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Sporting Life

The Next Adventure

And the gift of mentoring

By Tom Bryant

“The only thing crazier than a duck hunter or a mountain climber,” the Old Man repeatedly said, “is a really dedicated fisherman — a man who will fish where he knows there are no fish, just as long as he’s fishing.”    — Robert Ruark in The Old Man’s Boy Grows Older

We were all grouped around the kitchen table, more or less in a relaxed mode after a full morning of duck hunting. The kitchen table was in the duck-hunting lodge that we lease along with five corn-planted impoundments right on the Pamlico Sound and only a few miles from Lake Mattamuskeet. It was the last day of duck season.

There were seven of us, not exactly the Magnificent Seven, unless you talk to us after a successful day in the duck blind. Then you would surely think we were the most proficient duck hunters and outdoorsmen in the whole South.

This was not one of those days, unfortunately. Duck shooting had been sparse. We saw ducks, but they were working over the Pamlico and refusing to drop into our impoundments. “This ain’t exactly how I planned to end duck season,” Bubba said as he pushed back in his slat-back chair and ambled over to the refrigerator. “I’m gonna end the pain a little with a cold beer. How ’bout you guys?”

“I’ll join you,” I said. “Then I’m gonna take a nap.”

Bubba handed me a beer, “Well, maybe the fishing will be better this spring. Art, I hear you’re going down to Belize to try your hand at saltwater fly-fishing.”

“Yeah. As a matter of fact, I brought my fly rod so you could give me a couple of lessons.”

Bubba is an accomplished fly fisherman and has fished Costa Rica as well as Belize. “Well, this ain’t exactly the right kind of weather,” I said, since the wind had picked up and the temperature was dropping, “but get your rig and we’ll cast a little in the backyard.”

We all trooped out to the yard right off the miniature enclosed back porch where we kept our guns and wet waders. Art had his fly rod all put together and ready to go.

As he limbered the rod back and forth slowly, Bubba said, “Art, it’s all in the wrist.” He had tied a small weight to the line to imitate a tiny fly and commenced to let line out as he moved the rod in rhythm with the line.

A pickup truck slowly eased down the drive toward the barn camp — an old barn converted into living quarters located a couple of hundred yards behind our lodge. The guys who lease the camp are some of the finest duck hunters in the area, and they do it the hard way. They hunt on the Pamlico Sound in powerful jon boats in all kinds of weather. None of that impoundment hunting for them.

There were three of them in the group, and they have become our good friends, sharing meals, libations and hunting stories . . . some of them even true. We always look forward to their company.

The truck slowed to a stop, and we waved at the pair in the front seat. Two black Labs were in the bed of the truck, and they were watching us intently.

Art continued, with Bubba’s instructions, casting the fly out into the yard, and he was really getting the hang of stripping line off the reel when Jim Overman, sort of the ringleader of the barn camp crew, hung his head out the driver’s window and shouted, “Hey Art, I really think you’d have better luck if you got closer to the water.”

That was the way it was in those days, and it hasn’t changed much even today. We’re either hunting and thinking about fishing, or fishing and planning a hunt. The outdoor group I hang out with is never far from an open air event/outdoor entertainment.

For me, this love affair with sportfishing started at a young age and was as natural as breathing. Like so many sports in the outdoors, there’s often a driving force, most of the time an older individual or a host of friendly, experienced sportsmen. With me, it was my family. My dad, for sure, and my granddad, along with several uncles who took me under their wing and let me go with them when they were heading to the woods hunting or to the creeks and rivers fishing. I learned by watching and obeying instructions, not as a kid, but as someone really interested in learning how to do it right. They never talked down to me, but I was expected to act in a manner respecting their age.

One late summer afternoon, my dad, granddad and uncles were gathered on the long front porch of the old home place making plans for a fishing outing to Florida.

“I figure if we go down there in mid-March it won’t be too cold, and maybe we can hook on to that big bass that Tom keeps talking about,” Dad said. Uncle Tom fished the St. Johns River at Astor where Granddad had a fish camp, and he was constantly talking about the 8-pounder he pulled in after only an hour on the river.

The conversation drifted from when the best time to go would be to what kind of fishing gear to take. Meanwhile, I was sitting in the corner rocker like a bird dog on point. The more they talked, the faster I rocked, hoping against hope that they would let me go with them. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore. “Can I go?”

Dad looked over at me and said, “Son, you’ve got school and we’re gonna be gone a week or more. I don’t believe Mr. Workman would let you miss that many days.”

Mr. Workman was the principal of Aberdeen Elementary and a kind, likable man. I was sure I could convince him that I should make the trip. Convincing my folks sitting on the porch looked to be another matter entirely.

Granddad was sitting in the swing listening to all the plans and after a while, he said to the group, “Let the boy go with you, that is if he can clear it with the school folks. You can take my truck, and while you’re there, I want you to pick the remainder of the fruit on the orange trees next to the house. We never get it all when we’re there right after Christmas, and this would be a good opportunity to finish it up. Tommy could climb the trees and get the high fruit.”

Granddad had planted a small orange grove right after he bought the Florida property, and it was just beginning to produce enough fruit to share with the family.

So that’s how I got to go on my first major fishing outing with the adults. Mr. Workman said I could go, the only requirement being that I write a paper about my experiences on the river.

We had a grand time on that trip, and I often think back to my conversations with Dad and my uncles on the St. Johns. They treated me as a trusted member of the party, and I learned a lot about fishing. But more importantly, I learned the value of close family ties.  PS

Tom Bryant, a Southern Pines resident, is a lifelong outdoorsman and PineStraw’s Sporting Life columnist.