Outdoors

An avid angler in life - and in death

Wildside column: There's a reason fishing is a popular recreation

Fred Love of Ames poses with a smallmouth bass caught last weekend (July 31) in the black bass catch and release zone of
Fred Love of Ames poses with a smallmouth bass caught last weekend (July 31) in the black bass catch and release zone of the Maquoketa River below the Lake Delhi dam. (Orlan Love/correspondent)

Demographic studies show as people age, they are increasingly likely to read online or newspaper obituaries.

That is because older people are more likely to know people who have died and (in my case, at least) may be curious about how many people younger than them have died.

As a regular obituary reader for the past several years, I also have discovered that the brief life histories of my fellow Eastern Iowans often make interesting reading.

You learn where they were born and went to school, their military service (if any), their work history and their family life. You find you have a lot in common with the recently deceased, which is both reassuring and worrisome.

When survivors sum up the lives of their departed loved ones, they often include a sentence or two about the sources of their greatest joys, which generally include spending time with family and favorite enthusiasms such as charities, sports teams and hobbies.

Among deceased men, fishing ranks at or near the top of such avocations. In Tuesday’s Gazette, for example, fishing was mentioned in three of the four obituaries that listed deceased men’s favorite activities. In Wednesday’s Gazette, it was two of four.

As an avid angler, I can’t help wondering what it is about fishing that ranks it, at life’s end, as a joyous and life-defining experience.

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Because fishing is such a diverse enterprise — from solitary bank fishermen to jolly party boat clients, from stream-wading fly casters to fully mechanized and electronically augmented bass masters, from tournament competitors to ice anglers fishing for supper — the answer will vary widely from one deceased angler to the next.

That diversity recently struck me when my friend Dave Patterson of Atkins and I, pursuing bass on Pool 8 of the Mississippi near La Crosse, Wis., noticed a shore angler with pulsating rod bent tautly toward the water. Since we were idling through a no-wake zone, we had plenty of time to watch the tableau unfold.

Surrounded by rapt family members with phone cameras held aloft, the angler eventually beached a giant carp, which made his day. And though carp are generally considered rough fish in the upper Midwest, that angler’s eventual obituary will likely mention his obvious love of fishing.

Some anglers seek solitude and relaxation. Others seek company and excitement. But there are common denominators that appeal to all species of anglers.

Among them are the soul salving natural beauty of the places fish live, the mystery of their mostly unseen existence, the challenge of unraveling that mystery and the sudden electrifying excitement of the strike and ensuing battle.

For the many anglers who regularly gather to fish with family or friends, there also is the deeply satisfying sharing of an enjoyable tradition.

My son Fred of Ames and I, who because of coronavirus precautions had not seen each other since March 6, celebrated our reunion last weekend with outings on the Maquoketa and Wapsipinicon rivers. That the fish could have been more cooperative did not diminish the joy we felt at renewing long-standing bonds.

I don’t plan on writing my own obituary, and I hope it will not be written any time soon, but my spirit will flit fitfully over Eastern Iowa streams if it does not mention that he was an avid angler.

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