I quit smoking cigarettes many years ago. I quit cold turkey one day while serving in Vietnam and never remotely craved another cigarette.
Don’t ask me how I accomplished that but it was possibly the best thing I ever did for myself. Nowadays the only time I burn — not smoke — tobacco is when I am fishing, in the form of a cheap, plastic-tip cigar, which I have found to be a very effective blackfly repellant. But once or twice a year I will light up, if presented with a fine cigar and offered a glass of brandy or single malt to accompany it, and then only out of doors. I once wrote a cover story for a Boston magazine about cigars, at a time when cigars were hot, as in fashionable. As I was writing the story, two people came to mind: Sigmund Freud and Rudyard Kipling, both cigar aficionados. Freud, the interpreter of dreams and symbols (and the interpretations were often of a sexual nature), allegedly defended his habit by saying, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
Kipling, the storyteller and poet, author of The Jungle Book and many other favorite fables, wrote a very politically incorrect poem called “The Betrothed,” about a man whose fiancee has given him an ultimatum: either the cigars go, or I do. The man speaks:
Open the old cigar-box — let me consider anew —
Old friends, and who is Maggie that I should abandon you?
I reckon the same sentiment could be applied to flyfishing:
Open the Wheatley fly-box – let me consider anew –
Old friends, and who is __(her name here)__ that I should abandon you?
I have played the dutiful husband in more than one marriage, and my flyfishing suffered. Now, in my blessed state of bachelorhood, I can safely identify with another man of letters, the late and much-missed John Cole. One of his many books was titled, Fishing Came First. Priorities!
But it was another purveyor of fish-lit, or angling literature, who got me thinking about the directions my life has taken, directions that too often led me astray from river, stream and pond. Reading the late William G. Tapply‘s fine collection of essays in his book, Every Day Was Special, I mused for the millionth time whether I could have made a living writing about fishing. I have loved fishing since I was a little kid, but to a boy growing up in a small Maine town, the writing life seemed so unattainable that I didn’t give it a second thought. It might be too late to become a bona fide fishing writer, but at least I’m a fishing blogger, and it’s not too late to put fishing first (after my daughters and my grandson Henry) for as many years as I have left, and to try to make up for lost fishing time.
It snowed today. There are 90 days until Opening Day. In those 90 days I will open the old fly-boxes a dozen or more times, though I already know what’s in them. I will unspool and respool my fly lines, cleaning them with a felt pad. I will check my supply of Kathy Scott’s wonderfully supple furled leaders, which are looped to the ends of all of my lines. I will unpack and inflate my float tube to check for leaks. I will pore over the DeLorme’s Atlas & Gazetteer and imagine myself threading my way along the faint broken lines of trails that lead to remote trout ponds. And in 90 days, fishing will once again come first.