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
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,
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 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.