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Fixin to…

“Cause the river don’t talk”¦”

Dateline: Deja View

Using Vicious 20-pound green braid on an 18-pound puppy cut white Shih-Tzu.

I don’t know what my bud, Jeff Martin, calls his 20-pound test line, but my wife calls my four-legged pre-fish Riley.

This is the technique I use to pre-fish a Shih-Tzu.

Since Barb is pretty damn fond of the pup, and me too, I decided against throwing a topwater frog on top of the fall leaves and seeing if he could “fetch,” so instead, I took some of that braid line stuff and tied it around his collar then,

opened the bail and yelled,


Got to tell you, if you think a Shih-Tzu is some kind of foo-foo dog, you’d be pretty surprised to see what kind of fight they can put up. It took all I had to pre-fish the little sucker out of the woods behind the house.

For those of you techies out there who want to know my secret to pre-fishing Shih-Tzus, I pre-fished Riley using a 10-foot, 6-inch St. Croix, medium-power, fast-action Avid AVS 106MF2 rod, using a Shimano Stradic c14+ 2500FA reel loaded with 20-pound Vicious Moss-Green Braid tied to a clear Hartz Mountain Ultra Guard Plus Flea & Tick Collar.

“”¦the river don’t care”¦”

“Could you just take a moment, um, you know, just, just for my peace of mind, would you please explain to me why you were using my dog as bait.”

Some people don’t see the value of pre-fishing, Barb is one of them.

“I wasn’t using Riley as bait, come on, I love him too, he wasn’t bait for god’s sake, he was just, you know, a “¦ Salmon.”

Barb and I have been married more than 40 years now, and yet I can still take her breath away.

***I don’t know how to quote a look here, but it is the same one you give your husband, or the same look you get from your wife when you drive a stake into the flat part of your backyard and use rope to tie your self propelled lawn mower to it to see if it can still cut the lawn while you get a refreshing beverage.

Just saying.

For the next 20 minutes, Barb never asks another question, and I spend every second of those 20 minutes answering those questions she never asked.

I can see it in her eyes. If she was me, she wouldn’t be answering questions that I hadn’t asked, but since I’m a man with a white Shih-Tzu sitting at my feet with 20-pound green braid line wrapped around my legs, I’m going to keep answering non-questions and then mention how nice her hair looks in the autumn sun.

I’m telling you, I take her breath away still after all these years.

And then, I fold.

I lower my head, her dog at my feet looks up at Barb and breaks into a big smile with his tongue hanging out and all I think is, “Oh yeah, thanks Riley, thanks for the payback, you lost your balls and now you know I’m about to as well.”

“I was just practicing, just getting ready”¦”

“Ready for what.”

Riley starts sniffing, I try to blame it on the dog but “¦

“Ready for what.”

Then in the same friendly, loving, sweet voice you used to use around your parents on Christmas Eve, I quietly and politely say with head bowed while damn near curtsying to Barb, “Ready for the fishing trip.”

That stunned her for just a second since in her mind the only planning you need to do for a fishing trip was bring fishing stuff.

But this upcoming fishing trip just isn’t any other fishing trip; this is a BUDDY FISHING TRIP.

We’ve been planning this for 6 months. Texting each other several times a week, sending photos to each other of strangers holding big fish from the same place we are going fishing, checking the Long Term Forecast in the yellow Farmer’s Almanac down at the 7-11, and more importantly BUYING MORE FISHING STUFF and writing on the check in the memo line, “Bake sale to help the starving kids in China.”

“Oh That. THE fishing trip.”

And then she gives me the same look she always does when she goes up in the attic and sees the 35 moldy Cabbage Patch Babies in plastic bags that where, “our ticket to an early retirement babe.”

Yeah, that look.

Every guy angler on the planet will spend all day with the wife shopping in Talbots, or an Outlet Mall, if that shopping excursion somehow leads to a Fishing Trip.

In guy math, 8 trips to the Beauty Counter at Macy’s with the wife equals one weekend on the water with a buddy.

Truth here “¦ to a guy a buddy fishing trip is as good as having sex, ice cream and a donut “¦ all at the same time.

That’s the reason I was Shih-Tzu pre-fishing.

I am planning my first honest to God buddy fishing trip. Me. Yep, me, I’m planning it, yep, and get this, I’M GOING TO FISH IT.

Uh huh.

I am 24/7 buddy fishing trip planning, woke up late last night, turned on the nightstand light and wrote down exactly this,



and when Barb saw it this morning she told me she was glad to see that I was starting to think about eating better.

I didn’t want to spoil her health moment there, but watermelon and pumpkin are the colors of the bait I’m supposed to buy for The Buddy Fishing trip.

From the beginning of that green dock, to the blue water beyond”¦those wood planks, that there, is dreamland.

I believe that most anglers look at docks, at boats, at shoreline, the same way they look at comfort food.

I know my fishing buddy, Mac, sees that dock and somewhere along his optic nerve it enters his brain as mashed potatoes.

With gravy.

When we crawled out of the water and became us, if we looked hard enough somewhere on Mac’s body “¦ we would find gills.

Here’s exactly how this Buddy Fishing trip began.

Me: “You know I think “¦”

Mac: “Yes.”

“Yes, yes to what.”

“Yes to a fishing trip, we need a fishing trip.”

Mac, is an extremely intelligent, board-certified, kick-ass orthopedic surgeon that has been picked as one of the best in his field, all sorts of colleges, internships, fellowships, the dude is the whole 9-yards of medical genius.

When I iMessaged him yesterday about the Buddy Trip planning this is his exact message back:

“Yee hah.”

16 years of higher education gone when you mention Buddy Fishing trip.

I’m telling you:

Sex + Ice Cream + Donuts x 3 Big Screen TV’s all showing only football = The Buddy Fishing Trip.

“”¦where you’ve been”¦”

This is where Mac and I will be a week from now:


The Lower Niagara River, near my hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.

For me, this is more than just a buddy trip with Mac. We could have gone almost anywhere within reason to fish, but I suggested this place because, to me, that map “¦ this river is hallowed ground.

Seven years ago I got into my then minivan, drove out of the ESPN parking lot, drove the length of the New York State Thruway to write a story about something I knew nothing about, had never done, and to be truthful, wasn’t very thrilled to be covering.

It was a throw-away piece to make a boss happy.

Next week I will be standing on the exact spot, in the same river, that changed my life.

Every angler friend I now have, every outdoor experience I have had in the last 7 years is the direct result of that first fishing story.

Is a direct result of the waters of the Lower Niagara River.

Sometimes in a career you can point to an exact moment, an exact meeting date, an exact sales made as to the catalyst of your successful career.

Me, I can show you it on a map.

Sometime during this Buddy Fishing trip, when no one in the boat is paying attention, I will lower my head,

and I will give thanks,

to the Lower Niagara River,

and the man above who led me there.

“”¦what you’ve done”¦”


Waiting for Mac and I at the Lower Niagara River will be these two guys: on my right, my Brother-In-Law, James Niland; on my left, Captain Chris Cinelli of Cinelli’s Niagara Fishing Guides:

The photo was taken by my other Brother-In-Law, Michael Sullivan.

James, Mike and Capt. Chris let me on their boat that day 7 years ago, even though, in truth, I didn’t belong on it, didn’t earn the right, I was only there because I was ESPN.

They were kind to me, they were patient with me, they shared their knowledge and their stories, and on that boat, in this river I learned something that I have never forgot in any story I have written about fishing in the last seven years.

Capt. Chris, Jim and Mike told me, SHOWED me that fishing stories are not only about the fish, but about the people who fish.

Showed me that many times people fish to be with the people they fish with.

On that day, seven years ago, I became just another Fishing Buddy on the boat and learned, that for me, the real story of fishing is about the person who holds the rod, and not so much the fish on the end of the line.

And that too, changed my life.

And I hope that I thank Capt. Chris, Jim and Mike, with every story I write about those who fish.

They are my first, Fishing Buddies.

“”¦it just rolls on by whispering to your soul”¦”

I talked to Capt. Chris yesterday, and he told me that Mac and I will be fishing for steelhead and king salmon in the 18 to 20-pound range, “and we may target some muskie, they have been coming in at around 40-pounds.”

And as before, “We’ll drift the river. Drift Devil’s Hole. Drift using salmon egg sacks. The weather should be good. Dress warm. The water should be clear by then as well. I’m looking forward to having you back in the boat.”

Then, this photo comes in, of my brother-in-law Jim holding a 25-pound salmon caught in the Lower Niagara River:


And all I can think of as I look at this photo is exactly this:

“Ugh “¦ I should have pre-fished “¦ with a bigger dog.”
“”¦it’s gonna be alright, the river just knows.”
The River Just Knows
Rodney Atkins