Fishing Buddies

[Bulletin Board]

Posted by jay schroeder on 2018-02-07 16:05:44

I want to talk about fishing at Webber Lake in Northern California. Nothing awakens my inner Buddha like having a line in the water and this pastime has given me great solace through rough years. A number of my patients have become fishing buddies over the years. This article is for those not with us.

High in the Sierras, well over a mile high, highway 89 winds north past where they found Keseberg gnawing on Tamsen Donner’s trachea in 1847. Rare stumps 30 feet high mark where the Donner’s cut down firewood in their desperate attempt to thwart fate. The road winds on toward Quincy but there’s a left turn toward Jackson Meadows Reservoir before that town. Ten miles along the dirt road there’s a left turn to Webber Lake where you rapidly see an old red building where the caretakers Joanie and Ken spent 40 summers. The lake has been sold to the state now to plant original Lahontan Cutthroat instead of the stocked rainbows and browns that have called me for twenty years.

The last person hung in California was a scared kid who had a money squabble, right at this site above, in the 1880’s. He was sentenced to die for murder and transported to Downieville, which still has the gallows on display. Forty years ago they began planting fish at the lake and created a fisherman’s paradise. The lake has an inlet stream fed from mountain runoff with an exit stream which becomes wild and woolly after a couple miles.

I first came here in 1998 with crazy Bert. Bert was a Pearl Harbor survivor and fought at Tarawa as well as Saipan. He loved being out on the little aluminum boat and trolling flies for trout. Bert was a talker, even more than me if possible, and we had probably 20 days together on that lake. He had told me all his war stories long before he truly opened up to me. Having his friend’s brains splashed on him landing on the beach at Tarawa or beating an enemy to death with an entrenching tool were fairly mild talks with him compared to the loss of his 2 year old boy from meningitis, when in Greece around 1948. The poor man broke down and said he’d never discussed it ever because of the pain. Bert got worsening dementia and fishing became a simple joy for him for a time but then that passed. Then he passed as well. We sure had some fun times catching lunkers together.

Jerry was a fun old man who lost his wife of 50 years one night to a brain bleed. We’d been fishing in Tahoe many times but I went with him to Webber Lake after his wife passed to have some healing. I’d been with them in the ER, helpless as she was dying, so I needed some healing too. On the crisp cold morning the fish were biting and we caught many before the sun was high. He mentioned how he and his wife laid out naked every day to get Vitamin D. He discussed his active love life with his wife, including the very day she got sick and passed. In that moment, listening to him weep over his loss, I realized I was where God needed me to be. I smoked cigarettes then and had a flask as well. Jerry reminded me it might catch up with me and soon after I put the smokes away. Jerry got dementia, once backing his boat and car in to Lake Tahoe by accident. His kidneys went as well so his daughter brought him up to Idaho for his final year. He was a kind family man and it was an honor to know him.

George was a majestic fisherman. He won the Masters Championship of golf long ago and his rod control was exquisite. He never confided in me about his deepest embarrassment, namely illiteracy. I wrote a story about it here a few years back, borrowing from the story his wife told. He sadly wound up with a lymphoma that was fatal. What I didn’t discuss was the night before he died I went to see him because the hospice nurse had not given him adequate meds. He was out of it but suffering immensely so we adjusted a few things up and his final twelve hours were a far better finish for his family to see than what might have been.

Tom was a giant bear of a man who was loud and proud but would hand you the shirt off his back. I went snowmobiling with him around the lake in winter as well as quad riding in summer. He had a giant pontoon barge he tooled around the lake in like a sumo wrestler doing a Cleopatra impression. He’d take my young son and me out during the July kids’ fishing derby. His liver went bad and he fought it for years, suffering immensely. I was in Boston at a Red Sox game when I got the call that he’d shot himself through the heart with an old 45.

I miss my old friends. They flood back in to my consciousness when I get on a lake with my fly rod.

My buddy Big R and I hiked up an inlet stream through a meadow, past many turns of open grassy banks. It was a sunny hot day and there were some willows where a few huge trout were hiding. I crept up like a ninja and on my knees flicked a grasshopper that drifted over the pod. A huge rainbow shot up in to the sky as only the acrobats of the trout world can do. He darted everywhere to break me off but a few minutes later he looked at me unhooking him and gently releasing him to warn his friends,”dudes, I saw God”. I laid down on the grass and had a shot of Makers Mark, toasting my old buddies. I haven’t been back in quite a while to that spot but I’m sure the willows still weep there.

There are plenty of more friends and stories from that lake but that’s enough. I look back at the connections I made with my patients and appreciate the fishing buddies most of all.

I’m positive my end days will be near water somehow. I envision grand kids with worms and power bait advancing on to fly rods if they choose. I’ll untangle lines with a smile and be happier with their six inch fish far more than any 8 pounder I’ve caught. When my turn comes to pass I hope I have enough wits about to slow time. I’ll be on that lake alone in a little aluminum boat. The crisp mountain air will be offset by sunny skies and minimal breeze. I’ll have family pics in my wallet, but this is one trip we all make alone. The rod tip will twitch like a spark and I’ll happily reach to grapple with the final unknown.

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