Friday, May 19, 2017

Fly fishing with cancer

I have two blogs.  One is a lot older than this blog.  That one actually has some readers, as well.  I started blogging, with a focus on some ultramarathon races I was attempting to do.  Over time, due first to an injury, and then to some follow-on life events, the blog really just became an online diary.

Part of that "diary" was my fly fishing adventures,  But, to be honest, some of the fly fishing information was simply of no interest to my friends who were interested in my ultramarathon running, my time as a skier and ski instructor, and other things in my life.  So, I started this blog and I've been writing about fishing here instead.

And, I've mostly kept them separate.  But, some events in my life really affect every facet of my life and the reality is, I've been mostly ignoring some stuff here that's affecting my fishing a lot.

In September of 2013, I had a high PSA test.  This is a blood test that can indicate prostate cancer.  There are many reasons that PSA can be elevated, but prostate cancer is one of them.  And, it turned out that I did have prostate cancer.  I had surgery in January of 2014, and I've been tested routinely since then.  It seems likely that I'm cured of that cancer, although the treatments come with permanent and unpleasant side effects.

But, two years ago, I started to get sick.  No energy.  I had to quit fishing on a vacation day because I simply ran out of juice.  I didn't have the energy to wade at all and I barely had the energy to get to my car.

I'll spare the details here, but it took months to find out the cause.  Finally, I had an emergency event where I couldn't breathe properly.  A CT scan showed a large mass (described as the size and shape of a nerf football) growing on my right kidney.  Things had been moving slowly, but this changed everything.  I had surgery very shortly, losing the tumor and my kidney.  What was assumed to be kidney cancer turned out to be much rarer and more dangerous - liposarcoma.  Specifically, dedifferentiated retroperitoneal liposarcoma.  I think a few hundred people per year in the US get that diagnosis.

The first surgeon knew he didn't get all of the cancer out of me.  A few months later, a scan showed it was back.  I had chemo and then another surgery.  And then, a clean scan.  That was during the summer and I had a great trout season that year.  I felt healthy all season for the first time in a while.  I traveled to fish and caught some nice fish.  It was easily the best trout season of my lifetime.  Yes, this was just last summer.  It seemed like I caught fish every time out and I caught my fair share of nice fish.

In November, I found out that the cancer had returned.  I had some radiation.  Then, I was supposed to have surgery, but some new tumors showed up just before my surgery.  This indicated that I needed a systemic treatment to try to kill the cells that were generating new tumors from somewhere in my body.  I started chemo in February of this year.  I just recently finished it and I'm still dealing with the side effects.

To be honest, I can't fish for more than 3 hours at a time right now.  I'm just too tired.  I worry that I'll make a mistake wading and go under.  We've had a cold, wet spring so far.  Rivers are running colder and higher than normal, although not by much.  But, it's been enough to delay the really good fishing.  And enough to make me very cautious while wading.

So, I'm still somewhat sick.  The season is somewhat delayed.  And, I'm coming off a memorable season, where I really thought I'd started to dial in some new skills.  It's getting into late May.  Between my limited time on the water (I've been out 10 times or so, but just a few hours at a time) and the conditions, I honestly haven't caught a trout yet.  I've had one strike, and immediately hooked and lost that fish.

I am frustrated as hell, to be honest.  Yet, if I'm honest, I have some really good reasons why I haven't caught fish.  And yet, I can't seem to be honest with myself.  I keep claiming I'm going to quit fishing.  I'm going to build a bonfire and burn my equipment.  Think about that - simply burning close to $10K worth of fly fishing gear.  How stupid would that be?  I just bought a new Helios 2 rod and some Patagonia waders.  I tied flies this winter like never before.  I love this sport as much as ever.  I just need the season to come around, just like I need my health to come around.

I fished the Black River yesterday.  The plan was to fish all day.  I was on the water at first light.  I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Black.  It really should be called Six Flags over Vermont, or something like that, because it's as much amusement park as trout stream.  There is no wild fish population.  People question whether any fish even hold over through the winter.  And, the state stocks bigger fish in the river.  A four mile stretch of water gets a couple thousand fish with a minimum size of 16" or so, and some fish go 20".  I got a 20" brown last year.

It's also an insane river.  Crowded.  No gear restrictions.  It's not uncommon to have bait chunkers or spinner fisherman cast right over your fly line.  There is no sense of decorum here.  It's a free for all.  When you drive along the river, most fishermen are from out of state.  When you are on the water, the fishermen skew older.  I think a lot of retired out of staters make up the majority of the people on the water, but not all of them.  And, the fishermen (ignore the demographics for a minute) tend to be rude and aggressive.

I refuse to fish this river on a weekend.  I usually take one vacation day in May to fish it.  Yesterday, I hit a perfect weather day and I was on the river at first light.  There were three spin fishermen in the first hole I was going to fish, but I could see that the half mile upstream was clear of other fishermen.  So, I hopped in and fished up.

The first things I noticed were than the water was cold and high for this time of year.  That's been true statewide and the season has started slowly for everyone.  Yes, I fished with some friends who did well last Saturday, but they are working hard for nice wild fish.  Yesterday should have been an easy day to catch a dozen big fish.  And yet, I got nothing.  Not one strike.  Early on, I stuck with the tried and true.  A couple standard bead head nymphs.  Then, a different pair.  Then, because of the fast current, I tried some fast sinking competition nymphs.  Still nothing.  Streamers.  Buggers.  Nothing.

As the sun finally appeared, so did some Hendricksons - the first I've seen this year.  And the fish ignored them.  Finally, the number of cars where I'd parked reached critical mass.  And, the fishermen made it upstream.  Not one fisherman had a fish (You can keep up to 2 fish per day here and the spin fishermen tend to keep their 2).

People started fishing elbow to elbow.  I was well established in a pool, but that didn't matter to these guys.  They crossed my line and blamed me.  I ignored them.  Then, I accidentally crossed one of their lines and someone got all pissed off.  Remember, I was here first.  I reminded this other fisherman that I was fishing this pool and he'd jumped in at my elbow.  He told me there was plenty of water and I should avoid his line.

I reeled in and left.  I refuse to play that game.  The assholes can have it.

I'd been out for 3 hours.  No strikes.  It wasn't even 8:00.  So, I drove home and worked for the day rather than dealing with the other fishermen, the fatigue that was already hitting me, and the slow fishing.  Maybe things picked up later, but I'll never know.  I'm done with that river for the season.  I tend to fish where I normally fish because I prefer the solitude on my primary rivers.

I thought about going out again locally after work.  It was 90F+ and I was exhausted.  I took a nap instead.

That's my season so far.  Fish or nap.  In the past, fishing always won.  Now, naps are winning.  Fishing is tough and you're going to have to work hard for every strike.  Normally, I have the time and energy for that and I even enjoy the challenge.  Now, I go home and take a nap.

The fishing will pick up in a week or two.  Maybe I'll even catch a fish tomorrow morning because I will be out there again.  For a while at least.  Before my nap.

My guess is that June is going to be the month this year.  And, I won't be able to fish at all in June.  The cancer requires another surgery on 6/8.  I head to NYC (this cancer is so rare that I have to use out of state hospitals for treatment) on 6/3.  If I'm lucky, I'll be fishing again by the end of June.

Part of what sucks is that I honestly don't know how many seasons I have left right now.  This is not a a cancer that will be cured.  And, I may find that even if I have future seasons, my health may be worse, not better.

For now, I'm going to have my surgery.  I'm going to recover.  And, I'm going to fish the hell out of July, August, September and October.  By then, I should feel a lot better.  No more naps. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate.

If anyone out there actually reads this blog (I see that people do read it sometimes, but I've never had a single comment here, so I feel like I'm just talking to myself.), get out fishing.  Don't take it for granted.  Contrary to what people may say, there isn't always tomorrow.  Yes, tomorrow will arrive, but our lives can change.

I haven't lost fishing yet, but I might.  That scares the shit out of me, to be honest.  I spend way too much time wondering if this might be the last time I fish somewhere, the last time I do something, anything.  I wonder all the time if this might be my last season on the water.  That makes my frustration even more palpable.

Don't wait until you are there to really appreciate your time on the water.  I've been fishing for trout for 40 years.  I've caught my fair share.  I've taken some hiatuses in there, mostly while raising kids.  I have had some years where I didn't fish.  But, more recently, I've been putting in 50 days or so per year.  At age 55, I'm improving.  My tying is as good as it's ever been.  My dead drift nymphing is still coming along, but it's a lot better.

I'm at a point in life where I can afford to fish high quality equipment and I'm happy for that.  I read people online debating certain equipment and making fun of people who buy high end equipment.  Marginally, the best stuff might not be a great value.  But, a Helios 2 rod or a Hardy Zenith rod, or a Hatch Finatic Plus reel are just amazing tools.  If you can afford them and you love to fly fish, go ahead and invest in the good stuff, if you can.  I still fish (and love) a Sage RPL+ from more than 20 years ago.  The best stuff lasts and holds up as time goes by.

And time goes by.  If you really love fishing, spend that time on the water.  If you can convince loved ones to fish with you, even better.

Regretfully, time marches on.  Every single one of us will eventually face our final season on the water.  Our skills or fitness will diminish.  We will be left with some amazing memories to comfort us in our old age.

I will fight this damned disease.  I will fish as long as I can.  But, I've also gotten a glimpse of the end.  I'm not looking forward to it.  So, to all of you who are fully healthy and who decided you weren't going to fish tomorrow, I say go for it.  Get your gear and get out fishing.  The fish aren't going to come to you.

And, until my dying day, that wonderful rhythmic almost zen-like pattern of casting and drifting will be part of my thought patterns.  The fish are part of it and most of the memories are about the fish.  But, the relaxation that can come from just fishing is worth its weight in gold.  When I'm casting, I'm not worried about my mortgage payment.  The latest problem at work is forgotten.  My cancer is forgotten.  In that moment, it's just me and the rod and the river.  And if I'm lucky enough and skilled enough, maybe one more trout.

1 comment:

  1. There are a lot of great messages in this essay whether you fish or (like me) not. Keep on fishing.