Thursday, March 5, 2015
A River Runs Through Fewer And Fewer
This past weekend marked the beginning of March, which for me, marks an important annual trek to a small State Park in Missouri. Beginning in 1975, my freshman year of college at the University of Missouri, my cousin Dennis McFarland and I began to go to Bennet Springs State Park just outside of Lebanon, Missouri. Many years later, my son Daryn would join us in this annual trip and then a few years ago, my son-in-law, Steve Meadors, completed the foursome.
Bennet Springs consists of a narrow stream, about seventy to eighty feet across, fed by a spring bubbling hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per minute out of the granite from deep under the Park. The section of water within the Park is around a mile long and can only be used from one side. The beginning of the season is ALWAYS March first and the horn blows promptly at 6:30 a.m. each morning and then again at 6:30 in the evening, ending the day.
If you have ever seen the movie “A River Runs Through It”, this is the type of fishing Dennis and I do, called fly-fishing. It would be like comparing poetry to fishing. It is beautiful to watch, fun to do, all about timing, complicated compared to other forms of fishing, and will not yield as many fish, but once you learn this form you will not care.
Brad Pitt starred in “A River” and he grew up in Springfield, 50 miles away. He knows fly-fishing well. Since we have been going to Bennett, he has been to opening day twice. Once this form of fishing is in your blood, it doesn’t leave you. Or so I thought.
When Dennis and I began to go to Bennet and even when Daryn joined us, the crowds were huge. The sport was huge. In order for us to claim our “spot”, we would have to be up and in the water in our gear by 5:30 a.m. for the 6:30 horn. In that one mile stretch of water, we would routinely have 3,000 people on days March first fell during the week. If the opening day fell on a Saturday or a Sunday? 1992 saw the record year. Brad Pitt was there and so were we in our spot. There were 4,092 people. People actually waited on the banks for the first wave to leave for breakfast to take their places.
Dennis’s father taught me to fish when I was 10 years old. The first type of fishing pole I learned on was a fly rod. I’ve learned on various different types of fishing poles, but the fly rod remains my favorite. I own 4 different fly rods and will not hesitate to fish for any species using that type of rod, just for the pure joy of it.
Over the years, most of my relatives and people who know me think I am nuts for going to opening day on March first. Read that again. They think I’m nuts, even my wife. Actually, especially my wife. Truth be told, she has other reasons for that. Shame on her and them.
We stood there the first morning waiting in mostly dark, waiting for the horn to blow. The temp was 29 that first day at 6:30 and 11 the second morning and 34 the third morning. The temperature of the water is a constant 53 as it rushes by us. We stand in it waist deep in our waders, wearing three layers of clothing. I wear a fishing vest that weighs close to thirty pounds, a miniature Cabela’s store. A light fog forms off the water from the difference in temp from the air to the water.
I strip off line and prepare. We zing one-liners to each other, cracking up our neighbors within one hundred feet of us. Five inches of snow blanket the hillside in front of me, resting on each branch of each tree. I gently puff on a fine cigar as the horn sounds and I send the line out in a gentle roll cast. I pull back on the line and flip it again, rolling out more, sending it out over 50 feet to where I intended it to go from memory of so many years of the past. This spot, this place, so familiar to me. The line drifts a few feet and then seems to pause. The trout strikes and a few minutes later I have him in my net.
Once 2,500 people, 3,000, even 4,092. This year the count was 1,100. The past few years the count has been dwindling. Why? Is the purest form of fishing dying? Why?In the past couple of years, I haven’t viewed opening day the same way I used to. I don’t view anything the same. Since I have been free of pain I have a different perspective. Now when I stand there and fish, I tend to take in the scenery more. I tend to talk less. I’m sorry Randy, but it is impossible to stand outside in a setting like that or ANY setting for that matter and not believe that a higher being did not create it. Science did not do it. Am I crazy for wanting to be out there in the cold year after year and experience that? To be surrounded by family, by the ones you love, to do something you enjoy for so long? This is a pure blessing. If you know me personally and the subject of fishing comes up, you will hear me say the following phrase, “Fishing is not about catching fish.” Apparently over 2,000 people feel differently. I guess it is easier to sit in a warm home and play video games and watch television.