I didn’t realize it until the query was raised, but the last time I went fishing was in 2012, over Labor Day weekend. For a kid who grew up spending as much time as possible with a line in the water, that’s a fairly profound change. So when Tylr, the best man in my wedding and the last person I went fishing with, insisted months ago that we put a fishing trip on the calendar, I acquiesced with Sonja’s blessing. I had my doubts about my ability to successfully catch a fish after so long, but the time outdoors and with my friend would be an undeniably good way to spend the weekend regardless, I reasoned. I packed a great bottle of wine to share with dinner, and struck off for the Sandhills of Nebraska.
Friday night I kissed the kids goodbye and drove to Ord to meet Tylr. We had some amazing pork chops with his wonderful family, reinforcing my desire to buy a smoker, and then drove the rest of the way to the Gudgel Ranch out in the Sandhills. We arrived a bit after dark, had a drink with my mom and dad, and got a little rest for the next day.
The following morning, after breakfast, we loaded the boat and took off for the Refuge Lakes. Tylr grew up fishing these lakes with his dad, whereas I spent my fishing time in the ponds and creeks nearer to Valentine which I could ride my bike to whenever I liked. A short drive found us at our destination. We pulled off the gravel road, circled the trailer around, and began to unload, dragging the boat some 50 yards to the water for want of a ramp where we were putting in.
All morning long, we pitched different lures from the boat. We saw pelicans, snapping turtles, muskrats, coots, wood ducks, and more… but no fish. Around 11AM I took a break and had a German dubel and some smoked gouda, reminding myself to enjoy my surroundings, regardless of whether or not we caught fish. I started taking pictures of wildlife, and we chatted casually as time and again, we’d cast, click, and begin to reel. A few times I thought I had a strike, but looking back it was probably just a weed.
After a while, we parked our boat on the banks and walked up a small inlet. Tylr unsuccessfully fired his hunting bow at a few carp, and we strung up our fly rods with flies that Tylr had tied himself. I used to tie flies, also, though never as well as Tylr. We walked around a small dam, down to where the water was swirling and still. What happened next made me want to start tying my own flies and fishing again.
We’d been fishing the little creek for only about ten minutes when Tylr caught a Northern Pike. True to form, the fish fought like mad, and I watched in awe as Tylr — the best sportsman I know, landed it on his fly rod. Fly fishing for pike? I’d never have even thought to do it had Tylr not suggested it. Tylr landed the fish, a little guy, released it after I snapped a quick photo, and we kept fishing. At least one of us caught something, I told myself. I pitched my fly in to a promising patch of still water on a small bend in the creek. I drew it back out, ten o’clock, two o’clock, again and again, dropped it back on the hole. I gave it a few little jiggles, let it drift, gave it a few more, and then felt the line go taught. I set the hook with my left hand, which was holding the slack in the line, then raised the rod with my right and began the dance. The fish flashed it’s belly towards me, trying to roll away from my hook, and showing me through the murky water that this was not your average fish. I had the hook set well, and about three minutes later, I drug a hog of a Pike nose first onto the shore. Tylr snapped a picture and told me we’d send this in for a master angler certificate. I set the beast back in the water and he swam off with a defiant swash of his mighty tail, as if to say “I let you catch me.”
I sent the picture to Sonja. She replied “Nice fish! And you look super hot.” Feeling good about life, I removed my jacket and kept fishing. I moved slightly upstream to a new hole, the one Tylr had caught his first fish in. And within ten minutes, deja vu:
Another three-foot fish and I felt myself being sucked into the world of the fisherman. It’s like winning at blackjack — it will keep you playing for a long time. With two master anglers under my belt, the rest of the day was a blur. Somewhere along the line I was reminded, painfully, that pike have razor-sharp teeth. It was a small price to pay for the fun we were having, though.
I caught another, smaller fish, while Tylr caught four or five more, all on wet flies. We were having a terrific time, and Tylr had been right — catching a Northern Pike on a fly is something unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was a heck of an afternoon.
When we finally decided to leave, we found that our trolling motor was unequal to the intense wind coming from the direction we needed to return to, and we took turns paddling across the lake. After a long day in the heat and wind, it nearly killed us both. By the time we struck land on the opposite side of the lake, we were completely exhausted.
We fished a few more spots as we meandered back, and Tylr caught another pike, before packing up and heading back to the ranch. Once there, entirely drained by the wind and the sun, we took showers while mom and dad made dinner, and I broke out the bottle of wine I had brought along.
The 2014 Buehler Estate Cab is fantastic. A restrained 14.1%, it has an elegance about it that makes it something more than mere Napa Valley rocket juice. Black cherry, with hints of vanilla and dark cocoa, black currant, dry blackberry, and more abound upon the palate, while firm tannins lend formidable structure. This wine is drinking beautifully right now, though I’m sure that will be the case for decades if you choose to cellar it. Best of all, the Buehlers are great people — I saw Helen just a few weeks ago, and sharing this wine with Tylr and my parents bought back good memories. It paired perfectly with some thick Nebraska New York strips and twice-baked potatoes.
My parents enjoyed the wine so much they asked me where to get it, the thought being they want to give it as a gift to good friends (and probably drink some themselves I hope). This is a heck of a compliment — I share amazing wine with my parents all the time, and usually they don’t more than remark upon it, if that. Sadly, this specific wine isn’t distributed in Nebraska, but I told my folks I could probably figure something out for them.
I’ve concluded that I don’t go fishing enough. Fly fishing is one of those relaxing activities that I somehow let go in the blur of marriage and parenthood, but I’m thinking I can find time to reclaim it as an occasional part of my recreation. In truth, my real motivation for taking Tylr up on his fishing trip offer was the thought that soon, Titus and Zooey may wish to go fishing, and that I wanted to see if I remembered enough to teach them. My conclusion: I don’t. I’ll need to do quite a bit more “research” in the coming couple of years so that, when that day comes that they want to join me, I can fulfill my fatherly duties and take them fishing. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make — all for my kids, of course.
Cheers to a great glass of wine at the end of the day, and to catching the occasional fish,