There is no place I’d rather be, than knee-deep, with a stick. A pastime, needing not the roar of a crowd, I do it for myself. No need to wet a line or feel tension on the end of my cane, just as content, with pen and pad, whilst leaning, next to the river.
Of contentment, I enjoy watching a good leaf travel downstream. Harvesting fish, with a blade creating Nigiri Sushi or fried crappie. Natural beauty, picturesque landscapes, pleasing aesthetics, the mind can rest, rejuvenate and be left only to wander.
Fishing the flats of the Ocean, chalk streams of foreign prairie lands and alpine snowmelt. These are my homes. A place where there is nowhere to go, because I’m already here.
Water, never judging, always accepting, the source of life. Covering seventy percent of Earth and Newborn Child, life and water are synonymous, like joy and fishing. This is where I belong.
God created water and Fish before man. Jesus and Hemingway fished and so does my tribe. There is no place I’d rather be, than standing knee-deep waving cane.
Images of me holding a tiny rod and a green 2.5 gallon bucket beside my grandfather and his old blue truck are my first memories. The only thing ever in the bucket was responsibility and I owned it. The bucket and I were pretty tight in those days and I continue to cherish responsibility.
I remember fishing with my father for the first time on a reservoir at the family farm in Southeast Arkansas. He, telling me stories about being my age, having to prime an old hand pump with water for it to work. He talked about the dead heat of summer, dripping sweat. He’d pour the water it in, pump and repeat until finally water started trickling out the spout. Then he’d do it again and again until it poured cold, fresh water to quench his thirst. What I learned that day is you get out of life what you put in.
I remember teaching my best friend to fly-fish in the Spring River. We’d ride backroads, and visit hours on end about life, listening to our favorite music, singing. Our third trip he started to get the hang of wading knee deep, waving cane in the swift, cold water. He’d load the tip of his fly-rod, patiently wait for the line to unravel and extend from a tight loop to a straight line, watching it behind him until he unloaded the tip and the fly changed direction across and up the stream. He stripped his line a few times straight towards his belly button and wham his first trout. He admired and respected the art. After releasing the fish, he retired to a shade tree with a Hemingway book, pad and dull pencil. We fished many times after this, never did he cast more than a few minutes before retiring to his shade tree, watching me, his book, his pad, nursing a smoke and iced wine. My friend died a few months after he landed his first and only fish, the most glorious rainbow, a scrawny little stocker fish, my favorite fish of all time. The rainbow taught me to appreciate the small things in life.
Six years ago was born my first daughter. When she was a week or two old we took a family trip to the lower Norfork tailwater in Northern Arkansas. She had become one with me. Often packing her on my front with a Baby Bjorn, cooking and such other fine chores I want her to learn at her spongy-brained age. This day, at three weeks old, we fished. Papa and his baby girl. Down the mountain to a floating dock, I dropped my fly into the cold, fast moving river and stripped line, watching my fly float naturally down the stream sliding beneath the fog gently lifted by the warmth of the early morning sun. Flicking my wrist, my fly finessed up and across the stream, I mended for a natural drift. We were shut out that morning, but I gained my favorite fishing partner on Earth. I learned unconditional love and what matters most to me. An hour I’ll never forget.
This past week I met my oldest sister after a long, hard week of work and personal strife for both of us, we met at The Rail in Rogers, AR. A beer, some shanks – skipping the small talk, we walked to the FLW event near the farmer’s market. No escaping the familiar aroma of fried crappie, a family favorite we’d shared together for over 41 years. We made our rounds to every vender, listened to blue grass, danced a bit and finally got around to the small talk. Checking out the massive rigs of boat, trailer and truck packages beaming the brand of their sponsors. At this moment, last week, I was reminded who loves me most and the fact much of this realization revolves around fishing. So, I vow today two things. Do more of what I love with whom I love most. It matters.
Charles Kochel is a fly fisherman currently exploring the natural streams of the Ozark Mountains.