In mid-winter, 2013, I answered an “802” call on my cell.
“Hi, my name’s Ricky and I worship brook trout. Seriously, the biggest brook trout freak you’ll ever meet. I own a pub in Vermont and I even named it after this crazy fish. Sick, huh? I hear you have trophy brookies up your way. I’m hoping to get up to Labrador, you know, treat myself for my fortieth birthday. Not this summer, but next. Can’t afford it just yet, but I’m working on it. Bringing a buddy, too. Talk to me.”
Don’t exactly recall, but I’m sure I smiled.
“So, tell me true,” he blurted before I could say hello, “Do you REALLY have big brookies? I mean in numbers, like more than a couple dozen? Are they everywhere in the rivers or just in a few secret hog holes? You’d take me to the secret spots, wouldn’t you? I mean I’m even bringing another guy, that counts for something, doesn’t it? And does it take Lefty or John ‘friggin’ Gierach to catch the big bastards, or does a regular Joe like me stand a chance? No bullshit now, I want the truth!”
(Thoughts of Jack Nicholson in dress Marine uniform. I passed.)
Ricky talked fast and asked hard questions. His passion was at the wheel and Ricky was in tow. He rambled about his need for a week’s escape from the long work days at the pub and the endless drama of single-parenting his young son. Ricky’s story left no doubt that on the odd occasion when he does find time to fish, he ravishes the rivers with an uncommon fever.
Ricky also voiced a few insecurities about his decision to fish Labrador. Did he have the right gear? Enough experience? Stamina? One by one, we worked through the questions. I enjoyed the calls. Our chats brightened dreary winter days. As time passes, enthusiasm can wane and adventure become just another work day. This was a special event in Ricky’s life and I welcomed his need to be certain.
The 2013 season passed smoothly and in the fall, I published our annual season wrap-up newsletter to our followers. Less than a minute after I had hit the ‘send’ button, Ricky called.
“Any ten pounders?” First question.
“No tens. A couple of nines and few eights.”
“Eight friggin’ pounds!” he whispered. “Did you let ’em all go? You don’t kill fish, do you?”
“They’re all still in the river.”
“Good. They’ll be bigger next summer, right? I don’t even want an eight pounder. I’d crap a log if I landed a five pounder.”
“You’ll get your five,” I assured him.
Over the next eight months, we received regular checks from Ricky – $200 here, $300 and if he had a good month, $500. Ricky was not only paying for his trip, he was treating his fishing buddy and partner, Justin, to a fantasy trip as well. And with the payments came more expected phone calls. Ricky never lacked for questions – rod size, lines and leaders. Dinner menus? As a pub owner, Ricky knew his way around parings and insisted on bringing appropriate wines and beer for meals. And of course, the bugs? They always ask about the bugs.
On July 18th without the occasional delay, the big Otter float plane pulled up to the camp’s dock with seven weary travelers and Ricky, wound tight and eyes afire. He jumped down the plane’s steps and shook a few of the staffs’ hands, but his eyes surveyed a 360-degree arc of his new surroundings. Camp mother Frances led new guests to their quarters, guides trailing with luggage and gear, then we all gathered in the dining lodge for breakfast and orientation. Ricky couldn’t eat much and rocked back and forth in his chair during Kev’s safety briefing.
“We are fishing today, right?” he interrupted.
“Oh yes,” Kev smiled. “Just as soon as we get the details here.”
Friday is changeover day and after guests settle in their quarters, Kev gives a detailed overview of the camp’s systems, policies, schedules and safety rules. Then, as tradition has it, it’s my turn to pass on the fishing advice – current river conditions, angling tips and strategies – and hopefully instill in the new bunch our optimism and a reverence for this wilderness. Those of us who live here all summer know well this Friday routine and are familiar with Kev’s safety spiel and calm manner of delivery. I organized my thoughts knowing Kev would be finishing up any moment, surmising that briefer was better, at least for Ricky.
With each bit of “river wisdom” I shared, Ricky rocked further back in his chair, eyes raised to the rafters. He fidgeted as though he had a very full bladder.
“Can we go over these details at dinner tonight?” he blurted. “We’re losing daylight.”
Glossing over some of my usual points, I hurried to conclude with a little story I once heard.
After their first round at the old course in St. Andrews, four American golfers walked in the pro shop. “How was your day?” the old Scottish pro inquired. One fellow answered, “Well, we’d have enjoyed it more had we played better.”
“No lad,” the pro smiled, “You’d have played better had you enjoyed it more.”
Ricky and Justin were soon on the water and through the week as fish were fooled and released, Ricky mellowed, expectations mostly fulfilled. Conversations toward the end of the week turned to discussions regarding the appropriate age for his son to return with his dad.
“Twelve, no, maybe thirteen?”
“Depends on his passion for fly fishing.”
“Oh, he’ll have plenty of that,” he said. “DNA, ya know.”
Outfitters and guides dream of folks like Ricky, intense anglers with high energy and higher expectations. They keep us “on our toes”, slap us, almost, with our obligation to our clients, too often blurred by immediate and pressing logistical matters. Much more that, they re-kindle our fly fishing passions and remind us of that time in our lives when all we could think about was the river, the quiet and the fish.
It was that obsession, after all, that lured us into this fickle business in the first place.