By Robert Petri
When the free time becomes available and the urge to go fishing comes over you, who do you call? Not just anyone, I’ll wager. Chances are good you have one or more special friends whose company you enjoy on the water. Folks you know and get along with. The guy who knows that you prefer to fish upstream and who says the moment you arrive at the stream: “I’ll go downstream...”, and doesn’t mind a bit. Just as you don’t mind when he just has to try that same cove on the local lake just one more time. You know the one. You have tried it every time you have fished the lake together and never had a hit. But he thinks there has to be some fish there. So, you always indulge him, and you don’t mind. After all, what are fishing buddies for?
To the outsider, the non-angler, the special compatibility that makes good fishing buddies is something not easily grasped. After all, this is just fishing, right? Nope.. It’s a whole lot more than that. Finding the right fishing partner can be serious business. There is some sort of sixth sense involved, and just as often, a shared sense of the nature of the sport. Good fishing buddies know when the other has had enough for the day without being told. They are drawn towards the same destinations, and they like the same kinds of water. Good fishing buddies know their partner cannot abide tuna salad. They may love it themselves, but they always pack peanut butter or ham and cheese instead when it’s their turn to bring lunch.
As a longtime member of a number of angling clubs and fishing-oriented conservation organizations where folks meet and talk fishing, I have watched the fishing buddy selection process unfold a hundred times. It bears more than a passing resemblance to the courtship ritual in some ways. For a several month period, you will hear that so and so are fishing together. Then, something will happen, and well... they just aren’t seeing each other anymore. In the wreckage, you will hear things like “He wouldn’t tell me what lure he was using”, or... “He never offered to drive” or “He got mustard all over my car seat” or worst of all: “He casts to all the good places first.”
When you find a good fishing buddy, it is often for life. That’s how serious all this can be. Many years ago, I worked in a factory as a scheduling supervisor. There was a foreman and a machine operator who while on the job would barely give each other the time of day. The foreman would growl and snarl when the machinist would not complete a part in the allotted time. The machinist would get angry and throw stuff. You would have thought that they would have to see each other’s homes burn down. Yet, every summer Saturday in the warm months found them together somewhere on the water, fishing. They could barely manage eight hours in the same building together, but eight hours in a boat a mile from dry ground was easy. That is often the way it goes. All the rules are different with fishing buddies.
We all have different measurements of what makes a good fishing buddy. I need someone for who the notion of exploration is only slightly secondary to the actual act of fishing. Somebody who will peer over the top of the map at me and say: “You know, I’ve never been to such and such a place, and it’s only another 110 miles down the road. What do you think?” I’m almost always game.
Others are drawn together because they share the belief that the little lake just a few miles down the road is all they need and they seldom go anywhere else. It is where their on-the-water friendship was born and has grown over the years. It is their place. They fish there together, and they always have. They became fishing buddies because they both saw it this way.
Over the years, I have been blessed with good fishing buddies. None was more important than my dad. He was the gateway. He took the time to introduce me to the sport, and to teach me the ways of the fish. In later years, we went on to fish for different things. He loved to explore the little lakes of our home area for crappie and perch. I liked getting lost up a falling ribbon of trout water a mile or more from the nearest road. But in every tough trout I fool and bring to hand is a piece of the experience and learning I picked up at his side many years ago. He gave freely of his time and knowledge, the way all good fishing buddies do.
There have been many other good fishing buddies over the years.
My somber boyhood pal, Jim, who seldom said more than a couple dozen words per outing. We didn’t talk much, but we both loved the same smallmouth bass stream just down over the hill from our neighborhood. We fished it together, and learned it well.
My brother, who would get into the car complaining about how far we were driving to fish, but who put up with my wanderlust all the same. I always just figured that complaining was part of his nature and kept on driving. We have fished a hundred streams together, me driving, him complaining. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
My good friend Dan, who roars at all my jokes, fishes with me from stagger out of bed in the morning to fall back in at night and is always just about the best company a guy could ask for as we drive along the back roads of Southwest Wisconsin in search of more trout.
I have been fortunate when it comes to fishing buddies. I’ve had the best that anyone could ask for, and I cherish them all. You should too. After all, the joy of friendship and the joy of angling are two distinctly different things, each powerful and wonderful in it’s own right. When they come together with the right fishing buddy on the right piece of water, they bring us one of life’s greatest pleasures. Here’s to good fishing and good friends to share it with always.