There are times when I get overwhelmed with gratitude for the special people we have around us. It’s amazing to think that when we’re all busy living our lives and doing our daily routines we could be next to someone who has a profound positive impact on those around them. Most of these amazing people don’t seek much attention for what they do as it’s their calling in life. They naturally reach out to help those around them like normal people do on holidays or after a tragedy occurs. Bottom line is there are folks put on this earth to make it better and if we put our phones down they’re easy to spot.
Pulling into the lake Mary parking lot at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal I had zero expectations. I was bringing my Canon 80d with a few lenses and hoped to get a couple decent photos for an album I would share at the end of the year. I’d been speaking with Ray a member here at FxR and a volunteer at the RMA for a couple weeks about the fishing programs they offered. The conversations we’d had were short as Ray’s attention on Tuesdays is focused on making sure folks are following the rules. One thing I could tell from talking with Ray is he’s extremely passionate about the Rocky Mountain Arsenal and helping others.
As I approached the dock I saw a handful of volunteers gearing up and getting ready for some guests. The John Deere 6x4 and little trailer were loaded to the gills with fishing equipment. Rod and reel combos, nets, tackle boxes, fish tank, you name it they had it and were getting it ready for guests to use! The fish tank was filled with water and then they attached an aerator to oxygenate the water. A few minutes later they had a nice bass and bluegill in the tank for the guests to look at as they walked onto the dock for the first time. An awesome idea to help get the guests jazzed up about fishing.
When the guests from a local hospital arrived you could see all the volunteers light up. Then as the guests, nurses, and hospital staff walked onto the dock they also looked to be excited to be here. One angler named Joe immediately asked for an open face reel and then made his way towards the dock away from the crowd. Knowing that’s exactly what I’d do I asked if I could tag along which he quickly agreed to. Joe, Ray, a nurse, and myself headed west down the trail to an empty dock. Joe who struggled a bit to manage holding his rod and reel and his wheelchair at the same time immediately declined help offered from the nurse. We were five minutes in and I knew I already liked Joe.
We got all set up on the dock and it was the moment of truth. Whenever you’re helping someone fish you never know their skill level and don’t want them to think it matters because it doesn’t, but Joe had a way about him that made you think he’s caught a fish or two in his day. Before Joe took his first cast he made sure to check his drag then in one fluid motion sent his bait flying into the horizon with a bomb of a cast. As he set his rod and reel down we started talking fishing. Joe’s from a nearby state and is an avid outdoorsman with a soft spot in his heart for catfish. I asked Joe if he’d fished with circle hooks much and he quickly said yes then shared some tips about using them with me and also how his hook up ratio after switching to circle hooks has been much higher. Then Joe, Ray, and myself started talking fishing and wildlife for the next hour or so.
He wasn’t a guest from a hospital, ray wasn’t a volunteer, and I wasn’t a guy writing a story. We were outdoorsmen fishing and talking fishing and hunting between bites. There’s no way for me to know if Joe felt the same. If fishing was giving him a break from thinking about the pain he was or the current limitations he was facing. If his demeanor was a que Joe was having a blast and thinking about one thing and one thing only, catching fish!
Seconds after Joe’s cut bait was slammed you could hear hooting and hollering coming from the other dock. As I looked over I could see a fish being netted and then behind me you could hear Joe asking did Steve catch it? One of the nurses hollered over yes. Then Joe screamed at the top of his lungs “Good Job Steve” I knew I liked Joe from the start. Seconds before I ran over to snap a few shots of Steve’s fish I could hear Joe telling the nurse how awesome that was that Steve caught one. At that point Joe had forgotten that he had a bite moments before Steve caught his fish, but he was too busy congratulating his buddy to think about himself.
After sprinting to the other dock I immediately started snapping pictures. Surrounded by new friends and some of his family members Steve proudly posed for a picture with a big pike he’d just caught. Everyone was smiling from ear to ear but there wasn’t a smile that could match Steve’s. He was beaming with excitement and it was infectious. After a few more pictures I started walking back towards the dock to hang out with Ray and Joe when I started to realize that fishing is more than what I’d perceived it to be all these years.
I’ve spent decades fishing to get away from people. Now I realize certain aspects of fishing are all about people. The therapeutic properties of fishing are undeniable and having special people do everything they can to share that with others gets me choked up every time I think about it.
When the day started it was a mixture of volunteers, nurses, hospital staff, patients, and some big dorky guy with a camera. When the day ended it was a group of friends that had a wonderful day fishing and hanging out with each other. It doesn’t get much better than that.
To the volunteers and hospital staff: You’re all amazing and make it look so easy. Your dedication to helping others is beyond inspiring it was a privilege to spend a few hours with so many amazing people.
Joe: Thank you for allowing me to hang out and talk fishing with you for a while. Next time we’ll hammer some channel cats there!
Ray: Thanks for allowing me to hang out and watch what you guys do. It’s awesome to see someone who cares as much if not more about the RMA than I do. I appreciate everything you do out there and so do countless others.