T here comes a time in very person’s life when he or she contemplates, in earnest, the inevitable end. Some people make bucket lists. I prefer instead to recall some pretty cool boxes already checked and hope that my remaining time offers a couple of pleasant surprises.
It’s not as though there’s nothing left to do. There are places I haven’t been—water not fished and ground not hunted—but I’ve been quite fortunate, as outdoors trips go, for a fellow my age.
Working in the hook-and-bullet industry has its perks. I’ve received many invitations to cast-and-blast my way around the world. Some came with strings attached and were quickly declined. Others were open-ended, “come see what you think” offers, and gratefully accepted without promise.
Even where the fish didn’t bite or birds didn’t fly, experienced outdoorsmen will understand, always there was a story. Quiet time in a duck blind or on a fishing boat gives occupants a chance to connect on levels not attainable when action is fast.
On a bonefish-and-permit trip to Honduras, for example, my hosts and I first shook hands just as a tropical depression crossed the coastline. Conditions worsened over three forgettable days. We spent lots of time indoors, I mostly listening to (and believing) stories about how good fishing is when the sun shines.
It did, on our final full day, and we made the best of it. Water was still wrecked overall, but we found some clean flats and managed to fool a couple of pocket-sized bonefish. Still fighting a 20 mph wind, I had “shots” at a few permit.
Salmon fishing off Sweden’s southeastern coast, on the Baltic Sea at a water temperature of 35 degrees, was dead slow thanks to years of commercial overfishing. I got an earful of great stories from my older captain and an eye-crossing introduction to a potent local beer. Only had a portion of one (quart) can and I felt like I’d just left a fraternity party.
After a successful Saturday of marlin fishing—225-pounder—off Grand Cayman Island, I hopped a shuttle flight to Cayman Brac with plans to meet a local guide the following morning and chase bonefish. I do like catching bonefish.
This trip was planned a year in advance by a public-relations firm based in New York that was working for the island nation’s government. Every “i” had been dotted, it seems, except one.
When my guide hadn’t arrived by 8 a.m., I asked the hotel clerk to give him a call. She connected and handed me the phone.
“I don’t fish on Sundays,” he explained. “That’s my family day.”
He wouldn’t budge, so I hopped on a bicycle, fly rod in hand and Crazy Charlies in my pocket. About halfway around the island, I was parched from pedaling over hot asphalt. In the little town at the bottom of a hill, I noticed a store. Water. Perfect. The shopkeeper and guide apparently were related. I barely made it back to the hotel in time to hydrate, pack my stuff and catch the return flight to Grand Cayman.
And just this past summer, I jumped a jet for West Palm Beach. There, I met up with Mark Nichols, founder of DOA Lures, a dozen or so other outdoor communicators and as many guides for two days of always-good fishing with his products.
I felt puny on arrival, but mustered for the first day’s fishing. We did OK.
On Day Two, first time in my life, I was too sick to fish. Went to a local clinic, got some medication, then drove straight to the airport. I sat there for seven hours, only to learn that the flight was canceled because of a mechanical issue.
It was nearly 11 p.m. The airline covered a hotel room, but to make the first flight out on Day Three, I had to be back in the airport by 5:30 a.m. I was, and I lived.
Don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve had a dozen great trips for every disappointing one, and I’ve never made a trip that didn’t produce a good column or radio-show segment.
Neither should you be envious of folks in my line of work. First, it’s work, so we’re usually on someone else’s clock (and dime). We’re fishing and hunting, granted; but these trips are distinctly different from time spent in the field or on the water with true friends.
Many of my peers have traveled to Africa and Eastern Europe and the South Pacific in pursuit of fish and game, and I love hearing their stories. If I get to those places, great. If not, I won’t feel cheated.
No Texan who has hunted and fished and lives for both has been cheated. We’re in a special place, and no matter where I go, I can’t wait to get back. There are people in other states, people all over the world, whose bucket lists and dreams include outdoor trips to Texas.
In the end, it comes down to seeing your own bucket as half full or half empty. My bucket’s loaded—but there will always be room, and I hope time, for one more great outdoor adventure.
Email Doug Pike at [email protected]