People make the most lasting outdoor memories

Alan Charles Star Outdoors Columnist
Friday, July 16, 2021
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A grandfather teaches his grandkids, not only how to fish, but also how to interact positively with other anglers. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Quite often, it is the people we encounter while afield, more than the fish or game we bag, that make the most lasting memories. Last week, it happened to be a grandfather and his two grandsons, fishing on a dock at a lake I had not fished in more than thirty years.

“Howdy,” he said, walking up to us with a smile on his face and his hand stretched out in greeting. “Welcome to …No Name Lake #2. My name is Bob, and these are my two grandsons, Willie and Wylie.” My friend and I introduced ourselves, and Bob gave us some suggestions about where we might find some fish. Before he left, he told his grandsons to wish us good luck, and said he hoped we had a good time, and might come back again.

Refreshing, that is what it was, to be welcomed by a stranger, to see him interacting with his grandsons in a very positive way, setting a good example and coaching them on how to be friendly and courteous to other anglers.

The week before, I was in western Montana, and had three days to fish. First day, I fished with an old friend who was just a month into recovery from knee replacement surgery. Ted is a very competitive fellow, and has usually been very successful in most ventures he has undertaken. “It is just killing me, Alan,” he told me, “to look up at all those mountains I used to climb and hunt, and know I cannot get there anymore.”

“You know, Ted,” I told him, “there is another way to look at that. You and I have done those things, climbed those mountains, hunted hard and often carried out heavy loads of elk meat and big antlers, while we could still do it. Think of all the folks who never tried, or put it off too long and now won’t ever get the chance.” A couple hours later, Ted was hoisting yet another big rainbow trout and smiling for the picture that proved he was “still in the game.”

Next day, I had the opportunity to fish with Ted’s sixteen-year-old son, John. We had a great day, catching trout, walleyes, perch, and experimenting with different lures and techniques. Back at the house, John said he would like to fillet the fish. “You relax and enjoy your glass of wine,” he told me. “Is it all right if I put on some music?” Knowing this boy is a very accomplished pianist, I said sure. “You might not like it,” he told me. “It is disturbed.”

“What is disturbing about it?” I asked. He shook his head and replied, “No, the band is named ‘Disturbed.’ It is a heavy metal band.” I sat back, listened, and watched as the young man expertly filleted our fish. When he was finished, he said, “Mr. Charles, may I play a piece for you on the piano?” Again, I said sure, and in moments, the room filled with incredible beauty as he played Chopin’s Prelude Op. 28, No. 4, a work I learned later was played at Frederic Chopin’s funeral in 1849, at his own request. The boy’s skill brought tears to my eyes.

There is, indeed, hope for this world, I thought to myself, if there are young people like this, who are intelligent, articulate, talented, and willing and eager to try new things, to explore different ideas and challenge the norm, to be more than just “ordinary” and “predictable.”

The next day, a fellow pulled his boat alongside mine at the loading site. I could tell he was a fishing outfitter. “Hi, my name is Chip,” he said, “and I live in the Bitterroot. I just want to say thanks to you and your fellow veterans for your service. I love my freedom, and love my country. My client, tomorrow, is a veteran with terminal cancer. One of his Marine buddies bought him what sounds like might be his last fishing trip. I feel so honored, to be able to take him out on the water and hopefully, show him a good time.”

So, there it is, a Montana tapestry of angling moments, framing hope for the future, a celebration of the past, and passion for living the moment. Fishing is not always about the fish.

(Alan Charles is a local outdoors columnist.)

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