This article was originally published in The Contemporary Sportsman Magazine.
Painting by Georg Miciu Nicolaevici

When one contemplates the most dangerous pass-times known to human kind, fishing is usually not the first thing that comes to mind. Quite the opposite, the term fly fishing generally conjures up visions of the stately gentleman or lady standing by a pristine stream glinting in the sun, fall foliage forming the backdrop, line looped elegantly in the air, and not a single other person in the picture. What one frequently fails to consider is how he or she got out into this God-forsaken wilderness to begin with or what else inhabits it. Let me take this opportunity – as a public service message, so to speak – to demonstrate to you just how dangerous sport of fly fishing really is.

For the purpose of this demonstration, let me present you with a series of case studies involving my husband, Jim, the Fishing-Nut Stenson. Let me, furthermore, start at a time when he was still a young, little nut; his brain not yet unduly burdened with experience or a whole lot of common sense. In this state of enviable innocence, it came to pass that our young protagonist proudly strutted out into a perfect fishing spot far away from any other human soul. That he had to wade past a gauntlet of gators did not overly concern him. Apparently, he had, from previous experience, determined that gators simply move over to one side or the other when a courageous angler comes walking into their lake – and so they did. Therefore, our lad fished his private, little spot until a game warden waved him out of the lake. In his eagerness to get to his fishing hole before sunrise, our protagonist had also gotten there before the ranger station opened and had therefore neglected to sign-in. Grumpy that he was about to get a ticket, he strode back through his reptile audience, which had by then swelled considerably in number and was watching him with rather more interest that he felt particularly comfortable with. Nonetheless, he made it out of the lake without incident, only to be immediately interviewed about the state of his sanity by the irate and rather incredulous game warden. When our young urchin presented his argument of years of experience fishing around gators, he was informed that he had just spent the morning in the pleasant company of all the problem gators in Myakka River State Park. Evidently, whenever there had been an incident with a gator over the last fifty years or so preceding this incident, the reptile had been moved to this particular lake. Lucky for our young fishing-nut, even the gators evidently couldn’t believe that any human being could be so foolish as to strut into their lake and probably expected a trap. Perhaps they thought that if they attacked this decoy, they’d be shipped off to a lake in Antarctica next or, worse, would be made to serve as mascots for the Florida Gators. In any event, my man professed that he had been fishing that lake for twenty years and had never felt uncomfortable until that day. Interestingly enough, however, he hasn’t fished the lake since.

 

To give credence to our fishing-nut’s statement that he had lots of experience fishing around gators, we should be fair and mention the incident of the nibble on the line. With great brilliance, and for his personal convenience, young Jimbo had decided to tie a stringer of bass around his waist so that he could continue fishing in waist-deep water without interruption. When he then felt a tug on his line and noticed a rather big, green, toothy grin at the other end, he decided to politely untie it and give up his catch uncontested. Maybe this is proof that some common sense had already started to take root in the lad. However, some might contend that fishing waist-deep in gator-infested waters negates the very premise right from the start.

Lest the reader now contests that fishing is only dangerous in areas where there are gators, and/or in instances where one fishes alone, let us move on to the case of the wiggling under foot. For this adventure, our intrepid hero was accompanied by one of his good friends and fishing buddies. They were fishing the spillway in Port Charlotte for snook. My man was trying to get in position on the far bank and slid down a big grassy hill, ending up on the rocks below the spillway. When he stood up, he felt something whacking his lower leg and his foot was planted on something rather squirmy. He had landed on a water moccasin, luckily immediately on its head. With the latter bit of good fortune, all that was left to do was talk his buddy into grabbing the tail of the snake and throwing it with some force and expedience in the opposite direction. Marvelously, this persuasion took a little bit of time and, even more surprisingly, the snake refused to hold still during the deliberations. In the end, however, the snake was thrown and both heroes survived with nothing but a good start and an interesting story to tell.

It turns out, however, that even when there are no dangerous animals involved, fishermen seem to have a knack for getting themselves into precarious situations. Let us now move on to the studies of human folly that do not involve any Florida-native wildlife – so as not to lull our non-Floridian readers into any false sense of security.

Case study number four of the dangers associated with fishing involves the case of the nearly drowned, former sailor (though he denies he was ever in any real danger of drowning, of course). We have now moved into the time of our early marriage. We were both in graduate school and the poor dear didn’t get to fish a lot (something he complained about loudly and often). I was, therefore, overjoyed when one day he went out for some on-the-river time with a friend of his. My enthusiasm waned somewhat when they returned with amusing pictures of my husband’s head bobbing down a fast-moving stream.

They had been fishing the Chiploa River, wet-wading because the water was so warm. Naturally, my husband was wading in his sandals. The simple fact was he had not anticipated wading in a river and failed to pack for it. This did not stop him from executing the maneuver anyway. This time, he got his just deserts for such foolishness. He slipped on a rock and into the white water he went. He estimates that he was bobbing in what amounted to perhaps class two rapids. Down the river he went, floating along several feet under water, looking at the world going by, trying to figure out what to do. You see, the trouble was that he had his beloved (and expensive) Sage rod studded with an equally dear (and expensive) Tibor reel in his left hand. His right hand was in his pants pocket protecting his car keys. Finally, he had his Costa del Mars securely clenched between his teeth. In short, he had a full grip on protecting everything dear to him and no limb left to protect himself. As luck would have it, he eventually floated by an overhanging limb and was daring enough to throw his left arm over it, despite the grave danger this maneuver posed his fishing gear. Hooked onto that limb, the brave sailor finally had a moment to catch his breath. Oxygen to the brain evidently had an ameliorating effect on his decision-making processes for he finally decided to swim over to the bank. Eventually, he reached shore, where his friend met him with a cold beer. He exclaimed “Wow!!!! That was great.” Of course, the buddy hadn’t been entirely useless during the entire process. He had, after all, taken plenty of pictures to document the event.

Our last and final case study is for those readers that believe that age, wisdom, and enough financial comfort to be willing to part with some of their most prized possessions, would have protected them from all of the previously described scenarios. Fishing is still not safe even then.

We are now moving on closer to the present time, where my fishing addict is middle aged, wiser, and running his own adventure-travel company for outdoor sports enthusiasts. He is now the careful one and has made more than his share of mistakes. He has also learned a lot of the tricks and therefore spares those around him from repeating the experience. Even under these conditions, fishing remains a precarious pass-time. It came to pass for example, that my husband was hosting a trip to Labrador with some his dearest and most adventurous customers. The fact that the lodge they would be visiting maintained that there were no passable roads to their location and that customers would be required to fly in, did, of course, spur this particular bunch of daredevils to renting off-road vehicles and giving it a go, nonetheless. Mind you, the gang was equipped with satellite phones, camping gear, and rafts. They knew what they were doing and had plenty of measures in place to camp a few days or weeks in style and still be comfortable and happy by the time someone came in to rescue them should they get stuck in the mud. Thus, I was not exactly excited, but also not overly worried, to send my husband off on this latest adventure. Little did I expect to get a call from him the very next evening, informing me that they would be spending a few days in Quebec until their vehicle was fixed. As it turned out, one of his customers had decided to reveal the fact that he suffered from occasional bouts of narcolepsy by falling asleep behind the wheel, running off the road, jumping the sidewalk, bouncing off a tree, and eventually hitting a telephone pole. Evidently, the good man was following the credo of all good educators: why bore your audience with lengthy explanations, when a short demonstration is so much more effective. Fortunately, the impact was a relatively soft one and the people whose yard they landed in extremely kind. Besides, Quebec City was only a few miles away. Our intrepid travelers, therefore, spent a few nice days sampling Quebec’s better restaurants and enjoying the sites while the car was being fixed. They then drove up to their lodge in Northern Labrador without incident.

Throughout all this, my husband somehow survived and, in fact, came away unscathed. Still, I maintain that fishing is one of the most dangerous sports ever conceived; parachuting, cave diving, and car racing have nothing over it. So I besiege the general public, mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be anglers. Or, if you do, at the very least, attach a warning sign to them, so that any prospective bride or groom knows what they are in for. To the latter, I suggest they either find a way to curtail their angler’s adventure privileges early or to learn to shrug off the occasional scrape on the leg from a shark fin or a bunch of abrasions from a tumble into the gator hole. Life insurance is also not a bad idea. Especially if you’re fishing nut likes to get out to the remote spots. Such as the ones you can only get to in planes held together by duct tape or in old helicopters, that even the Russian army doesn’t want anymore –oh, and believe me, if your angler is not that kind of nut now, he will be at some point. There is no hope for the truly addicted.

 





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