Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

March 15th, 2004

THIS HAPPENED TO ME
By Dave Micus

Outdoor Life magazine has a department called "This Happened to Me," where readers submit a one-page synopsis of a near death experience that occurred while hunting or fishing and it is printed complete with a comic strip type illustration depicting the event. Nearing middle age (middle if I live to be 100), and feeling that I don't have many adventures, I started thinking about experiences I've had while fishing that might be appropriate for "This Happened to Me."

I've had a few adventures worthy of a comic strip, but nothing worthy of "This Happened to Me." For instance, once when fishing from a canoe, a fishing companion, whose fish were known to magically grow on the recounting of their catch, accidentally hooked my cheek with an errant cast. I easily removed the barbless hook, but I was bloodied a bit. "What happened to you?" asked the bride when I got home, seeing the blood on my face.

"My companion hooked me by accident," I replied.

"Look at the bright side," she said. "You'll be six foot six when he tells the story."

Funny, but hardly eligible for "This Happened to Me."

Another time I was fishing a beach in the pre-dawn hours when I discerned bright flashes of light and a loud humming noise coming from an area just around a rock outcropping ahead. Unable to see because of the outcropping, but suspecting an alien spacecraft, I was thankful I was wearing chest waders, believing they would make any probing more difficult. What I found wasn't NASA, but a NASCAR racer with bikini-clad models lounging on the hood and trunk, being photographed for an advertisement - the flashes were photographers' strobes, the humming a generator to power the shoot. I continued walking along the beach and heard one of the crew curse, "Damn! There's a fisherman in the background!" (If on the wall of your local garage you spot a picture of a racecar adorned with beautiful, skimpily clad women and a fly fisher in the background, mouth ajar, well, that's me.) While this definitely falls into the "I Wish This Happened to Me More Often" category, it is not "This Happened to Me" material.

I've twice saved fellow fishermen from drowning, but it was, in retrospect, more slapstick than heroic and any witnesses would have thought we were filming a remake of a Marx Brothers movie. This past season I helped a fisherman mired thigh deep in mud to extricate himself, but got stuck myself when he frantically grabbed my shoulders and pushed me down to pull himself up. He then left me to the tides, but, fortunately, I was able to heave myself out--not really an adventure, but a valuable lesson in human nature.

My only real 'near death' experience occurred while fishing at Pavilion Beach in Ipswich. Pavilion is shaped like the new moon, and when the tide comes in it sweeps around the bowl and forms a good strong rip over a mussel bed. Stripers hold in that rip and wait for bait to be swept out to them.

I was on the mussel bed, catching fish and not watching the tide. When I turned to make my way back I found I was surrounded by water. I tried to walk straight to shore, but I must have been standing on an elevation, because the water got deeper as I moved in. I tested another spot, and then another; it was all the same. The current was gathering strength, and I felt that first pinprick of panic.

The problem with being a loner is you are usually alone. It was 5 am with no help in sight, and, having no options, I chose to just walk straight in, hoping that I was only metaphorically in over my head. As I walked the water got deeper, the current stronger, and for the first time drowning seemed more than just an outside chance. The water reached the top of my waders, then over, filling them with about 100 pounds of seawater in, at most, three seconds.

But often that which seems to weigh us down is really what saves us. The additional weight gave me purchase against the current, I was able to keep moving forward, and though the water reached my chin, it began subsiding and I made it to shore. My life didn't flash before my eyes, I didn't find religion, and I didn't resolve to become a better person. I did decide that to die because of carelessness was a pretty dumb way to go, and, adhering to Saul Bellow's adage that 'life is trying not to make the same mistake twice,' I now only wade to my knees when fishing the mussel bed at Pavilion beach.

All this hardly compares to a story I read about two outdoorsmen who, while hunting in the Alaskan wilderness, were charged by a giant grizzly bear. One only had time to spin and fire his rifle from the hip, but, miraculously, the shot severed the huge grizzly's spinal cord and killed it instantly. As they were field dressing the bear, a flash snowstorm blew in, and it snowed so heavily that there was no chance of them making it back to their camp. They stumbled upon the grizzly's lair (having stumbled across it unawares is what caused the griz to charge), and spent the next three days living in the den until the storm subsided, using the bear skin as a cover and eating grizzly meat for sustenance.

By this standard, Nothing Happens to Me. I think I prefer novelist Thornton Wilder's definition of adventure, to wit, "the test of an adventure is that when you're in the middle of it, you say to yourself, 'Oh, now I've got myself into an awful mess; I wish I were sitting quietly at home.'"

Using this criterion, I average one adventure per day. ~ Dave

About Dave:

Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor. He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats) and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.


Previous Dave Micus Columns

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