I have always been fascinated by the tradition involved in fishing and hunting.
Opening day of deer season. Spending time with a lifelong friend or relative in a fishing boat. Days in the field with an old bird dog The fishermen’s unofficial first day of spring, the Missouri trout opener.
They all elicit images of the romance in our outdoor sports that the anti’s could never understand. It’s reminiscing about days with a friend or relative who is no longer with us, of an unforgettable day of fishing, of a big buck that showed up out of nowhere, of a day when the weather presented a formidable challenge.
We take memories of those days to our old age, thumbing through faded pictures of long-ago fishing trips or reminiscing about special moments long after we are no longer able to participate.
I’ll never forget the last time I talked to my dad before he passed away. “Do you remember Arnie?,” he said in almost a whisper.
Arnie was our guide the first time my dad took me to Canada. I was just a little guy and I was thrilled that I would get to meet a real Indian.
Arnie was colorful, to say the least. He drove us to the boat ramp in a beat-up truck with a door that wouldn’t shut, a motor that coughed and sputtered, and seats that were so worn that the foam was showing.
Arnie guided us to the trip of a lifetime, showing us where to catch giant northern pike. My dad and I reminisced about those days often, especially when there was a lull in our conversation.
We didn’t talk about the little-league games my dad coached, the big-city vacations we took, the trips to our family farm, or the many major-league games we went to.
We talked about special times together in a fishing boat.
I see how many other people bond the same way. And I smile.
Tradition is a big part of who we are as fishermen and hunters.
In my world, nowhere is that more evident than at Bennett Spring State Park in south-central Missouri.
The park celebrated its 95th trout opener on March 1, most of them as a destination managed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and stocked by the Department of Conservation.
Some fishermen will try to tell you that they have been to every one of them – but then, you know how fishermen like to stretch the truth.
Still, there are many who have been attending the opener for many years and wouldn’t miss one, no matter what.
Over the years, I have interviewed many of those proud old-timers and have taken delight in their stories.
Chet Snyder of Grandview, Mo., comes to mind. He is 85 and still makes sure he gets back to Bennett on opening day every year.
He has been fishing the opener for 63 years and he won’t let anything hold him back.
“We’ve driven on icy roads, through snow storms, in real cold weather, but we’ve always gotten there,” he said. “It’ something I won’t miss. It’s tradition.”
When I talked to him several years ago, his dedication to follow tradition was especially impressive. He suffered a seizure less than week before the opener and he was released from the hospital only days earlier.
He asked for the doctor’s OK to travel to Bennett for the opener, and he got it. His son did the driving, and he was back on the water.
Snyder returned for this year’s opener with his sons Chuck and Curtis and his grandson Cody. He cast for a short time, but a problem with his balance kept him from going at it as hard as he once did. Still, he was there, and hat’s all that mattered in his mind.
But Snyder certainly isn’t in a class by himself at Bennett. Walk into the park store and you’ll hear others talking about how long they have been coming to Bennett for the trout opener.
I suppose I have a streak of my own. I have been attending the Missouri trout opener since 1980 when I started working at The Kansas City Star—most of them at Bennett, but a few at Roaring River. Now that I’m retired, I still go back, using the trip as an excuse to do an article for one of the media outlets for which I freelance.
I enjoy talking to old friends, making new ones, and reminiscing about past openers.
It’s tradition, and I’m not ready to give that up.