By Mike Rice
Yes, I borrowed the idea for the title from my spiritual guru, Jimmy Buffet, but since he’s a hardcore fly-rodder, it’s somewhat fitting. I am a few days away from turning forty and have spent a lot of time over the past summer reflecting on my life, the roads I’ve taken and what might or might not be on the other side of the horizon. Some of my friends have had a hard time going past this mile-marker in life. The ‘should-have, could-have, would-have and what-ifs”, seem to weigh heavy on our minds as the years go by. Some overcome and adapt and some don’t. I’ve decided to make the best of where I am in life and get the most out what is left.
I have been told by some folks that I’ve lived several lives already. I’ve worked in the healthcare field, construction, ski patrol, tended bar and bounced. I’ve been a uniformed street cop, homicide detective, undercover drug investigator and private investigator. I’ve skied all the terrain in the northeast, climbed a lot of vertical ice, kayaked some pretty radical whitewater and spent a considerable amount of time blue-water sailing the Atlantic. I have had some pretty close calls but most importantly, I have seen the best, and the worst, that nature and humanity have to offer. These experiences give me an outlook on life that many people my age do not have. I am the lucky one.
I have had some pretty close calls but most importantly, I have seen the best, and the worst, that nature and humanity have to offer. These experiences give me an outlook on life that many people my age do not have. I am the lucky one.
I know many people who base their success, and ultimately their happiness, on money. Let’s face it, the sad reality is that to a certain extent they’re right, but I know so many people who are consumed with the chase for the dollar that they are missing life as it goes by them. My wife and I work hard, she has a second job and I operate a side business. It takes a lot of time and energy but we take the opportunity as much as we can to not work and enjoy what we have. We are fortunate and live in a nice little village, as close to the water as you can get without being on the water and have some really nice neighbors. Our daughter is healthy, smart like her mother and stubborn like me. There are times that we wish for more, but all in all, we have done pretty well and are very fortunate to have what we have. Being able to say that is all the success I really need.
Bear with me; I’ll incorporate all the philosophical stuff in to a fishing story as I go on.
The author gazes out, lining up his next cast.
As far as I can tell, I am the first Rice son since my forefathers came to America 300 years ago not to make a living, or most of a living, from the land and woods. This is the only thing that I’m having a hard time with as I turn forty. My father taught me the ways of the woods and how to work the land as a child. My mother showed me sister and I how to grow things and fend for ourselves. They both instilled in us a respect for the land and taught us to only take what we needed and to give back more than we took. I am sometimes saddened I may not be able to do the same for my daughter.
But then I think about fishing. I probably think about it too much. I started fly fishing 7 years ago on a trip to the Keys with my brother-in-law and soon became obsessed with it. I learned to tie flies shortly thereafter and started tying commercially in 2001. I should note that Capt. Dave gave me my start at Baymen Outfitters when others wouldn’t even look at my stuff and welcomed me into the collective group of fishermen, Hunters and woodsmen known as the “Baymen.” For that I will be forever grateful. Fishing has supplemented the thrill seeking ventures of skiing, climbing, paddling and sailing. My wife has been supportive and helped me to get a boat. Now I’m building up my boat time to get my Coast Guard ticket so that I can someday guide. I’m on the water every chance I get, learning as much as I can so that at some point, I can pass that knowledge and passion on to others. And therein lays my “turning-forty-revelation.”
I didn’t get it until this past weekend while hunting stripers on the flats of the South River. The water is to me what the woods and land are to my father. The ways of the water are my legacy to teach and pass on to my daughter. The principles of stewardship and respect for either entity are universal and transferable. The act of finding fish and actually catching them is really no different than stalking deer or flushing birds. Reading the water is much the same as tracking game. Lobstering and clamming are very much like growing crops. And a Leatherman, roll of duct tape and some bailing twine are as useful on a boat as on a tractor.
I remember watching my father once while he was working in the upper fields. It was a clear blue day with just a slight breeze carrying the north woods fragrance of grass and leaves in the air. He seemed very content and would stop what he was doing periodically and look out over the fields to the mountains. I was about a quarter of a mile away from him but I could hear and feel him take in a deep breath and as he let it out he seemed to be as much a part of the land as the trees and grass around him. I have waited all my life to feel what he must have felt in that moment and it finally happened this past weekend. I had just released a striper I caught while sight-casting and, for once, my cast had been almost perfect. As I knelt over the side of the boat to let the fish go, a breeze enveloped me with that early fall smell of salt and the marsh. I stood up, took a deep breath and let it out slowly as I looked out over the mouth of the river to the sea. At that moment I felt like part of the river.
So my friends, what does it all mean? It means this – life is short, go out and live it. Work hard to play hard but never lose sight of the simple things for they are the most important. Honor your spouse and love your kids, help someone when you can, respect the water, bend the barb on your hook and practice catch-and-release. We should all strive to do what we can to preserve and protect our lands and waters so we can pass on the skills and knowledge which were passed on to us.
Previously published: Flyfishing New England, 2006 Volume II, Batavia Kill Publishing, Inc. "A Bayman Looks at Forty"