by R. Sumner
All the troutbums I know have fairly normal lives; most even have jobs or at least someplace to go
every morning. They have houses that need painting and yard duty and all the
other stuff that passes for responsibility; retirement planning, college
funding, car payments, you know REAL LIFE.
This July Liz and I took our annual trip to the St.Joe River in
Idaho for a week and met a guy that has pretty much cut the tether to our
reality. I give you to the great Dutch Holland USN Retired.
camped next to us with his dog Faith. The first evening we had a terrific
thunderstorm with all the trimmings, lightning, thunder and a hard rain. I had
returned from fishing early but had not escaped the deluge. Dutch waved me over
from under the awning on his trailer, produced a coffee cup of Mr. Johnny
Walker and we made our introductions as the storm boomed through the canyon.
Dutch had been on the road for fifteen summers camping and
fishing, moving his home every two weeks as the forest service rules allow.
He’d had five wives, he said;” and had bought more washers and
dryers than Sears.” He said that he was
still mostly friends with his ex’s except the last one that wanted his canoe so
he chain sawed it in half and left her half on the yard of his last real house
in Las Vegas. Getting the picture?
He told me that once after some
miss understanding he was required to take a test to find out if he had a
drinking problem. “I got nine out of ten”, but with questions like: Do you ever
drink in the morning. “On liberty”. Have you ever gotten drunk two days in a
row? “On liberty”. Finally he told the Lt. Commander,” This test is obviously
not for sailors.” He did say he could cut his drinking in half anytime by
leaving the water out. You don’t find yourself in the presence of this kind of
No, mostly folks have rules about every detail of their lives.
Moderation is the thing, yet here on the banks of the St.Joe I meet a
70-year-old wild man burning the candle at both ends.
We loaded up our gear and headed
out the next morning for a few hours of fishing on one of Dutch’s favorite
runs, a beauty of a spot with a deep green trough full of cutthroat. He had a
bit of a problem getting to the water with his bad knees, I assume the knee
problem came from begging for forgiveness, but I could be wrong.
This is always the moment of truth: can the guy really fish or
just talk fishing. It wasn’t long before the Dutchman had a half a dozen little
beauties to hand and graciously gave me his spot while he sat and enjoyed a
smoke. We swapped off like that for a couple hours going through each other’s
fly boxes and pretty much whooping it up like kids.
On the way back to camp I stopped
at place I have had luck catching some big fish over the years. I told Dutch he
really needed to tie on a heavier piece of tippet material just in case he
turned a lunker, but he just gave me a smile. On his second cast in the fast
water he got his chance, a huge cutt measured in pounds came out of the water
like a Polaris missile and straight down on his fly. Of course the leader and
fly separated instantly, Chief Holland survivor of two wars, five marriages and
numerous encounters with the Mother ship just stood shaking his head.
evening he told me it was like the lyrics of that old Sinatra song: “Regrets
I’ve had a few but then again too few to mention”; he said, straight out of “My
Way.” ”But man I would have loved to have landed that fish.” When we left to go
home I gave Dutch one of my Troutbum hats and told him I’d bring the whiskey
when I returned in the fall. I only hope his ship hasn’t sailed by the time I