I used to be one of the younger members of the Loveland Fishing Club. I’m, uh, not anymore. But I still remain in awe of buddies willing to try any darned thing when it comes to fishing, regardless of obstacles like a heart attack, scheduled joint replacements or potential frostbite trying to ice fish Lake Grandby when it’s minus-23 degrees.
Every year or two, members of the Loveland Fishing Club update ourselves on “Who is the Club’s toughest angler?” It amounts to a review of questionable behavior that bewilders spouses and gives club members something to talk about over coffee.
The very first was inspired by a cranky old bachelor named Frank, who would startle the rest of us with one bizarre adventure after another. The most memorable was a could-have-been-tragic-but-wasn't spill into Boyd Lake while fishing all by himself, far from the dock, in a leaky rubber pontoon boat. We didn’t know how Frank could even launch the little craft – hampered by that broken neck of his.
One of my all-time favorites, though, was the late Dave Harem, legendary in part because of a solitary, late fall archery hunt in Mount Zirkel Wilderness, weeks before his badly, badly needed hip replacement surgery.
That may sound tough enough, but what we really admired was Dave’s account of frantically limping into an abandoned cabin while being pursued by an enraged mother black bear.
Not long after I joined the club, Dave and I and about a dozen other stout-hearted men and women made a memorable ice fishing trek to Lake Grandby. With backs to a gale-force wind, we perched on 5-gallon plastic buckets, waiting without success for a bite. “You know, Bill," Dave told me, “I think we do things like this to remind ourselves we still can."
So who is 2019's toughest?
With this kind of wisdom, and these kinds of mentors, club members like myself have learned to stoically endure thinning gray hair and frequent midnight trips to the bathroom. No one is thrilled with the aging process, but some of us have seen it coming for more than half a century, and don’t worry about it too much anymore. And in that spirit, we (okay, me) polled the membership and came up with this year’s hands-down “toughest angler:”
It is retired forester (and former club secretary) Charlie Higgs of Fort Collins.
Retiring in 1998 from a career with Wisconsin Natural Resources, Charlie arrived in northern Colorado in 2010 looking like a cowboy: tall, broad at the shoulder, narrow at the hip. He’s more gaunt these days, unsteady and stooped over with a cane under the increasing impact of multiple myeloma, a one of the leukemia/lymphoma group of cancers that’s that’s not curable but treatable with chemotherapy. It damages bones, causes neuropathy and impacts the immune system and kidneys. In Charlie’s case, the outdoorsman’s body that worked fine five years ago is less reliable every day. But this dude is relentless.
In April 2013, for example, not long after his myeloma started getting worse, Charlie waded right into a particularly frigid prairie lake near Walden, seeking big ice-out rainbows, cutbows and browns. He found them all that day. “There we were,” he recalls, “with 40 or 50 feet of open water between the shore and ice cap. The action was fast and furious. I got one particularly large brown up into shallow water, but he got off. Even though one boot got stuck in the mud and I stepped in the icy water, I was hooked on ice-out fishing right then.”
Almost every angler knows big Rocky Mountain trout come out to play when the ice thaws each spring. But most of us with a sense of self-preservation stay home where it’s warm. Once again, however, despite a mid-March blizzard and a relapse of that damned myeloma, Charlie is hoping for an early April thaw. “It can be incredibly cold and windy up there. I got skunked last year, mostly because I had to stick to shore and couldn’t really wade out. But this is another year.”
The fishing club meets every Friday for breakfast at the Loveland Perkins, a few miles northeast of Carter Lake, one of the few northern Colorado lakes that usually doesn’t freeze all over. Aware of the reservoir’s relentless January-February-March winds, most members prefer to enjoy a meal, swap questionable stories, and head for home. When we do head for Carter, though, usually Charlie gets there first.
“Fishing can be good; it can be awful,” he says. “But I look forward to just getting out there. I can’t explain it. Sometimes you get fantastic luck with the weather, sometimes you just get cold. Sometimes you just have a glimmer of hope. But at least you’re trying.”