“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that is is not fish they are after.”

Henry David Thoreau

While there is some debate about the exact phrasing and origin of the quote, it is most often attributed to Henry David Thoreau, the American essayist, poet, and philosopher.  Regardless of its origin, it reminds us of Jesus’ call to his disciples Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, both fishermen, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Me with Sean, 2024

Both quotes came to mind last week when I joined a group of old classmates I hadn’t seen in well over 50 years for a week of fly fishing on the San Juan River in northern New Mexico.  The adventure was organized by my teammate Sean Riley who incidentally scored the first goal on our freshmen soccer team in 1967 assisted by Danny Ulmer.

Danny wanted to join us as well but other priorities came into play and it would have been a long haul from Central New York to Northern New Mexico.

It didn’t work out as I had planned.  On our first excursion into the river, it became painfully obvious that my mobility had not improved enough from my bike accident in 2022 to enable me to negotiate the river without assistance, so I elected to return home the following morning.  When former Thunderbird and F-106 pilot Sonny Childers slipped on a rock and went down in the swift water, I realized I would be in dire straits had it happened to me.  Exiting the river, I fell to all fours at the top of the riverbank and it took two of my friends to get me to my feet.  If I had been Sonny wading in three feet of swiftly running water…

We returned to the lodge and shared a drink, then dinner that Sean and Dave Brigman prepared, and finally made it to the porch in the evening to tell ‘war stories,’ some quite literal.

I was pleased to have caught a trout that first afternoon, but as we sat in the cool New Mexico evening, it was very obvious that the journey was not about fishing, but about renewing friendships with those we share lasting memories with from a half-century ago.  It has never been the fish we were after, but the camaraderie of other men with common purpose.  During our lifetimes, we had learned to become fishers of men.

The Kinnickinnic River

There is another aspect of fishing that I learned years ago when fishing the Kinnickinnic River in Wisconsin, and that is the benefit of fishing alone in the solitude of the river.  For three years, I fly fished three or four times a week, always by myself.  Though I was blessed to catch trout, I soon found value in the ‘catch and release’ approach.

Ultimately, I found great value in the sounds of the water and wildlife that surrounded me in the solitude of my excursions.  I became one with creation.

Norman McLean sums it up perfectly in his memoir A River Runs Through It

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

“I am haunted by waters.”

Indeed, Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not the fish they are after.

Mitakuye Oyasin

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  1. Great to read about the fishing expedition. A big shout out to fellow crazy eighter, Sean Riley. Sean has organized a terrific initiative to help veterans.

    1. Sean is a special man with great insight and wisdom that he willingly shares with everyone with whom he interacts. He is blessed.