Sunday, April 3, 2016

Third Saturday In April

So much about our Opening Day tradition has changed since I first joined my uncle more than 20 years ago. The location, the duration, the crew, even the fishing regulations—they all evolved over time. In the early years we stayed on a state-owned property along the river with dozens of others for one wild night before the third Saturday of April. With that site long since shut down, we now stay on a private piece of land miles from the river with a small and seasoned group for three memorable nights. We have added on days, lost a crucial participant, and gained others. Virtually the entire river is now open to fishing before Opening Day. The State even moved trout season up a week, yet there was no question within our group about whether or not to stick with the traditional weekend.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same. The gathering of friends. The reunion around the camp fire. The celebration of spring. The serenade of peeper frogs. The patter of rain on the tent. The smell of wood smoke. The morning dew on the rain fly. The hum of the Northstar lanterns. The swilling of whiskey in camp chairs. The fire-cooked steaks. The waders drying on Russian Olives. The rigging of fly rods on tailgates. The whittling of walking sticks. The cigars on the riverbank. The prepping of cheese spreads with grandfather’s KA-BAR. The crackling of the late night fire. The chill when you step away from it. The rehashing of stories I’ve heard for years. I’m thankful those things haven’t changed.

When I first started going on this trip, the weekend was something I circled on the calendar months in advance. When that Friday morning finally came, I’d wait by the front door for my uncle’s red Mitsubishi Mighty Max pickup to pull in the driveway. My pile of gear was pathetic—pretty much everything I used was loaned to me from fishing rods to sleeping bags. As we drove north on Route 8, we may as well have been on a logging road in the Moosehead region. We were so unplugged from the real world. It was so different that what my friends were doing back home. For better or worse, those trips exposed me to food, language, behavior, and fishing techniques that a Connecticut kid in the 90’s couldn’t find anywhere else.

Now with over two decades of Opening Day weekends in the books, inside I’m still that excited kid making mental notes of the trip months in advance. While the world got a lot smaller since those first years, in a way it still feels like I’m cut off from the rest of civilization when I’m in the woods for those three nights. A temporary reprieve from responsibilities at home and in the office. And we’ll keep going that third weekend in April so long as we are physically able to do so. Carrying that Opening Day torch and passing it on to our children and their children along the way. It’s tradition after all.