As I creep forward age-wise, it occurs to me that I don’t see as many Old Fishermen as I used to. Maybe those of advanced years just don’t stand out of the crowd like they used to. Or, it might be that they are overshadowed by young Turks in their turbo-powered bass boats and rainbow-hued jumpsuits. I suspect, though, that there’s more to it than that. I think that Old Fishermen are an endangered species, subject to being pushed to extinction by an ever-increasing emphasis on speed and productivity.
It’s important to understand that old fishermen are more than just geezers spending their retirement years on river banks with cane poles stuck between their toes. Old Fishermen are angling icons, symbols of the sporting hierarchy the way it used to be – ought to be. In decades past, Old Fishermen were at the top of that hierarchy. Garbed in flannel shirts and weathered Stetsons, they went about their business in juniper skiffs and from the banks of streams big and small. The respect given them didn’t stem from any particular position of authority or accumulated riches. An Old Fisherman might have earned his daily bread in earlier years as a banker, a school teacher, a farmer or a shop keeper. His claim to fame, however, was as a fisherman because it was what he did better than just about anyone else.
I’ve had the good fortune to know several Old Fishermen over the years. The earliest of my recollection was my Uncle Skeet. A master brick mason by trade, he was a fisherman in his heart, one who had the reputation for knowing every creek and pond that held a bass or bream. I’ve heard it said that “he could catch fish in a mud hole.” Verification of that is the fact that Uncle Skeet started out one morning with twelve minnows and promptly lost one on the first cast. An hour or so later, he had hooked and landed a dozen bass; he used one minnow twice.
Although he would have almost certainly excelled in them, I never knew Uncle Skeet to have anything to do with fishing tournaments. Like all Old Fishermen worthy of that title, he understood that the only competition that meant anything was between him and the fish. He didn’t have to bring home a sack-full every time he went to prove his prowess. Enough for a meal once in awhile would do.
I’ve never heard an Old Fisherman talk about “patterning bass,” or seen one zooming from spot to spot in a speed boat masquerading as a fishing skiff. I have seen men and women (yes, Old Fishermen are often females) who have, over a lifetime of angling, gained an understanding of their quarry that most never attain. I’ve seen them at the Cape Lookout rock jetty, pulling in one speckled trout after another while eager, young fishermen all around them were snagging no more than an occasional fish. I’ve seen them patiently sharing their knowledge with young boys and girls who may someday grow up to be Old Fishermen themselves.
That’s one of my major goals in life, to reach an age and learn enough that I can be considered an Old Fisherman. I’m not sure if I’ll make it. I may wear out first. Just in case, I’m stocking up on flannel shirts and am in the market for a nice Stetson hat. I want to be ready.