Friends Don’t Small Talk, Friends Fly Fish

Friends don’t small talk, friends talk fantasy. A recent NFL Fantasy Football commercial asked the question that, uh, was on everyone’s mind:

“Without fantasy football, what would friends talk about?”

I can’t speak for the other gender, but at least for guys, the answer is, really, not much. We cheerily sit in silence like my 16-year-old, who is at complete peace not saying a word (other than “I’m hungry. Can we stop for Jimmy John’s?”) during our 15-hour trip from Chicago to North Dakota for our yearly hunting tradition.

When There is Nothing to Say

I’ve heard that some guys have no friends. I can’t relate. I’m close with my 82-year-old father; we talk every day, even though he lives three states away. He is my father. And a friend.

As an irrational teenager with a reptilian brain, I had no imagination for what our relationship is today. During those years, when we (er, I) struggled to talk without anger or overstatement, my father and I always had our yearly hunting tradition. We always had fishing, something that drew us together even in the sullen years when we had little to say.

When I was in my early twenties, I convinced my parents to let me drag my younger brother along on a week-long fly fishing trip to Montana. Just him and me. A week of fly fishing helped me see him as more than just an annoying younger brother. Today I would call him one of my friends. And he has now begun taking his children on fishing trips.

With my children (two sons and two daughters), fishing helped us transcend their (and my) snarky behavior. Just recently I took my youngest son on a fly fishing trip to the Driftless in southeast Minnesota. Before the trip, he was laconic and uncommunicative. During the trip, we had some of the best conversations yet as father and son.

After the trip, he returned to his laconic self, ostensibly with no memory of our time on the river.

Common Passion, Common Language

With Steve, my partner on 2 Guys and a River, fly fishing created a reason to stay in touch and thus rekindle a college friendship. After school, we went for years with little contact, while he began his family and I skipped through the odyssey years of my twenties. When it was my turn to settle down, we found a way to stay in touch through some common writing projects. I made several trips to Montana, where Steve served as a pastor, and we made it a point to hit the river every chance we could. In more recent years, we began a yearly tradition to Montana to fish the rivers in the Yellowstone ecosystem, sometimes in the spring, more recently in the summer, and occasionally in the fall.

A common passion created a common language. Fly fishing became a way for Steve and me to small talk and “large talk” – to discuss the deeper things of life – our dreams and fears for our children, the hardships of our lives, and our hope for the years ahead.

I realize that many folks would rather fly fish alone. I can appreciate that. But for me, fly fishing is a team sport.

In contrast to the NFL Fantasy Football commercial, friends actually small talk. While they fly fish. And they create a lifetime of laughter, great conversation, and apocryphal stories of 27-inch rainbow trout.