Thursday, December 26, 2019

Fishing Firsts

Early last season I invited Callahan Woodbery on the boat. Callahan is a very good photographer and I wanted some pics to use in some future work. Naturally, after a few hours, I put her in the casting brace and after showing her a few basic techniques she was soon bringing her first "trout on the fly" to the waiting net. We had a really nice float and it was just a few days later that I saw a post about that day on Callahan's Instagram account. The photos were great, which I expected, but it was her description of the day that really made me a fan. I asked Callahan to write an article about "firsts" for Southeastern Fly News and below is her work. The article hits home for me in a lot of ways and I bet for some of you it will hit home too. Thanks Callahan I appreciate you letting us publish your work.
Fishing Firsts
Christmas of 1990, when I was three years old, Santa Clause brought me a blue and white Mickey Mouse fishing pole and a pair of scissors. It was a toss-up which I was more excited about at the time. There’s a photograph of me the following spring standing on the tailgate of a black and white Chevy, wearing a hot pink t-shirt, holding up a line full of tiny shellcrackers, and beaming like I’d just won the Kentucky Derby. Just on the edge of the frame is my mama’s daddy, Paul English, with a huge grin on his usually stoic face.
As the first grandchild, I had the unique blessing of being the first time for many things. The first time my Grandaddy Paul took me fishing was just the beginning. After that there were plenty of opportunities for fishing firsts: first time with a live cricket, first time reeling a bream all the way to the boat by myself, first time with a spinner bait, with a top water plug, first really big bass – every time I got a hook wet opened a new horizon. We would fish whenever I came to visit, which, from the ages of 2-6 was every month or so due to how close we lived to my grandparents.
But then my family moved overseas with my father’s military career and the fishing became special in a different way. Now we got in the boat every trip home because it was important to, as Grandaddy put it, “See if I still knew how to catch a fish.” It might take me a few wild casts to get the hang of it again, but I eventually would prove that I remembered how it worked. The years went on and teenage angst set in, as it does. Nevertheless, I was still ready to hop in the truck and go see if anything would bite in the pond, or the lake, or in our super-secret fishing hole back in the woods behind a peanut field. Fishing firsts got further and further apart but no less significant for us – my first time driving the truck with the boat trailer attached, first time taking out a swallowed hook without hurting the fish.

It got more difficult, of course. College and work pushed the trips to visit and fish further and further apart, limiting them to extreme weather situations: cold and windy winter, or scorching Georgia summer. Sometimes, we just couldn’t find time in a short weekend to even make it out to the dock. There were a few stretches, I’m sad to say, where I didn’t fish for a whole year or longer. Along the way, as I was getting older, so was Grandaddy.
My mama was 25 when I was born, and Grandaddy was 50. This even spacing between us was pretty special to us. In my head, Grandaddy will always be a version of himself in his early 60s, in the prime time of our fishing together. He spent his entire adult life farming in central Georgia, growing peanuts, cotton, soy beans, and canola. And when I say “entire adult life,” I really mean it: he retired this past Christmas at the mellow age of 81. Now that he’s properly retired, he looks after his chickens, hunts whatever bird is in season, and fishes whenever he wants. He hasn’t slowed down much, and he still handles the boat and trailer all by himself. Our family comes from hearty stock, my mama keeps telling me, but I can read a calendar as well as the next person.
Now more than ever, I make it a point to go fishing whenever I’m in Georgia for more than 24 hours. Time has a funny way of slipping away from you, wriggling out of your hands like a crappie. I am acutely aware that at some point our fishing firsts are going to become lasts. For now, we are both in good health, I’m glad to say, and he still out-fishes me most of the time.
It’s difficult to not end this story with a reprimand to cherish every moment – it is important to wrestle with our impending inevitability and let that struggle inspire gratitude in our daily lives. But I would like to leave you with this thought: every first time you do something is also the last time it will be a first time, and the last time you do something is the first time that you’ll have that experience, too.
                                                                                                Author- Callahan Woodbery
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Thursday, December 5, 2019

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