“The tug is the drug!” This commonly repeated aphorism is often parroted when a non-fisherman questions the appeal of a sport that frequently requires hours of inactivity interrupted by short episodes of intense excitement. Though the phrase is quite hackneyed, it does convey the type of thrill a fisherman experiences when the strike finally happens. It is reminiscent of the treasure hunter who, after years of effort, is at last rewarded after unearthing an ancient trove of gold and silver.
I am familiar with the intoxicating sensation of a sudden bend of a rod and the dizzying spin of my reel when a fish makes an all-out effort to free itself from my fly. It all became an addiction for me many years ago and has caused me to spend bank account depleting amounts of money acquiring unnecessarily complicated gear and far flung travel to remote and exotic locales in pursuit of esoteric species. Much like drug addiction, ever increasing stimulation became required to get my “fix.” Fortunately for me, I have a wife who supports my habit and even encourages my uncontrollable urges to catch more and bigger fish to reach the high I am constantly seeking.
As an aside, it is interesting to examine the neurophysiology of drug addiction. It appears that certain drugs cause the brain’s reward center to overproduce a substance known as dopamine. Dopamine, in turn, activates a part of the brain called the limbic system. It is the pleasure center of the brain, rewarding us for positive actions, such as drinking water when we are thirsty. Everyone knows how good a glass of ice cold water is after mowing the lawn in ninety degree heat, for example. Perhaps that is the reason these drugs are often referred to as “Dope”. It seems clear to me, at least, that fly fishing must stimulate the limbic system as well. Perhaps the brain is rewarding us for the positive action of obtaining food, even though we may not actually eat it. So perhaps “The tug is the drug” has some basis in science. This explanation may be completely inaccurate, but it does seem to fit with my own reality.
Now nearing seventy years of age, I am at that juncture in life at which Providence provides little ones with whom life adventures and experiences may shared. Few things stir my heart and soul like my grandchildren. Sharing fishing with my grandson has uncovered emotions from deep within my soul that I never realized were present. Lying dormant, concealed in the form of nucleotide base pairs somewhere along the strands of my DNA, they were simply waiting, waiting to be expressed by the appropriate environmental trigger. That trigger was my grandkids. First Presley, next Liam, then Madelyn. Presley, my oldest, is my artist and Madelyn is only two. Liam, some four years of age, seems destined to be my fishing buddy.
Liam, his Dad, my very good friend George, and I were blessed with the opportunity to do some winter angling for redfish recently. I had fervently hoped for not only fair weather, but great fishing as well. Obviously, holding a four year old’s attention requires a plentiful supply of cooperative fish. Whether these requirements would be met that day was soon to be revealed.
We stood beneath a bluebird sky as George attached a chartreuse jig to Liam’s line. Ben had selected an orange rod with a closed face spinning reel for Liam’s use, clearly in honor of his beloved Clemson Tigers, soon to become NCAA national champions. Liam wound up as if to throw a fifty yard pass, his small finger tight against the reels silver button. I nervously observed Liam’s technique as he let slip the jig toward the creek. Amazingly, the lure hit the water at the spot George had pointed out as most likely to hold fish be. Ben instructed him to let it sink and after a few seconds, he issued the command to wind. Liam complied and instantly was rewarded by a strike. He wound furiously, excitiedly repeating “I got one! I got one!” After an epic battle, Liam held a nice slot redfish up for all to see. It became difficult to tell who among us was most excited, and it was a close call as to who was proudest. The mandatory photographs were taken, all were smiling ear to ear, well, other than the redfish. As Ben released the red to its home, George looked at me and said, “I would not take a thousand dollars for that.” I replied, “And I would not take a thousand dollars for hearing you say that, my friend!”
Casting and catching continued relentlessly. Finally unable to resist trying my new Orvis fly rod I assembled it and attached my favorite redfish fly. This rod must be constructed of un-obtainium, as it cost five times more than my first car. I must admit, however, that is likely the best casting and most powerful rod I have yet to use. It delivered my fly to the redfish sweet spot in the creek and I counted to ten as the fly slowly sank to the strike zone. A single strip resulted in a redfish savagely attacking the fly. I set the hook and handed the rod to Liam. Though the rod is nine and a half feet long, he handled it with aplomb and soon landed a gorgeous redfish, much to my overwhelming delight.There was little doubt that now I was the proudest man there or anywhere on the planet for that matter. Photos worthy of an Orvis ad were taken and once more we returned the fish to the water, grateful for its cooperation. Fishing continued unabated as everyone caught my favorite Lowcountry fish, the magnificent redfish. We failed to keep accurate count, but George and I each reckoned that we had caught well over twenty redfish in a two-hour span.
It was a day that will live forever in my memory. Someday, Liam will read this article and perhaps in the misty recesses of his childhood memories, recall the day he caught redfish, both on fly and lures, with his father, his grandfather, and a very close friend. As for me, I learned that indeed, the tug IS the drug. But not the tug on the fishing string by a redfish. It’s the tug on my heart strings as I watched Liam catch redfish. I have this memory hidden away in my heart and reflect on it often. It will give me comfort as I reach the age when I no longer accompany Liam to the water. When Liam gets older and I have teleported to a new plane of existence, one beyond time and space, where the fish bite just often enough, perhaps he will remember this day. Catch one for Pa, Liam!