Fishing and Friendships

I was wondering on the weekend how one builds ties with strangers who often live far away.
We have several friends from St. Louis, Mo. staying with us at the moment. Our family has gotten to know these “gentle people” through fishing. It began at the second Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship when I began talking with Phil Bangert.
Phil used to own a small chain of pharmacies in St. Louis, and that paid for his hobby of fishing. That hobby lead to his criss-crossing much of the United States on the BassMasters circuit.
He is someone who really believes that a bad day is a day without fishing, and now retired, he doesn’t allow for many of those days annually. The exception might be in spoiling his grandchildren.
Anyway, Phil was waiting for his partner to arrive and our friendship began evolving. The following year, he invited me to take a day and go fishing with him and a different partner. It was the year he struck up a conversation with my nephew, Rob Plumridge, who was down at the docks getting every fisherman’s autograph.
He told Rob that if he could come up with the entry fee for the fourth year, he would fish with him. By the end of the third tournament day, Rob had his entry fee—and the two have fished FFCBC since.
Phil really began promoting the tournament and Rainy Lake, and would bring up a bunch of friends to fish for bass every year. One of those was Bob Limburg, who will fish with Wayne Howard on this 10th anniversary of the FFCBC.
A lot of Phil’s fishing buddies were his customers at the pharmacy and they became more than just customers. Often they would help with the driving to get Phil to BassMaster tournaments.
Bob, though now a retired college math professor, has found it almost impossible to stay out of the classroom and seems to go back to teach a couple of semesters every year. The teaching semesters are scheduled around fishing.
Bob grew to know Phil by dealing at Phil’s pharmacy. Bob’s other hobby is woodworking, and much of his skill can be seen at Phil’s home.
Joining the group is Gene Ray, who worked for the power company that raised and lowered the water levels on many of the reservoirs that they fish in Missouri. He probably gave his friends the inside scoop for fishing on when the water was going to rise or drop.
He, too, loves to fish and often makes more than one trip to Rainy Lake in a year.
Now retired, he is filling his days by working at his new hobby as a volunteer for a charitable organization called “Wings of Hope,” which provides aircraft to charities around the world that will deliver medical and educational services where such services cannot be delivered by road or boat.
They look for the generosity of people to donate medicines, books, aircraft, etc. They have discovered that often people owning aircraft or antique automobiles have lost interest and are prepared to give them away to “Wings of Hope,” which will turn the vehicles into cash.
The aircraft and cars are restored to operational levels and then are auctioned off. That has brought Gene to Canada once already this year when he delivered and helped re-assemble a plane in Vancouver.
He has hauled others to other communities in the States.
The funds then are used to purchase small Cessna aircraft that are being delivered to groups around the world. Those planes may be delivered to Africa, Central and South America, New Guinea, or wherever groups need them.
“Wings of Hope” has more than 300 volunteers who provide over 100,000 annual hours of manpower.
Another angler in the group is Bill Anderson, another gentleman who likes to fish and tease his fishing buddies. Last fall, he sold his pride-and-joy Bass Cat bass boat to Dallas Mosbeck, who will be fishing the FFCBC this year with Jason Cain.
Bill arrived this year with just four rods and a small tackle box, feeling that since he was a rider, he couldn’t ask the captain to give up tackle space on the boat.
This year, Phil introduced us to a new friend, John Blakenbecker, a deputy sheriff. Phil belongs to John’s fishing club on Lake of the Ozarks. John is a man of 10,000 questions, and has been mesmerized by Rainy Lake already.
This is his first trip north of the border, and Rainy Lake teased him with a “smallie” in his first half-hour of fishing that was a record size for him.
His curious mind has been seeking out as much information about Canada, our customs, and our health care and our government as he can. John also is the baby of the group still working towards retirement.
The good humour of these men, built around fishing and sharing, is really enjoyable. They each have a thousand fishing stories to tell and can regale you for hours without ever repeating themselves.
I guess the answer often is that you find some common interest and friendship grows from there.

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