- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 22, 2006

Just a few days ago, while sitting in a dense fog fishing for whatever would bite in Charles County’s upper Nanjemoy Creek, I heard the sounds of an outboard motor getting louder by the second, steadily coming closer. I remember thinking the boat might collide with mine if it didn’t slow down.

Happily, that didn’t happen. But the certifiable wackadoo who operated the approaching craft barely eased up when he spotted me and a friend. He came precariously close, adjusted his steering and zipped past us far faster than common sense would dictate, especially in a fog so thick we couldn’t see the shoreline trees a hundred feet away.

The thoughtless fellow disappeared across a broad, shallow flat, and pretty soon we heard the sound of an outboard reaching a high pitch, then falling silent. He apparently ran aground, which came as no surprise. What did surprise me is he apparently freed himself from the muck because we heard a motor start up again. I suppose the fellow continued heading upstream through the fog.

When we had left the ramp that morning, we actually had some visibility but crept along nonetheless. The thick stuff rolled in about a half-hour after we had driven the boat no more than 1,000 yards.

All of this started me thinking about why outdoorsmen — increasingly also outdoorswomen — do the things they do in cold and wet weather.

Forget the dunces who operate a powerful boat in fog or wicked winds without regard for anyone’s safety. But what is it that makes a usually sane person leave a comfortable home at daybreak, hitch a boat and trailer to the family jalopy’s bumper and go fishing no matter what the thermometer says?

I do it, as do dozens of my friends and acquaintances, while others show up on a fishing pier or a river shoreline before the roosters crow. Let’s not forget those who go climbing, biking, hiking or kayaking in bone-chilling weather.

My wife thinks the whole lot of us should be placed behind a high, ivy-covered wall where we can sit being supervised by a burly orderly and playing with our coloring books and crayons.

Well, ma’am, if I need to be in a sanatorium, what about Bob Lunsford, who is the director of freshwater fisheries for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources?

Lunsford is a card-carrying polar bear who doesn’t know the word quit when it’s nasty and cold out. If my regular cold-weather partners, Andy Andrzejewski and Dale Knupp, can’t make it to the water for some reason as icy winds blow from the north, I can depend on Lunsford to show up in a goose hunter’s insulated, camouflage jacket, standard bill cap, gloves without fingertips, a couple of rods, an outlandishly sized bag filled with fishing lures, no food and no hot coffee. I don’t know how he does it, because I can’t live without a thermos of coffee and a hearty sandwich.

Then there’s my hunting-crabbing-fishing pal, Bob Rice, a septuagenarian who will dare you to call him a tenderfoot. Rice is happy to sit in a deep forest ravine with snow and ice smothering the countryside. He will recline against a tree trunk, willing to wait a full day for a deer to show its nose. If it does, there will be venison on the table guaranteed.

As regular readers know, bass guide Andrzejewski has done an annual New Year’s Day fishing trip for something like 28 years. I have been with him for the past 10 such outings, and there have been some when the two of us had to chip ice from a launch ramp to slip a boat into the water.

Some people who prefer indoors over outdoors and neon tans over suntans wouldn’t understand why there’s a regular army of fanatic cold-weather anglers and, of course, hunters. They might even point fingers and accuse us of wanting to be macho guys.

Sorry about that. It has nothing to do with proving how tough you are, because the toughest people I have met were Amazonian Indians in Brazil and Venezuela’s Orinoco region, where it’s never cold. These people survive in heat and mind-numbing humidity and eke out a living in unforgiving lands and waters without getting help from anyone.

So what is our excuse?

I call it seeking delicious misery. It beats sitting indoors and watching the boob tube.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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