The Enviable Life of a Retired Trout Bum

The Enviable Life of a Retired Trout Bum

After a long career in the office or the shop, you deserve some time on the water

  • By: Keith Gann
It's a late Saturday afternoon, two days past Thanksgiving. I'm down in the barn, sipping beer and trying to get motivated to finish the four knives that were promised as Christmas gifts. I'd spent most of the day at the fly shop, tying demo flies for the holiday crowd. The plan was for my friend Bob and me to spend the day at the shop building up our supply of flies, so we took our own materials with us. But the first little boy who stood and watched me tie got so excited that I caved and gave him the fly.Then the next kid wanted one too, and before long every kid, plus some adults, got a free Woolly Bugger or Carey Special. I ended up with a big dent in my materials supply and no flies. Still, it was a good experience. Bob and I spend so much time in and around most of the aspects of fly-fishing that sometimes we forget there are still a lot of people who have never seen a fly or cast a fly rod or stood on the banks of a stream at dusk in some quiet place off the beaten path to wait for the whispered splash of the evening's rise. So, I tied flies, listened to the customers' stories, answered their questions and told each one of them that every fly I tied was guaranteed to catch fish. Occasionally, acquaintances of mine would come by and say they couldn't believe that I was getting paid to sit there all day and tie flies. The word "envy" popped up more than a few times. When Bob and I had a chance to take a break, I asked him if he was envious of anyone or anything. "No," he answered. "Me neither," I quickly replied. On the other hand it's quite natural that folks would envy us, as Bob and I spend 45 to 60 days per year either going fishing, fishing or coming back from fishing. When I mention this to people at parties they normally respond the same way: "Sounds good, but don't you have anything better to do, like a job?" "Oh no. I'm retired," I say. And if they are part of the younger set I'll urge them to work longer hours and maybe take a second job, as Bob and I are both drawing Social Security and we are worried that the fund is going to dry up before we do. Most of the time the people we speak to seem more envious than disgusted, or maybe I'm just misreading the smirk on their faces. And my current blissful state is the result of years of hard work. Several years ago I was making a lot of money, maybe more than I deserved, but I convinced myself that I was a damn good manager. I put in a lot of extra hours, was very careful with the owners' money and had spent five years tolerating a boss who had the personality of a warthog, and was equal to one of the human body's lower orifices most of the time. Fortunately for me two things happened: One, I flunked my physical. "Prime candidate for a heart attack," the doctor said. "High blood pressure, high cholesterol; you need to do something fast." Two, I looked at my retirement account, did a quick calculation and knew immediately that we (the wife, remaining daughter and me) could make out OK. One day later, I was in the boss's office, gave him my 30-days notice, and hit the road. Oh yeah, there was a third thing: Bob had retired a couple of days earlier. Looking back, it was as if all of the planets had lined up and were telling me that this was a no-brainer. Two weeks later Bob and I were standing in the Current River, reeling in 10-inch browns and telling each other how smart we were. So there we stood: two 60-plus-year-old guys not envious of anyone or anybody. My wife, however, is not at our level yet because she still has lots of envy, and most of it is directed at one person in particular: me. "I wish all that I had to do was tie flies, fish, hunt and piddle with knives and bamboo rods down in the barn all day," she'll say with a marked edge to her voice. It's been pointed out to me that her tone might be signaling disgust or ridicule or maybe even anger, but I live with her and I know better: It's envy, plain and simple. At my age it is good to do a periodic inventory of the important things in your life. I began by counting all of the bamboo rods in my shop that need to be repaired: 135. At 10 rods per year, this will keep me busy for 13 years. I next moved on to my knives. There are currently 165 knife-blade blanks on the shelf. At 25 knives per year, that's another seven years. My old reel count exceeds 300. Dismantling each one, cleaning, polishing, repairing and reassembling will take another 10 years. So there's a good 30 years of work in my barn alone. And on top of all of that, there are hundreds of small streams out West that still need me to fish them, trips to plan, flies to tie, articles to write, two books to finish, classes to teach, fly-shop hours to put in, grandsons who need casting instructions… Now, as I begin my ninth year of easy living since retiring, I'm hit with the realization that maybe I am envious of others-the young people who have so much time to do these things. But what's worse is that my doctor recently told me that from now on, I can have only one beer per week. Now, in that regard I'd pity anyone who'd envy me. TIPS FOR THE RETIRING ANGLER Pick a good fishing buddy. No, not a dog. Wife? Yeah, maybe, but the odds are against you. You're going to spend hours on the stream, around campfires, in cold cabins on dark rainy days, and hours at a time in a car on long trips. This better be someone whom you really like, and that means common interests, personalities and fishing desires. Most of all, your buddy's got to have a positive attitude. Negative thinkers, whiners and complainers are a drain, require high maintenance, and make a one-day trip seem several days longer. Keep yourself in good physical shape, and pressure your buddy to do the same. Remember the weakest link in the chain? How far you can hike, at what altitude you can camp and how long you can stay on the stream are all determined by the stamina of the weaker person. You tolerated all of those long hours at your job so you could live your dream. If the dream was to sit all day in a lawn chair drinking beer and watching a bobber at some pay lake, then go ahead, smoke that cigarette, eat the other Twinkie and take your nap. Bob and I will drop by your house after the funeral and see if we can buy all your fishing gear from your widow for pennies on the dollar. Get yourself a part-time job in a fly shop or fishing department somewhere. The discounts and free stuff from the reps are worth it. Your co-workers love fishing as much as you do, are a great source of information and will help fill the open slots on your fishing calendar. Besides, the customers share a lot of info, including where their secret fishing holes are located… Watch your money. If you came out of your job with big bucks and no worries, skip to the next tip. If not, then you will find that you might not need that $600 rod after all, and sharing trips and costs with a good friend, eating groceries out of a cooler instead of restaurants and staying in cheap hotels are not degrading but character-building. Read. Start a fly-fishing library, subscribe to several fly-fishing magazines or get yourself a library card. Collect maps of fishing country. Much of our waters today have long histories. Develop a broad base of fly-fishing knowledge. It opens doors into worlds that you could never have imagined. Buy a good 4X4 vehicle. One that you don't mind getting scratched up once in a while. It needs to be long enough to hold two 9-foot rods extending from the dashboard back to the tailgate. You can find a two- to three-year-old model with less than 50,000 miles on it for $18,000 to $24,000. Take good care of it, and chances are it will still be running fine after 250,000 miles. Remember that most of those miles will be on the highway. And lastly, buy the highest quality six- to ten-ply rated tires for it that you can find. Get connected. If you've been reluctant to log onto the Web, this is your chance to get started. A whole new world awaits you. There are countless fly-fishing Web sites, complete with stream reports, stream flows and forums. A Google search will find you everything from 112 ways to tie a hopper pattern to a cheap place to stay in Cooke City, Montana, to great hatch charts for the stream you will be fishing. If you've got a missus, keep her happy. Remember, if mamma ain't happy, nobody's happy. If she's not your fishing companion and you want to spend 60 days per year on the water, then during the other 305 days, you pay attention to her. Dinners out, shows, opera, quilting festivals (hey, it could be worse). Call her every night from camp, send her flowers, and listen when she speaks. It's not the "coolest" things to do, but being happy 60 days a year and miserable the other 305 isn't fun either. Start planning early. It's never too early to begin planning for retirement. Start putting aside money, buy top-quality gear that you can pass to your grandchildren, and if you are currently single and want nothing more than to spend your later years fishing (a wise, noble dream), all I can say is: DON'T GET MARRIED. But, hey, that's up to you… And like, duh (as the kids say)…go fishing a lot. Your week has six Saturdays, seven if you don't go to church. Hit the river when all the less fortunate people are working. I like to go Tuesday through Thursday afternoon, and by Thursday evening I'm sitting on my deck, sipping beer while the rest of the unblessed are elbow to elbow fighting for six feet of river bank. Keith Gann and his fishing buddy, "Mountain Bob" Sadrakula, were members of the Ozark Graylings, a team that participated in FR&R's 2002 Trout Bum Tournament.