Zeps and shammy worms

As the old saying goes: “a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.” But what happens when we take work out of the equation, is every day spent fishing a good day? I have often struggled to accept that notion. Aren’t there “bad days” out on the water? Technical difficulties, finicky fish, bad weather, and dumb decisions are just a few reasons I have walked back to my car wishing I had never left the comforts of my home. Generally, if I get “skunked” I instinctively gravitate towards deeming it a “bad day” on the stream.

But what makes it a “good day?” Is it the number of fish brought to my net that counts? Is it the size of the fish caught? Is the fact that I caught more than my fishing buddies, therefore arming me with the almighty bragging rights until our next trip? Does it matter that I have caught wild trout rather than stocked trout? Is it better that I landed my fish on dry flies versus wet flies? The list goes on and on. Yet the more I consider these questions, the more I believe I am missing the point.

I am blessed that I have spent over thirty years fishing with my Dad. In my humble opinion, there are few things in life that compare to the bond forged between a father and son on the stream. Fishing with my Dad also meant I was able to fish with his buddies. One of those men was Frank. Although not related by blood, Frank was family to us.

Frank truly cherished his time in the outdoors. He once told me that he considered a fish in the net to be nothing more than a bonus, that the very act of getting out on the stream and fishing was a success. In other words, it was a “good day” no matter what, if Frank was able to get out and fish. Frank was right, spending time in the outdoors, creating memories with friends, is a great day, bonus or not. Fortunately for Frank, he saw a lot of “bonuses” through the years.

I will never forget that sixteen (16) inch rainbow trout that he caught on a shammy worm under a footbridge of a small Centre County stream. My brother and I were tossing dry flies, with no success, changing flies at breakneck pace. Frank, an old school fly fisherman, who at that point had spent more time on the stream than we had on this planet, did what he knew best: he drifted a big old “junk fly” into a pool that looked fishy and landed the biggest trout of the day. I loved and respected the way that he was, simple and unpretentious, especially when it came to fly fishing.

I also will never forget a weekend I spent up at Frank’s cabin in the Poconos. My Dad and Frank tasked my buddy and I with bringing up food for the weekend. They wanted “Zeps” (it’s a sandwich originating in Norristown, PA). If you know anything about Norristown, you know that Zeps are more than a sandwich for the old timers from our area. They are a religious experience.

My buddy and I did as we were told and we arrived to the cabin with Zeps. We spent Friday night eating Zeps, tying leaders, organizing and exchanging flies, watching VHS movies, drinking coffee, bullshitting, and throughly enjoying every moment we spent in each other’s company. The next day we fished the Bushkill Creek and while I am positive we all caught fish, many fish, I can’t say I specifically recall a single fish being brought to the net.

We never made it back to the cabin again before Frank passed away, but years later my buddy and I still talk about how great that fishing trip was. Never once have we discussed the fish we caught. We talk about the Zeps. We talk about how funny we find it that my Dad and Frank couldn’t have cared less about the fishing, the Zeps made their trip. We talk about the laughs we had in the cabin. We talk about Frank.

Frank was right. Catching fish is just a bonus.

Today’s music recommendation: “Fire and Rain” performed by Richie Havens on Live at the Cellar Door.

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