Pain and Gain

Let me tell you about Stanley.

Stan might be the best overall sportsman I have ever met.  He’ll never compare to me in Pike and Bass fishing although he may argue the point.  He may argue the point up to (and including) some fisticuffs but I can assure you that when it comes to Pike and Bass, Stan just doesn’t measure up to me…although he’s close.  The thing about Stanley is that he’s better at everything else.  I’m not saying this to inflate his ego.  The kid has more self esteem than he knows what to do with.  He has self esteem oozing from every orifice of his body, which is as gross as it sounds.

I give Stan his due because he has spent a lifetime learning how and why fish and game do what they do and has used that knowledge to excel in the field.  Stanley is great at every aspect of the outdoors.  Whether he’s deer hunting or perch fishing, Stan can do it all.


Or perch hunting…


But it isn’t always about what he catches or shoots.

With Stan, it’s always about the how.  Stan has demonstrated some of the manliest acts of outdoorsmanship I have ever seen.  I don’t think Stanley has a higher pain threshold or less fear than the average sportsman but I absolutely think that he wants to catch fish and shoot game so much more than anybody else that he pushes the pain and fear into the back of his mind for later.  For all I know, Stan’s wife might spend a great deal of time drying his eyes, putting band aids on his boo-boos and telling him it will be all right.


“It hurt so bad… and I was so scared”


But if that happens, it happens at home, far away from the woods and water where the fish and game roam.  I know for darn sure it doesn’t happen in the boat or in the stand because I have seen him do some pretty manly things.

Crazy things.

A few years ago Stan took a trip to Ohio to kill a world class whitetail.  As most of us Michiganders know, Ohio is a dirty, terrible place with surly people and low-class college football.  Ohio, however, does have some pretty amazing whitetail hunting and it might just be worth the smell of tire factories and failure you have to endure to kill a monster buck.  Stan packed up his Matthews bow, put a little Vicks Vap-O-Rub on his upper lip (it works for coroners) and drove down to the Buckeye state to shoot his trophy.


Welcome to down town Columbus!  Stay on this street, though.  A few blocks in either direction and it gets pretty seedy….

Our hero found his ideal location and started the process of setting up his tree stand.  Apparently, the process did not include a check of his safety strap.  Early into his dream hunt, Stan lost his balance and toppled from his stand.  Some say his safety strap came untied.  Some say his safety strap broke.  Some even claim he may not have been using a safety strap.  I contend that the Ohio tree, filled with hatred and malice for everything from Michigan, somehow cut through his trusted strap.  Whether it was faulty equipment or an evil, hateful tree, Stan plummeted 15 feet through the branches and landed in a heap on the ground.  Luckily, a jagged rock broke his fall.  Suffering from an utterly destroyed shoulder Stan only left the woods when he discovered his new handicap prevented him from drawing his bow.

At this point a sane hunter would crawl from the woods, seek intense physical therapy for his wounded shoulder and spend the rest of the season watching the Outdoorsman Channel and having another reason to hate Ohio.  Since Stan is as far from sane as any man I’ve ever known he walked the path less travelled.  That path saw him trade an old ice shanty for a crossbow, drive back through the stench and squalor of Ohio and put a small arrow through the biggest buck I have ever seen.

All with one arm.


Because jumping on its back and breaking its neck is illegal in Ohio…and the rest of the world.

Smashed shoulders aside, sometimes it’s the little things that show the real nature of a guy’s manliness.  When Stan and I hit the ice last winter for some quality fishing we set up a few well-placed tip ups.  The temperatures were hovering between zero and a witch’s teet and the ice was very thick.  Breezes kicked up and the wind chill dropped like a Michigan hunter from an Ohio tree stand.  The pinky finger on my left hand started to get a little cold underneath my thick glove and I was about to ask Stan if he was ready to call it a day.  As is usually the case, just as the mercury was hitting the bottom of the thermometer the tip up flags started flying.  After catching a few small pike, one of Stan’s tip ups went off and line sizzled off the reel.  After a deft hook set and artful playing of the fish we saw the dark stripe of an absolutely massive largemouth bass flash by the hole in the ice.  A few minutes and the fish was sufficiently tired enough to be pulled through the hole.  Unfortunately, the hole was 8 inches in diameter and the fish was approximately 7 and 15/16ths inched in diameter.  This meant that the fish’s remaining strength allowed him to keep from coming up the small hole.

Without a second thought Stan flung off his glove and plunged his hand and arm into the hole, grabbing the fish by the lip and guiding him through the opening.  With two feet of ice Stan was forced to go nearly armpit deep into the icy water to bring the fish (who knew better than to be outside in weather like that) out for a few quick pictures.  Of course, having a soaking wet arm meant that Stan could only fish for another six or seven hours.  I decided to keep my chilled pinky to myself.

injury on ice

Just warm this up in here…

You might be thinking to yourself that you could endure those hardships for the love of your sport.  A hurt shoulder?  Big deal, you tore up your knee in that terrible Curling accident.  A cold arm?  So what, you watched a whole July Tiger’s game with a broken air conditioner.  You know pain.  You know misery.  You may think the guy isn’t that big of a deal and maybe you’re right.

But what I saw three years ago still has me waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.

Stan and I were fishing top water for bass and pike in a small private pond near his house.  The fish were hitting everything we threw and Stan opted for an un-weighted plastic worm on a 4/0 worm hook.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with worm hooks and their sizes, a 4/0 hook is huge.  A 4/0 is about 2,000 times bigger than the hook you baited with a bit of night crawler when you were out with grandpa.  Sometimes Batman uses 4/0 worm hooks as grappling hooks to get to the top of buildings.  It’s really big is what I guess I’m trying to say.


Just a little smaller than this

In the midst of the action Stan set the hook into a behemoth pike by heaving back on the fishing rod with all of his strength.  The hook slipped out of the pike’s mouth and shot back like a bullet and somehow, strangely, ended up completely through the meaty “web” between Stanley’s left thumb and forefinger.





Without a whimper of pain Stan rolled his eyes at the inconvenience that was keeping him from fishing and asked me to hand him the pliers.  For the seasoned fishermen out there you know a hook that goes all the way through any part of your body is the easiest hook to get out.  You simply cut the barbs off the end and slide the slim wire hook out of your hand-meat.  Yup, easiest thing in the world.

If you have pliers.

I searched the boat from stem to stern (whatever that means) and came up empty.  I remembered seeing them in my tackle bag the week prior.  I could have sworn I had them when I left the house.  I even thought I had used them earlier in the trip.  No matter how sure I was I had them they were nowhere to be found as Stan sat bleeding at the other end of the boat.

“I don’t have them.” I slowly told Stan, sincerely sad at his misfortune.

“You sure?” he asked tentatively.

I assured him that I had looked all over and that I must have forgotten them.  He did a cursory (one-armed) check of his tackle box but he knew that he didn’t have a pair in there.  With a shrug of his shoulders Stan grasped the giant hook with his fingers, gritted his teeth and pulled…hard.  He pulled and wiggled the hook as the blood started to flow.  The barb did as it was designed and held tight but with a few quick yanks, more wiggling and a final tug, the hook pulled free from the quarter inch of flesh it had sunk completely through.  To this day I swear I saw some white meat on the end of that hook that could only be muscle, fat or ligament.  Whatever it was, it belonged in Stan’s body and not on the end of a 4/0 worm hook.

It was the single manliest thing I have ever seen in the outdoors.


Not. Even. Close.

Stan dropped his bloody hand over the side of the boat, washed the blood off and threaded a new worm on the hook.  For the rest of the day he alternated casting and applying pressure to his wound.

Why?  Why would a guy go through the pain and anguish of that brutal hook removal?  Stan has health insurance.  A doctor could have given him a local anesthetic and had that baby out in 30 seconds with nothing to show for the trouble but a couple of pretty little stitches.

So… why?

Because the fish were biting.  That’s why.

As we unloaded our gear from the boat four hours later I picked up my large tackle bag to find a nearly new pair of pliers on the floor of the boat.  The razor sharp edges of the wire cutter at the base of its jaws glinted in the fading sunlight.  I quickly covered them with my foot and hid them in the bag as soon as Stanley turned around.  I am all about integrity but I’m not sure I want a maniac like Stan too mad at me.

So the next time you’re sitting in the boat and the sun feels a little hot, or you’re in your turkey blind and it’s raining large cats and bigger dogs, or you get poked in the leg with a tree branch climbing into your deer stand, think about Stanley.  Think about the kind of love for the sport that drives a man to put up with such pain and misery.

Think about it hard… and then get your ass out of the woods and see a doctor.  Sunburns hurt, pneumonia can kill ya and puncture wounds from trees get infected.  I mean, you aren’t clinically insane like Stan are you?  That guy is freakin’ nuts.

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