Thursday, June 26, 2008

Superstitious Sportsmen


We’ve all seen the antics of baseball, basketball, football and hockey players. Each sport has their own little rituals.

Call them superstitions if you will. The world is full of baseball players who refuse to step on the first-base or third-base line or some other bit of foolishness.

Some baseball pitchers won’t shave the day they pitch, and I’ve heard and read of players who feel compelled to pull the right sock on before the left. Ben Wallace seems to wear his hair tight for one basketball game, and big and wide for another. Who knows why.

Others use a certain color of toothbrush on game day while some won’t talk to a reporter if they pitch that day. The world of major league sports is filled with such idiosyncrasies. Some folks would call them superstitions.

We all know we’re not supposed to walk under a ladder ... but why? Then there is the black cat theory, and “step on a crack, break you mother’s back” song sung by girls playing a sidewalk game, back in the old days when people did such things rather than play with cell photos or laptop computers/.

Some of these things border on being compulsive, obsessive or superstitious while others border on doing things based on something that happened in the past.

Years ago, when I fished Cheboygan County’s Sturgeon River, there were no beliefs based on superstition. However, if the fish were in the river, and a distant rumble of thunder rolled across the sky, it didn’t matter where I was at. I was on a high lope for a certain spot.

I’d make a mad dash for the car, and head for one certain spot. This hole didn’t look like much to me or anyone else, and most people ignored and never fished it, but by chance or luck I learned that if a steelhead was in that hole just before the rain fell, I would catch it.

Why, I have no clue. But it paid off so many times, that it became a ritual. If I could smell rain, I headed for that hole, and sometimes would get only one cast before the rain began to fall. That one cast would hook a steelhead, nine out of 10 times.

For many years, my trademark was a red Jones-style hat that I wore. It was with me on more adventures than I can remember, and whenever I was wearing it, we’d catch fish. I decided after Kay and I were married that it looked better on her than me, and she began wearing it and my luck continued to hold even though I would switch hats. As long as one of us wore the hat, the fish bit and the game moved.

Is this coincidence? Is it luck? Or is it a figment of my imagination? Who knows or cares, because I’ve never tried to root out the reasons why things work or don’t work. If wearing that hat led to better catches and more photos for a full-time free-lance outdoor writer, why not wear it? Why step on the third-base line if you don’t have to?

Years ago I had some skin-tight Gortex rainwear. I began wearing it in Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains while hunting mountain lion. There was a great deal of walking in deep snow, and a lot of sweating, and I wanted something that would keep me warm and dry without wearing long underwear, jeans and other clothing. It worked perfectly, and my lion was shot with a bow at six paces as it was bayed on the ground.

That rainwear was like a lucky rabbits foot for several years until I took it to the Northwest Territories’ Little Martin Lake for a Central-Canada Barren Ground caribou hunt. I wore it on that hunt, killed a caribou bull that at one time was No. 9 in the world. My guide wanted the rainwear, I wouldn’t give it to him but gave him a hefty tip. He happily took the money, and then helped himself to the rainwear when I wasn’t looking, and then I began shopping around for something else that would work.

Do I consider myself superstitious? Nope, but some good things happen when certain types of equipment are used. I own a pre-1964 Winchester Model 70 in .264 Winchester Magnum. I used to handload my own ammo for that rifle, and it can shoot straighter than I can hold it. I’ve killed plenty of game out to over 400 yards with that firearm, and although my handloads are now made to perfection by a friend, that rifle has been with me on many fine hunts.

During my 10 years of guiding fishermen, a Shakespeare Black Beauty fiberglass fly rod was the main tool of my trade. It was a sweet rod, tough as nails, and over 10,000 (that number is correct) big browns, salmon and steelhead were landed with that rod. Several years after I quit guiding, I took an old client fishing, and hooked a big Chinook salmon on the Platte River.

I heard a soft ominous creak in the rod as I led the big fish to shore, and once the king was unhooked and released, I headed for the car. My buddy asked where I was going, and I told him I had just retired my favorite fly rod. That rod now hangs in a special place of honor, where it is rightfully recognized as one of the most fish-catchin’est rods in history.

It’s a funny thing though. I don’t catch as many fish now as I did when I used that old fly rod, but I blame that not on the rod, or bad fortune, but on my poor vision and the fact I no longer wear that hat. We all need a good excuse at times

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/26 at 06:50 PM
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