April 25, 2016
April 25, 2016

Early, Old, Young and Empty

T here are stark differences between young and old, early and late, empty and full. And nowhere are those contrasts more vivid than in the outdoors.

If you’re 40 miles offshore late one afternoon and your ice chest is empty, it’s not been a good day of fishing. If you’re in that same boat and the ice chest is full but the fuel tank is empty, your day just got worse—and longer.

That happened to me once during a billfish tournament. The boat’s owner/captain, a pretender in hindsight, assured us he’d topped the tank and calculated how much fuel we’d need to fish all day. We’d make port that evening, he assured, with nearly a quarter tank in reserve.

The man was an accountant by profession and a good one, but he was way better at counting dollars than gallons.

It was nearly dark, about nine miles off Port O’Connor, when the “You’re out of gas, dumbass” buzzer sounded. The three of us who weren’t in charge looked at the man who was, but he wouldn’t look back. 

On his sixth phone calls to “great friends” he believed would leave their homes and families, launch their boats, ride out to us and tow his fuel-less boat back to port, he found a sucker. Four hours after that, we were back at the dock. Ten minutes after that, I shook that owner/captain’s hand for the last time.

Early to bed and early to rise encourages health, wealth and wisdom, so the adage goes. Late to bed and late to rise works well for teenagers on weekends and retirees pretty much any day, but that’s a bad schedule for fishing unless the only species you chase are bonefish and permit.

While I was writing for the Houston newspaper, Joe Doggett and I made several trips to The Bahamas. On my first, Doggett explained that bonefish were best stalked under high sun. No need to answer any early alarm, he said. The fish move with the tide, not the sun.

Which is true, but where there are bonefish, there also tend to be barracudas eager to dine on those silver bullets. Big ‘cudas, too, exciting fish in shallow water. 

Our guides were young, but had no interest in launching before full sun to chase anything not wearing a skirt. After I repeated a story one of those Bahamians told me; however, Doggett agreed to rise just before dawn and plug a flat near the airstrip on Walker’s Cay.

We took casting rods and topwaters, and witnessed (for several mornings in a row) some of the most violent strikes I’ve seen.

In gray light, the blasts startled us. We couldn’t see the fish coming, but we certainly knew when they arrived. As the sky brightened, we could see those sleek barracudas streaking toward the lures and, without hesitation, slamming headlong into them.

That final pairing, young and old, is the one that bothers me—mostly because I’m way nearer the latter than the former. It once was easy to dismiss the occasional gray hair atop my head or sprouting within an ear or nostril, but no more. They don’t outnumber the darker ones yet, not anywhere, but the blond tide fell slack a couple of years ago and has switched now to a silver incoming.

There are advantages to seniority that reach far beyond those discounts where you can eat an unhealthy but satisfying breakfast on the way to a proper fishing or hunting trip. 

Deliver the right phrase with the right emotion and overacting, I’ve learned, and you can get young people to do just about anything. Most hunters and fishermen, in addition to safety and etiquette, were taught to respect their elders. I was, as were all the people with whom I’ve fished or hunted more than a couple of times.

So are their sons and daughters, as is my son, being raised to believe that old folks know a lot and deserve special consideration. Seniors have stories to tell, sometimes over and over and over. They’re like gurus or doctors or teachers. They merit respect, even if we’re meeting them for the first time.

So if you find yourself in the position of camp elder, milk that status for its full value. Squeeze that thing and yank it dry.

“Could one of you fellows lend a hand with this duffel,” I may ask as we unload the truck. “My back [reach hand around and tap the spot just above your middle belt loop] has been acting up, and I don’t want to risk missing the chance to hunt with you guys. Who knows? Could be my last trip.”

In the evening, you can save some energy and see more of that Gunsmoke rerun with this one.

“Would somebody kindly go into the kitchen and get me another piece of that cherry pie? My foot’s a little tender, and I probably should keep it propped on this ottoman.”

Aging is not especially fun if the only thing you look at is your age. Our physical tanks may be running close to empty, but getting where we’ve been, down so many outdoor paths has filled our hearts and minds with great memories.

Next time you’re in a room with a bunch of younger people, tell them a few fishing and hunting stories—after they bring you some cherry pie.

Email Doug Pike at

[email protected]


Email Doug Pike at [email protected]


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