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OUTDOORS: True love for the White River and family

There's a certain reverence I hold for the White River over in Bayfield County, as much for how the waters have shaped who I have become as for the fish it's offered up through the years.

There's a certain reverence I hold for the White River over in Bayfield County, as much for how the waters have shaped who I have become as for the fish it's offered up through the years.

As a younger man, when I was first learning to catch trout, it was here, where the river rolls slower and deeper through the Bibon Swamp, that my lessons were taught. Here is where I stood beside my father-in-law and my brother-in-law on many a fishing opener, tossing night-crawlers out across the icy pools where the browns held deep. There were times when the sleet and snow would slice out of the sky and sting our hands and faces. There were other times when the drumming of distant grouse heralded the warmth of a rising sun. And yes, there were many trout.

But I didn't go for the fishing; it mattered little whether I caught the browns that dwelled in our favorite pools. I went for the new friendships being forged there in the current, I wanted those men to like me. In taking me fishing, those men were accepting me into their family, and yes, though they will both deny it, they were saying they wanted me to like them. So today, when I close my eyes and think of them, my father-in-law and my brother-in-law are forever wearing waders, raincoats and ball caps, their smiling faces red from the chill in the air. We will always be fishing.

The White River also became my muse and canvas where I began painting pictures of words during my initial attempts at outdoor writing. Like fishing days, those early tales I attempted to convey weren't always successful. But like any good angler, I kept at my chosen trade and have enjoyed a certain degree of success in my time. The love of writing was also found in the river.

Still, though the feelings of family remain strong, if not stronger, those days have changed in many respects. Instead of three men in the family there are now six, although three of us still attend elementary school and technically aren't quite men. But because of those new additions it had been nearly seven years since I paddled along the waters of the White River with my in-laws. But I knew eventually we'd head back to the river to strengthen our own bonds of family. All of us.

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So it came to pass on the fishing opener two years ago that the six of us 'men' -- ranging in age from 65 to six -- canoed down the Branch, past the snags and tangles where 18-mile Creek silently merges with the stream, on by the confluence of 20-mile Creek, before calmly and quietly spilling into the White River. On the White River, amid the youthful cheers and shouts of joyful exuberance, we managed a successful day of angling, a dozen or so brookies and browns in our creels, the biggest a bookend set of 17-inch German browns that the old man hooked. We also caught snails, played with swamp spiders, studied passing birds and were family more than anglers. No one seemed to mind.

Between the fish there was a chorus of laughter, a sharing of smiles among fathers and sons, a song of a yellow throat and a discovery that as we have grown, grayed and aged we still share a love for one another. A love we are passing along to the next generation.

And a love for the White River.

Darrell Pendergrass' book, "Out There: Twenty years of family, fishing, farming and a life afield," is available for $18 at: Darrell Pendergrass, 52405 Otto Olson Road, Grand View, WI 54839.

Related Topics: BAYFIELDFISHING
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