Bananas In The Boat
I'm a newbie to the world of upland and, right out of the gate, I make a rookie mistake, asking Jon about his hunting dog on our drive up north. He tries his best to answer cryptically without directly saying anything positive about Winston, lest our day be cursed before we even get started.
But I can tell, I have seriously stepped in it. Quickly changing the subject, I attempt to scrape as much of the bad voodoo off the bottom of my boots as I can. The truck already has an odor I can almost taste. And I see myself as he must see me right now: that buddy eagerly ready to board my drift boat, rod in one hand and banana in the other, camo neoprene waders strapped tight. Yep. I'm now that guy.
At this point we have two choices, turn around and call it a day, or endure the bird-less hunt I have doomed us to, hoping it exercises the demons for the next time. We elect the latter and take our lumps, going zero for six while Rod Stewart croons "I ain't superstitious but a black cat crossed my trail" on a continuous loop in my head.
Bragging up a bird dog prior to a hunt has now been added to the list of what many non-believers call “superstitions”. But those of us who have experienced bird-less, fish-less, and game-less days know these are much more than a forgivable faux pas – these are grievous gaffes and deplorable day-wreckers.
I have a rifle that I know for a fact is cursed. Not that it can't shoot. At the range it's a tack driver at two hundred; round after round after round. And I have never missed an animal with it, because I have never seen an animal when I have it with me. Oh, I've taken plenty of game with every other rifle I have ever owned; several with the .308, both .30-06s and .243s and even the trusty 30-30, but NEVER the .270. And, like a banana on a boat, its bad luck has now spread beyond me to my entire camp. Deer-less sits will oftentimes lead to frantic searches among friends and family for the .270. "Where is it?" they demand accusingly, tearing apart the truck and cabin to find the guilty culprit. All the while I feign innocence, knowing I have smuggled the offender along in vain attempt to break the curse. For now, the gun's only value is as a threat to my boys that one of them, whomever treats me badly, will be bequeathed this sanity-sapping safe queen upon my demise.
Fly rods are the same. Any fool knows you can only fish even-numbered rods successfully. Sure, I own fives and sevens, but they are purely show pieces to fill out the collection, they don't actually see time on the water. Because they don't catch fish. I always pretend to give them consideration, but it's a fool's errand. And I round up or down when even remotely considering the five weight - the most expensive set-up in my entire assemblage. Surely the four will be enough or better yet, I'll size up to the six, oh heck, why not just go with the eight. In fly fishing, bad luck comes in odd numbers.
Or how about flies? I have boxes and boxes and boxes of flies. I don't even dare tally the dollar value. And yet, I find myself fishing the same two or three over and over. Because they are lucky. They produce. I’ve lost count of the near-death experiences encountered while recovering these precious pieces of feather, fur and yarn from precarious mishaps. Over the waders in swift current while standing on tip toes and pulling down branches? Check. Completely submerged diving into a log jam to free the captive? Check. Hell, I would abandon the boat to save the fly. Every. Damn. Time. And then there are, of course, those friends that try to talk down the luck. Impart wisdom like: "you catch the most fish with that fly because you fish it most often". And I'll admit to giving these brash accusations brief consideration. I'll turn them around in my head for a bit. Do I actually fish the fly more often because it catches more fish, or does it catch more fish because I fish it more often? These thoughts keep me awake at night, my local party-store cashier employed, and my shrink's kid in an Ivy League school.
And don't even get me started on lucky hats. The most potent of all talismans, the lucky hat is not to be trifled with. I have, well had, two absolute workhorses in the lucky hat department. I mean the can't-miss, guaranteed-to-produce variety. The alpha, the king of the coat rack, was a battered old veteran that had become a signature. A staple on all successful fishing outings. This year I brought him along to explore some new water with a couple of buddies. Things took a bit of a tailspin that involved our raft raking through a sweeper hard. First head on. Then sideways. Then backwards. Somehow all souls on board survived. Every rod was intact. Every pair of sunglasses accounted for. But the ole vet was nowhere to be found. Taken before his time to a watery grave along a river that gave up no fish. My season took a turn for the worse at that point, the reliever doing his best to get me through the tough late innings. I seriously considered giving up fishing entirely. Maybe something easy like golf or pickle ball instead. I never even had a chance for a proper goodbye.
Jon drops me back at my truck, barely slowing before throwing my gear out as quickly as possible while mumbling a half-hearted "we should do this again some time" and beating a hasty retreat. “You bet”, I say holding my gear bewilderedly while taillights wink off into the dusky night.
And now I sit by the phone, waiting for a call that I know isn’t coming, considering who might be dumb enough to buy that five-weight or the cursed .270 and Googling recipes for banana bread I can only hope to give in apology.