The grass, wet from the morning dew, slowly soaked my wading shoes on the way to the river. The summer sun still clung to the horizon sending deep shadows over the water. It was prime for a morning ambush. And I needed a change of pace.
That's how my day started in early July. After the masses of hatch-pursuing anglers and the the wide-eyed drake crowd had finally dispersed from the river. I was tired. I had just got finished pushing the envelope at both ends...just like I do every year. Late nights on the river, early mornings in the shop. But this year was different. A week earlier I had sat down with a cardiologist in Ann Arbor.
For the three months prior I had been dealing with cardiac issues. Palpitations, racing heart, etc. A lot of people just told me it was anxiety, and to "relax." Shit, even my primary care doc wrote it off. But I knew this was different - and to be honest, I was scared. The woman I was marrying was scared. I tried not to let her see my concern; I tried to be strong. The first "episode" put me in the ER on the way to the river. Most people don't know, but my background before guiding was in the public safety world - 10+ years firefighting, 3 years Pro Ski Patrol, 3 years EMT, 3 years LEO. That day in March... I literally walked into the ER and told the doc I was having a heart attack. Then another ER visit, or another day checking another event on my mobile monitor, or being hooked up to a monitor 24/7 for a month... those didn't help the worry. I didnt get on the river as much as I wanted. I had to cancel trips. And then hex season came. The two things that made my "episodes" worse... lack of sleep, and heat. And anyone that knows anything about this year's hex season knows it was hot. Being a fishing guide literally equals lack of sleep and heat. It made my "condition" worse. Finally, toward the end of June, I met with my cardiologist. The diagnosis... ectopic cardiac cells...otherwise, an extremely healthy heart. In other words, I have a group of a few misfits that decide they want to start their own party. Result... missed heart beats and pounding chest. The chances of it going away on its own are slim, the chances of my needed surgery are minimal, but I have to take a Rx once a day to mitigate the symptoms. If I don't, it sucks. And so I did.
A week later I walked to the river. As much as I love hatch & drake season, I was glad for it to be over. I was thankful. And for the first time in months, I didn't feel like my chest was on fire. The meds seemed to be helping, albiet limited. I needed a fish. You know, the fish that might not be the biggest, or the prettiest, but the one you have to work for...the one that vindicates you from a dark period. Or in the words of one of my guide mentors... I needed to "find the river." As I stepped quietly into the cool water and wading upstream among the tag alders, it was almost as if the river had been waiting for me. I made my way upstream to a little bend and spotted a nice mid-teener brown finning on the sand. I made the cast. He refused. 'He didn't like the attractor,' I thought, 'maybe an ant.' And so I tied on an ant. Another refusal. 'Aha, I got you now.' I snipped the tippet and pulled a #16 peacock beetle from my box. Most Michigan fly anglers know that the ant is one of those flies that is hardly refused during the summer months, but I had an old timer tell me once about the peacock beetle. He swore by it. And over the years, I've come to know its power. And so I tied on the beetle. Thought about my cast, and laid it down. The rise was deliberate. This fish may have been hooked by a mayfly imitation, but not yet had a beetle bit back. I let him turn, and I set the hook.
As I released that fish, a lot of the worry I had experienced this spring swam away with him. He carried my burden and let the cool waters wash it away. And I was thankful.
A month later I married my best friend. We had our wedding at the estate of the late Everett Kircher. Less than 2 weeks later, a good friend and guest invited me to chase steelhead on the famed rivers of British Columbia. I met friends in Montana. I caught cutthroat. I put to hand an arctic grayling in the lower 48 (I'd chased them in Alaska when I guided there). I met more friends and my wife, stopped at our sister resort Big Sky on the way through, and camped through the iconic western parks - Yellowstone & Grand Teton. Then we made our way to see my best friend in Colorado. I was thankful.
And here we are. Thanksgiving. And I haven't had a chance to sit down and really think about things lately. And I needed to. We all need to. Ever since my diagnosis, I haven't really thought about things. It was such a fast year, and I never slowed down. I still get palpitations, but rarely are they bothersome. In fact, it's become quite evident that a lot of the "anxiety" I had experienced in the years prior, was actually just the minor beginnings of my heart issue.
I'm thankful for my wife. I'm thankful for family and friends. I'm thankful for modern medicine. I'm thankful for insurance. I'm thankful for Boyne. I'm thankful for fly fishing. I'm thankful for public lands. I'm thankful for wilderness. I'm thankful for my dogs. I'm thankful for the roof over my head. I'm thankful for compassion & understanding from my fellow man.
But most of all... I'm thankful to be able to be thankful. I'm blessed beyond belief, and I for one, don't want to take it for granted. So my advice for each of you this holiday season... Be thankful. Take a few moments to really reflect on what you have, and not for one second...take it for granted.
Here are some shameless plugs that I hope will get a few of you in the doors this holiday season.
- Special Order a Redington Predator or Hydrogen between now and November 27th, and we'll give you a $50 BOYNE gift card.
- Black Friday & Small Business Saturday: Come see for yourself & #SupportLocal
And after you give thanks... give back. Don't just benefit from our resources, do your part. Donate to Trout Unlimited, or Friends of the Jordan River, or the Ruffed Grouse Society, or the Native Fish Society, or the Native Fish Coalition, or Rewild Michigan...or the hundreds of other non-profit organizations designed to protect our fisheries & wildlife. #GivingTuesday