The Doing of the Thing

Joe Kelly, the doing of the thing

by Scott Sadil

Recently I ran into an ex-student of mine who related that he and several of his classmates and friends were trying to get on in this world by posting videos of themselves doing fun things in cool places around the world.

“How do you make money?” I asked.

“It’s all about the clicks,” he said.

I went home and watched. The storyline centered on six fellows “following our passion.” Their passion, from what I could tell, consisted of trying to figure out ways to attract more internet users to view their closely-documented, well-edited attempts to get air – jumping off, over, or through a backdrop of wonderfully watery places.

I couldn’t help but think of Buzz Holmstrom.

In case you missed it, Buzz was the first guy ever to float solo down the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon, Green River to Lake Mead above Boulder (now Hoover) Dam – a remarkable exploit for anyone, but especially a gas station attendant from Coquille, Oregon, without any support or financial backing. 

Asked about how it felt to have accomplished such a feat, Buzz pointed out that the satisfaction, the enjoyment, the thrill or, to use the current vernacular, the total awesomeness of the adventure was not in talking about it, nor telling others about what happened and what he had done. 

Instead, said Buzz, the pleasure and fullfilment came during the course of the adventure itself – “the doing of the thing.”

(My apologies if I’ve misquoted words or have any other details slightly wrong. Been awhile since I read the fine biography, The Doing of the Thing: The Brief, Brilliant Whitewater Career of Buzz Holmstrom, by Vince Welch and others. I loaned out my copy years ago, never to see it again, and another copy, on hold, hasn’t yet shown up at the local public library.)

So, what’s that got to do with fishing?

If you have any connection to any form of social media, including this blog here, you certainly don’t need much in the way of an explanation.

Of course, that’s rarely stopped a writer before.

To wit: my buddy Joe Kelly and I were floating the Deschutes over the weekend, Trout Creek to Maupin, enjoying the usual mid-June pleasures provided by feisty feeding redsides on a big river tumbling through spectacular Western scenery.  Now and then a fish of note ended up on the end of one of our lines. “Let’s get a picture,” I sometimes called out – because I, too, recognize and feel the urge, on occasion, to experience that itty-bitty dopamine rush that comes when a dozen or so of my internet “friends” click and say they like a photo I’ve posted.

Deschutes River
Deschutes River

But after three full days on the river, I ended up with exactly zero fish photos.

I’m not sure why. Probably because whenever I saw Joe into a good fish, one of those heavy trout, in heavy current, you’re really not sure you’re going to land until, if all goes well, you finally do – probably each time that was going on, I was more concerned with getting a similar fish to eat my fly. 

Plus, who really needs another fish photo? Isn’t the point, instead, in the doing of the thing?

According to the evidence, maybe not. 

The third day into our float, Joe and I came upon a couple of anglers along a run in front of one of those lovely cabins that are sprinkled above the banks of this section of the river – places you might dream about if you are one to covet the possessions of others. The guy upstream was wading up to the tops of his waders, fiddling with his line while a splashy rise appeared in the current directly in front of him.  I called out something in the way of encouragement; the guy smiled and waved and continued to try to get himself back into the game.

Downstream, his friend, I assumed, waved a bunch of false casts before tossing his fly towards the river.

Then the upstream guy hollered: fish on! He had his rod tilted far back over his head, the tip bent slightly, the line barely taut. But he had hooked one – and he shouted again to his friend downstream, who immediately began reeling in his own line.

While the guy with the fish was still trying to get his line tight, suggesting that whatever had eaten his fly wasn’t exactly the sort of Deschutes trout that can tear off line and put you into your backing before you manage to take a proper breath, he shouted once more. 

“Go up to the cabin and get Sharon!” (It might have been Sarah.) “Tell her to bring her phone!”

I looked at Joe, the oar handles resting on his lap. If it’s not recorded, I wondered, maybe it’s meaningless. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it doesn’t even exist. 

“I hope she hurries,” said Joe.

Gray’s Angling Editor, Scott Sadil, is embarrassed to point out that his newest phone was given to him, free of charge, by the mobile provider that informed him they were no longer supporting 3G technology.