In the past year I’ve had a lot of people tell me that the reason they wanted to go fishing was to check off an item on their “bucket list.” That got me to thinking: If you had a final chance to do the things that you truly wanted to do, what would they be and why?
It all began with a phone call I got last June 4, when a very polite man told me that he was interested in going fishing with me as his guide. He said his name was Leighton Sjostrand and that he lived in the Fresno area. That’s when the conversation changed.
“Roger, I’ve read your column every week for years, and I feel like I personally know you, but I’m calling you because I have stage 4 cancer of the neck and it doesn’t look good for me, but I want to go fishing with you! I’m 64 and a lifelong avid angler and I think we would get along great! It would be wonderful for me to just get out in the boat and spend some time talking about fishing with you, even if we didn’t wet a line!”
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I was overwhelmed that someone would want me to take them fishing, but for him to tell me that he would just like to spend some time together just being out on the water, doing what we both had pursued with a passion all our lives, just about left me unglued. Was I worthy of such a responsibility? Of course I would do it, I told him.
In a matter-of-fact tone, he continued by telling me that the doctor had told him they had run out of treatment options months ago. He and his wife had looked into every possible alternative when incredibly he was accepted into the clinical trials at M.D. Anderson in Texas. Very few terminally ill people ever get the chance to be accepted into the clinic. It required him to fly to Texas every week for six weeks and then every other week after that. He told me he felt that he was still alive because of it but he wasn’t sure how long he had! This meant that he only had a short window every two weeks, between flying and being sick for a few days after the chemo treatments, when he would be physically able to take a fishing trip.
He told me that he would let me know when he could go, but since it was the middle of summer I was concerned about the heat and his weakened state, although he said he still got around OK. How long did we really have? I checked in with Leighton several times in the next month, and in one call, he proudly told me that he was the last survivor in his clinical trial class! Then in late July, in a short message, he told me that he was sorry, but he didn’t expect to be able to take the fishing trip after all.
I tried calling several times over the next few months, then finally reached a voice at Leighton’s number in late January. It was his wife, Chris, who told me that Leighton had passed away Sept. 18. I felt sick; I had let him down. I wanted to give him the bucket list trip he had asked for.
With me not really knowing Leighton, Chris explained that he was a lifetime outdoorsman, and that it was a joke in their family that no one knew whether he had married Chris for her dad and brothers as hunting and fishing partners or for her! She told me he was always positive and upbeat, as well as upfront and unafraid to talk about the cancer. “He loved life and he just kept living — enjoying every moment he had with no regrets,” she explained. An awesome epitaph!
I feel that Leighton had asked me to go fishing because he thought that I would truly appreciate his lifetime love for the outdoors, a passion that defined the best part of his life. In the end, is there anything better than sharing your most precious memories and experiences with someone who also greatly values and treasures them, too? Imagine, reliving it all — just one last time — with someone who understands. Never give up!
New Melones bass and trout bites good, John Lietchy said. Millerton spotted bass still hitting, Merritt Gilbert reported. Lake Success bass getting active, Chuck Stokke said. Bass Lake trout kick in, Richard Walter reported. Delta bass action heats up, Randy Pringle said.
“Our Valley tailwaters are all suffering from the drought and the lower Kings River will receive no plantings of trophy fish this year,” Jimi Morales said, “Holdover fish in the catch-and-release section are few and far between. The lower San Joaquin’s flows have been cut in half from the last several winters and the lower Merced and Tuolumne rivers have been difficult to find fish on also. There are good Blue-winged-olive Mayflies hatches in the #18-#20 size range, but few fish rising to them. Mid-February is the time to start looking to some of our mid-elevation rivers. The Merced and Kings will begin fishing better the further we get into the month.
Call: Sierra Fly Fisher Guide Service (559) 683-7664; Yosemite Rivers Fly Shop (559) 641-7788