Saying goodbye to loyal readers never has been easy. I had to do it years ago when the Washington Daily News and the Washington Star closed their doors and ceased publication. But to this day I've never been able to shake the rotten feeling that comes with saying a final farewell to an old friend - even if that friend smells of printing ink and consists only of paper.
Once again, such a day has crept into my life. This time it's a newspaper that is taking a different path. It will try to make it without a sports section.
Oh, the many memories that pass in a happy parade.
What about several wonderful fishing trips to Argentina where I was able to go after the golden dorados of the Rio Parana, far to the north of Buenos Aires? If ever there was a fish that can humble man or woman, it is the golden dorado - a tooth-laden freshwater species that jokingly has been described as a mix between a salmon, bluefish and junkyard dog. With their immense strength and double rows of teeth, a 20-pound golden dorado can turn a 12-inch-long wooden fishing lure into saw dust.
If the dorados won't drive a body to take to Demon Rum, try a Brazilian tucunare or a pavon in Venezuela. Actually, both are the same species. Because of their gaudy body colors, they were dubbed peacock bass by awestruck American visitors. The peacock bass of Venezuela's Ventuari and Orinoco rivers as well as Amazonia's Uatuma or Rio Negro are the red-eyed monsters of South American waters. They can tear 40-pound-test fishing line as if it were sewing thread.
Not to be outdone by the wild critters south of our border, I will never forget the most wonderful place on Earth - Alaska - and how enchanting I found the massive tundra near Lake Iliamna, the mountains and frequently seen grizzly bears, caribous, moose or willow ptarmigan. I must also not overlook unforgettable bouts with fish known as Arctic char and grayling, as well as hard-fighting silver and sockeye salmon.
Add to my list Canadian outings that produced muskellunge, northern pike and some of the biggest smallmouth bass that I've ever hooked. Ditto for dreamy Southern trips as we went after largemouth bass in Florida's St. John's River and Lake Tohopekaliga, South Carolina's Santee-Cooper lakes, or world-class bass waters such as Alabama's Guntersville and Eufaula lakes.
But I cannot leave out one of the finest bass and striper waters in the land - our own Potomac River.
That said, some of the best memories for me over the years were produced by the strange and wonderful foods I found in places that I visited to fish or hunt wild game.
How can I forget Argentine parillas, veritable beef feasts, accompanied by some of the finest red wines this side of the Atlantic. Then there are the great seafood dishes (one of them included the clamlike flesh of a sea barnacle) and wines of Chile. There were also unforgettable dinners of boneless, sauce-slathered chunks of Amazon River catfish bought from natives in dugout canoes.
I fondly recall my first-ever pot roast made from the hindquarter of a black bear that I shot in Ontario. The same holds for steaks and chops cut from dall sheep and caribous bagged in Sarah Palin's home state.
Not to be forgotten are the people I've spent time with over the years. There was a White House breakfast meeting with President George H.W. Bush, later to be followed by a presidential Potomac River bass outing. Former congressman Dick Armey joined me for a day of river bass fishing. Among my friends, add the founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, Ray Scott, and the now departed pro fishermen and tackle innovators Tom Mann and Billy Westmorland. The list also includes Berkley Bedell, the founder of a tackle company that now is known as Pure Fishing, and there will always be memories of Marylander Gene Moon, who taught me how to be a fair waterfowl hunter back when I was barely of voting age.
Most of all, I'll never forget all the readers who sent happy messages when I wrote something that pleased them and threw brickbats when I screwed up.
Since February 1985, I have been privileged to share with you news and views about fishing, hunting and boating, occasionally giving the devil to the opponents of our time-honored outdoors sports. There can be no doubt that a number of milquetoast "antis" now will rejoice because a spokesman for hunters and anglers has been silenced.