By Matt Mittan
One of the greatest things about having the French Broad River cut straight through the most densely populated corridor of Western North Carolina is that there is no shortage of riverbanks to walk and fish from. All along its muddy, meandering slumber, there pop up various greenways, parks and boat launches. With it comes a never-ending buffet of interesting people to observe or converse with.
Recently, I had a few free minutes between client appointments so I did what any professional insurance man would do in my situation, I drove to the nearest river access and pulled out my fishing pole. I knew I could only get in about 20 minutes worth of casts, but that was 20 minutes of living I wasn’t going to pass up.
Three casts into my flash-fishing expedition, a vibrant and energized voice rang out from close behind me, “Catchin’ anything Mr.?” I turned to see a young girl, probably about 9 years old. “Just started,” I answered. “Yeah, I know. I saw you walk up,” she smiled. “What are you trying to catch?” “Anything that will bite. I’m just happy being out here. It’s a beautiful day,” I answered.
Immediately, as a 46 year old, father of two boys, I started scanning around the park wondering where this girl’s parents were. You read the papers; you watch the news. We live in scary times. But before I could finish my visual inventory of folks at the park, this curious youngster chimed up again, with a cadence of delivery that would leave any auctioneer jealous. “You mind if I walk with you while you fish Mr.? I love fishing! I used to do it a lot with my Grandpa. He never let me cast it… or bait it… or take em’ off the hook. But he would let me reel them in though. Do you have a Grandpa? I bet you do. You seem to know how to fish pretty good. Oh, my name is Sarah. Nice to meet you!” She reached out and eagerly shook my hand. “I’m Matt. Nice to meet you too Sarah.”
Immediately, I recognized that any answer I offered probably wouldn’t matter. And besides, I felt a little bit protective of her. At least if she’s hanging out by me, she’s safe until I can find her parents. So, we began to stroll down the shore. Me casting. Her asking a half-dozen questions, each throw and retrieve.
A few casts later, as I tossed my 4” gold Rapala floater under an overhang that shaded some slack, dark water behind a branch pile, the surface erupted in a violent splash. I leaned back into my hook set and down went the top half of my pole into a cobra like series of lunges toward the river. “You got one!” she yelled out. Within a few seconds, I had my thumb in the lip of about a 10-inch Largemouth River Bass.
Little did I know that this fish would lead to a 5 minute in-service training on how, why and when to fish cover for Bass. Truth is, I loved how curious she was to learn every little detail about how this thing ended up on the end of the line. With each lesson I offered up she, in turn, would passionately share another story from her own library of experiences, fishing with her Grandfather.
We walked along for another 10 minutes or so, casting every few steps. She was like a Gatling Gun of stories and questions. She never stopped smiling and her pride and love for her Grandfather was ever present. I started to think that perhaps he had recently passed away and that was why he was so prevalent in her stories. I didn’t ask.
Knowing that I needed to get back to work, I again scanned the area looking for anyone who might be her parents. Before I could ask her about it though, some shouting rang out from just around the next bend. There were two young folks sitting on a bench in full throttle argument mode, tearing into each other. We were close enough to hear every word at this point. “Oh you have all the answers, don’t you – as always!?!” , one of them yelled out. I felt the air go out from my little shadow. “That’s my parents,” she said softly.
She started to turn away from me to head back down stream rather than go any closer to her parents. I realized instantly that I had served as an escape for her. A sadness came over me. I said to her, “Hey Sarah. Thanks for fishing with me and for teaching me all those great things from your Grandpa! You’re a pretty awesome kid.” She smiled back at me. I added, “You know, no one can ever take away those great memories, or from enjoying places like this as you grow up.” I didn’t know what else to say. Just then, her parents got up from the bench and started walking back toward the parking lot, which was on the other side of me. I made it a point to wait for them to get to me so I could comment on what a wonderful and smart daughter they had.
As she walked back to the parking lot behind her parents, she looked back at me and gave me that perfect kid wave and smile that melts anyone with half a heart. I don’t know what happened from there. I don’t know what stress or turmoil that family is dealing with. I pray they work it out. What I do know is that my 20 minute fishing break, in the middle of the day, ended up being a blessing, for both me and the chatty little girl who just wanted somebody to share a few stories with, there along the banks of the French Broad.
Matt Mittan is the owner of Biz Radio Asheville and Co-Host of the Matt & Michele Outdoors program. Visit www.MattMittan.com for more information and to contact him.