a much loved stream and its fish than anyone else alive, and while his fishing companions complain about no strikes on flies and no bites on worms, he catches a few of the grasshoppers that he kicks up as he walks to his favorite holes. Then he brings back to camp, an hour or so later, a four pound brown and several lesser fish, and he hears one of his old fishing buddies mutter, "That guy could catch fish in a bathtub."

A fisherman is old . . .

When he walks every morning for the sole purpose of staying in shape, so that he can wade his favorite stream without giving out.

When he finds it almost impossible to duck under brush and climb over logs,

and,

When he finally finds stable footing on a rock, looks down at the fast flowing stream, and suddenly finds himself face down in the water.

A fisherman is old . . .

When he measures time by the number of pills left in his pill bottle. Thirty days, 99 pills, and the bottle is empty. Yet, those pills are what make it possible for him to go fishing.

A fisherman is old . . .

When he watches light, first a haze, gauze like, making a silhouette of the eastern hills, then a curtain that blots out the stars and leaves the brilliance of Venus, the red wrath of Mars, and the pin prick of Jupiter poking holes in the glowing velvet of the sky,

and

Listens to the rustling scurry and the chattering call of a pine squirrel as it begins a new day, and notes the last crescendo of the Western Chat's all night song,

and,

Because of a long stubborn struggle with heart attacks, or cancer, or leukemia, looks up and says, "Thanks, it has been a pleasure, especially because this, perhaps, is the last time,"

then

Sees a young grandson crawl out of a pup tent that the boy, by himself, had pitched, and smiles as a surge of love and a feeling of continuity flows through him,

and

Hears the grandson ask, "Is it time to go fishing, Grandpa?"

"Yes," He answers, "Yes, it certainly is."