A small act of generosity by an adult can unlock the door to a wonderful world for a kid. My uncle Tom Pick did that for me by putting a fly fishing rod in my hands. In doing so he gave me a gift of knowledge and skill that has brought me immeasurable joy, employment, and love.
The way I remember it is this. I was maybe nine or ten. We were out along the slow and muddy lower Green River south of the tumbleweed, cattle, and oil town in which we lived in Wyoming. Tom was married at that time to my aunt Jessie. I don’t know if Calen and Sander were born yet.
We all lived on a dirt street in the town of Mableton, above Big Piney. Tom was always up to amazing things that I wanted to do too, like shooting his bow, cooking wild turkey, growing vegetables. I used to watch him practice archery. I longed to do it too.
Now, before my eyes, he was whipping a monofilament line in the air with grace and focus and the intent of catching wild trout. I was transfixed. At some point, Tom handed me the rod. He must have shown me how to cast because I remember the feeling of casting. More importantly for a pre-teen who felt very much disenfranchised from the world and out of place in her town, I remember feeling pride. I could do this.
Casting a fly rod, as many of you know, is not so easy a task, but that day the fly caught me, metaphorically speaking, and I was hooked. I don’t remember catching any fish, but it was the intent and means that intrigued me. I knew in that moment that fly fishing was something I wanted to do.
In life, the moment is the key, and Tom had a knack for seizing it. Engrossed as he was in his sport that day he chose to pause for me. He turned his focus and energy on me, his gangly bucktoothed niece, to tend to my curiosity and teach me what I wanted to know. In doing so he gave me a gift. He showed me an option in life. By the muddy Green River, on that otherwise dull day, I became a woman who fishes.
By becoming a woman who fishes, particularly a woman who fly fishes, I gained access to a lifetime of on wild rivers with wild species and wonderful friends. Over the years I got better at fly fishing, in large part thanks to guided trips with our grandfather. I also gained knowledge, competence, and confidence.
In college I shared my love of fly fishing and literature with a man who was a fishing guide. We fell in love. Later, I curated a museum exhibit about the native fish species that Lewis and Clark first documented for science, how the Corps of Discovery fished, and how the Native American tribes they encountered fished. My exhibit, Undaunted Anglers, is on line and permanent display at Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Interpretive Trail and Visitors Center in Nebraska City, Nebraska. I have been published in Fly Fisher Magazine, and I count my happiest summer days as those spent in friends’ boats on the mellifluous Yellowstone River near my home.
Yes, I’m well aware of the biblical verse about teaching a man to fish. I suppose it is applicable here in the sense that fishing feeds my soul. However, to me this story is about Tom’s generosity and awareness. It’s about the fact that he chose to take one small moment to include me in his world. In doing so he made my world bigger. That was Tom. He was always willing to include us in his world. He was a man with a generous soul. To me, generosity of spirit is love. For my uncle’s love and for fly fishing I am forever grateful.
I will think of you always when I cast my line, Tom. Thank you for your time.