By Nick Simonson
One of my earliest memories is of that misty kind shrouded in the fog of early self-awareness. I am looking up to see a man sitting beside me in a boat. The lake is calm, reflecting gray skies above, his head is bent over what he holds in his hands. The boat too is gray; worn wood with paint peeling from the hull. On the bench seat behind me, the man in the wet olive coat slips a garden worm on a golden Aberdeen hook and flings it over the side. The weight of the red and white bobber slingshots out, carrying the payload over the weedbed where the schools of hungry perch and bluegills wait to pull my bright float under the water.
I know the man’s name is Jake, though I cannot see his face, remember his smile or what color his eyes were. He was a close family friend of my grandparents who would stay with them at their cabin each summer. As soon as I was old enough to hold a spincast combo and until his death a few years later, he served as my first fishing guide. The stories my grandmother would relate to me of how he sat with me each of those three summers, whether on the dock or in the boat, unhooking sunnies, rebaiting hooks, and helping me learn to fish, started me on the path of becoming a sportsman.
Bruce Lee once said that to achieve immortality we must first live a life worth remembering. Jake lives on, immortalized by the life he led stored within my mental book of outdoor memories, even if the only image I recall is one that appears shrouded in the gray mists of my mind. With him are dozens of others who have impacted my life and my time outdoors, not only in my youth, but throughout my life. And while they have passed on, they have left behind a legacy of love for life and all things living. They are people like my grandma Alice, with her list of birds in the Audubon’s guide by the window sill at her home on the Western North Dakota Prairie, and my friend Matt and his love of all wildlife, countless stories and the fields of wildflowers that bloom on his land, his life’s legacy secured forever in a conservation easement.
Each one of them, whether they spent months with me throughout my life, or maybe just a total of a few days, impacted me in my pursuit of fish and game, and in how I live. Their passion for the outdoors fueled mine, and while I can no longer reach out to them to talk about the eagle I saw on a drive back from the lake, or the clutch of hatched pheasant eggs I discovered on a walk through the grass, they remain with me. They are immortalized through their teachings, through the good lives they led and their investment in my life, in others like me and the natural world around all of us.
It is because of them that I give of my knowledge – some of which originates from each one of them – to others I take into the outdoors. They are the reason I teach the art of fly tying to the next generation along with the other outdoor skills that were taught to me by friends, grandparents and other relatives. Through my efforts and sharing of information, those who have come before me live on in the smile of a young person trying ice fishing for the first time or rambling along behind my lab for a shot at their first rooster. They live infinitely in the twists of feather and thread on the vise of a person who had never before created a fishing lure by his own hand but will be able to do so for the rest of his life, and hopefully pass that joy along to someone else during that time.
This year let’s decide to live forever. More importantly, let us assure the immortality of all those who took us into the outdoors and taught us something. By sharing what we know with others and with the next generation, whether it’s bass fishing, trapping, target shooting, lure making, ice fishing, or one of a hundred other pursuits taught to us by those who came before; they live on and we live on in the memories we make for the next generation and generations to come, whether it’s at the vise, in the blind, behind the thrower, on the ice or between the benches of an old wooden boat.
The author shares tips for tying flies and jigs in a streamside session with young anglers. Simonson Photo.