Blind Luck: A Story of Friendship and Fishing

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Blind Luck: A Story of Friendship and Fishing

My Introduction to Bing Smith III

I first met Bing (yes, like Bing Crosby) when I started working as a line cook at Lock Haven University. I jumped on the line during dinner, and it was hectic and busy. Management was training me on the job, and as my boss was manning the grill, he instructed me to bring him the shredded cheese from the line cooler.

Bing Bass

As I rooted through it, I informed him that it seemed as though we were fresh out. The orders kept coming in, and my boss told me to hurry to the back to find him some cheese, post haste.

It was only when I was off the line that I heard someone say,

“Hey someone get the new guy!” I cracked the line door back open and saw that the person that was operating the sandwich section was holding an opened bag of cheese above his head, which my manager quickly grabbed to make a quesadilla.

“Whoever that guy is, tell him that he must not have been looking for the cheese very hard, cause the blind guy found it.” The man that I had not given a second thought to during the dinner rush glanced in my direction, and it was then that I caught sight of his blue eyes.

This was a truly humbling experience on my first day at my new job, and was my first interaction with Bing Smith III.

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His left eye is completely blind, and his right eye, when I met him, had 20/200 vision. What this means is that what Bing can see from 20 feet away, I could more or less see from 200 feet away. 

Bing and I Became Good Friends

Bing and I became good friends while working at the University. Our stations were right next to each other, and as is the case in most kitchens, we helped each other out immensely during the lunch and dinner rush. His ability to get around safely and quickly in the kitchen astounded me, and it still impresses me today.

Bing was born blind, with Retinopathy of Prematurity, or ROP. ROP is caused by abnormal blood vessel development in the retina, or, the part of the eye that senses light. A few months after he was born, he underwent laser surgery in an attempt to give him some eyesight. This was in 1993, and the technology was less advanced than it is today, but it did work, and he regained some sight in his right eye.

His left eye is completely blind, and his right eye, when I met him, had 20/200 vision. What this means is that what Bing can see from 20 feet away, I could more or less see from 200 feet away.

What is it like to be blind?

I asked Bing what being completely blind in one eye was like once, and I will remember his answer forever, because it left that much of an impression on me. He said,

“If you want to know what it’s like being completely blind in one eye, look straight forward, and try to look at the back of your head. That’s what I see. Nothing.”

This was an eye-opening statement, no pun intended.

Despite all the battles Bing has faced because of his visual impairment, he has maintained a great sense of humor and a sarcastic but witty attitude towards his day to day life. This is no small feat. I spend a lot of time with him, and have seen first hand how difficult some things can be with limited vision.

Spending time with Bing has made me take an honest look at how often sighted people take their eyesight for granted. We assume it will always be there and always perform correctly for us, but this is not guaranteed, and the mere thought of living without eyesight seems near impossible to those that possess it.


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Our Fishing Adventure

Brook-trout-catch-releaseIt was only a matter of time before Bing joined me on my near constant fishing trips. Friendship with me usually ends up with us both out on the water or on the mountain eventually.

Bing was tired of the bars and video games that I had already pretty much abandoned to devote more time to exploring the PA wilds closest to me. He admitted to me that he hadn’t properly enjoyed the outdoors since he had been working at the university, and I was ecstatic to bring him with me on my endeavors, whether or not he swung a rod.

I am an avid amateur fly fisherman, and I spend as much time as possible fishing. I pursue multiple species of fish in any water I can find, but I have a particular and near-obsessive interest in trout.

At first, what interested Bing most was the camping aspect of our outings. I enjoy ultralight backpacking and camping as well, particularly during the fall and winter months. I would fish and Bing would poke around the woods and enjoy a break from his apartment.

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I was as impressed then at his wading ability as I am still. The visibility of the water has no bearing on his ability to wade. He relies solely on his sense of touch…

To get to one of my favorite locations requires a long hike and a short wade through water that ranges from ankle-high to waist deep. The first time I took Bing across, he followed close behind me, mirroring my steps in a cheap pair of nylon Hodgman’s.

I was as impressed then at his wading ability as I am still. The visibility of the water has no bearing on his ability to wade. He relies solely on his sense of touch, which to my surprise, was unaffected by wool socks and heavy rubber wading boots.

Bing was content to busy himself with bushcraft at our makeshift basecamp for months, long before he ever fished himself. I would fish incessantly, climbing the rocks and braving deep pools with heavy nymphs and streamers while Bing meticulously cut the tall grass surrounding the firepit with his machete and maintained a healthy fire.

I know now that he was doing this to make spending time there more comfortable for the both of us. It’s hard to tell what’s tickling your arm when you’re sitting in high grass, and Bing has a complete and utter hatred of bugs.

I cannot put into print his usual profanity-laced rant concerning insects and arachnids but rest assured, DEET is his friend, and he prefers the cooler months when the majority of his sworn enemies are few and far between.

On more than one occasion his mastery over the fire proved extremely useful. We went out together in the fall with a friend who sprung a major leak in their waders, and the fire kept them warm until we could gather our things and make a hasty retreat to our vehicles.

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Time passed and fish were caught. Sometimes Bing was within earshot when I was able to land a fish, and he would scurry close to catch a glimpse. Still, he would not throw a line in the water.

At first he was very nervous around hooks. The whistling of a lure or fly cast close to him would send him ducking and backpedaling, and who could blame him?

After months of day trips, overnight stays and further and longer hikes into the state gamelands, Bing bought his license and picked up a spinning rod I had pieced together from parts in my garage.

I picked out a small Plano box that would fit in the single pocket of his waders that same night. A Pflueger reel on a 7ft light action Eagle Claw spinning rod would end up being his weapon of choice, and the next morning we went out to the waters he knew and had traversed all winter.

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Bing’s First Fish

It was a clear day, and before we began our little dip in the Bald Eagle, I taught Bing the clinch knot. He was able to pick it up very quickly, faster than I had been able to when I had started fishing. Getting his line through the eyelets was easy work for him as well.

He picked a white/copper rooster tail, tied off and trimmed, and was ready to go. I was using the fly that day, as I normally am, and was throwing a black wooly bugger.

Before we started to wade downstream, he practiced his cast in the middle of the water, where there was no overhang and few weeds. I was impressed by his ability to throw a considerable distance with little prompting from me. He could immediately tell by touch when the spinner was rotating correctly and when it wasn’t.

While he got comfortable throwing his bait and retrieving it, I crept slowly up to an undercut and made my streamer do its normal darting dance around an exposed root. On my second cast I hooked into a brown trout that bent my rod into the weeds. I nearly bit my cigar in half and instinctively moved towards the bank, playing the fish out to the gravel.

Bing had heard my “fish scream” as he calls it, and waded over.

He heard me hooting and hollering as I got the fish to hand in the water, and asked if it was big enough for a picture. It was. “Well that’s one!”

I let Bing examine it after I snapped a quick photo, checked the drag on his spinning reel and released the trout near where I had caught it. We started our wade on a very good note.

Brown Trout

We fished for over an hour before I saw his rod tip bounce. There was something alive on the other end of that line and he knew it. He did not panic, and arched his rod tip up, pulling the fish in close to him…

We waded as close together as possible, and worked as a team. Bing would cast the spinner and I would do my best to correct his aim as needed by using a clock face as a reference.

We fished for over an hour before I saw his rod tip bounce. There was something alive on the other end of that line and he knew it. He did not panic, and arched his rod tip up, pulling the fish in close to him. I wasn’t far behind him, but I waded closer with long strides.

I wanted to assist him in releasing the fish, which from a distance I assumed to be a small trout. He had the fish close to him, but was initially reluctant to grab it. It was a chub, fighting bravely and flashing silver.

I grabbed hold of the fish so it wouldn’t thrash and Bing brought it close to his eye, to see how it was hooked and to figure out how to release it. With my help, he was able to free the hook, and I had him take hold of the fish so he could properly examine it.

He released it properly, and was pleased, but not as pleased as me. There was plenty of back slapping and congratulations given at his “first fish,” but we had plenty of water left before we reached “the bridge,” which would signal an end to our day trip.

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The Fight That Tested the Limits Six Pound Test

After these two exciting initial encounters, the pace slowed to a crawl as we made our way further downstream. Besides an occasional chub attacking my fly, there was no action for either of us. The bridge was in sight and we were tired, but I was more or less satisfied that Bing had caught something as opposed to nothing.

I had gotten him into the water with a rod, and that was my goal. We got under the bridge and I called our ride. My legs were burning, and it had been a good day. Bing was in the water up to his hips, maybe ten feet away from the point, casting short, measured throws back upstream to avoid a downed limb I had warned him about before I got to the bank.

As I was breaking my rod down, I heard his voice register at a slightly higher pitch than normal. “WHOAH, whoah!!”

His rod bowed and I heard the drag being drawn out fast. There was a moment of confusion on his part as he continued to try to reel, but made no headway. I lunged towards him, on all fours at first until I could stand up. I had set his drag low for trout or maybe a smallmouth, not whatever he had hooked into.

The fish continued to take line in a zig-zag, and I clicked the drag tighter, watching the monofilament line stretch and flex. I saw one fast flash, and I did my best to slow Bing down from jerking his rod tip too hard and snapping the line. “I don’t know what it is but it’s big. Just relax and play with him, keep steady tension…”

After a fight that tested the limits of the six pound test I had put on Bing’s rod, I dove on to the ground to get my hands on the fish. I couldn’t speak, because when I got close I saw the familiar beak-like snout, and knew just what Bing had caught. It was a juvenile Musky, and I must say, this fish lived up to its reputation as a fighting fish.

Bing Musky

Bing with Musky

I had told Bing that there were rumors of them being here in the Bald Eagle, but I had never seen one. Until now.

One more picture was a must, and Bing displayed the fish proudly. I released it for him with shaking hands, unsure if Bing realized just how special that fish was. He did though, and he still does.

His first outing with me while actually fishing has blossomed into a story he loves to tell while having a beer, or when he’s around other fishermen. And that’s all it took–one fish on an afternoon wade, to hook him for life.

Bing Bass

Camp chores and gathering firewood now take a backseat to wetting his line, and my obsession with trout has fully rubbed off on him.

He is still a dedicated spin-fisherman, but I have a fly rod built and waiting for him in the garage when he’s ready.

We make a great team, on and off the water, and there is no one that I would rather spend my time outdoors with than him.

I can say with pride that Bing’s first fish would not be his last, and now he waits as impatiently for the spring as I do.

We rode home in the truck that day already planning the next trip. The eagerness to go back and try the Bald Eagle again was written all over his face, and mine.

It was easy to see.

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AUTHOR
Andrew was brought up fishing high mountain streams for eastern brook trout in central PA, but fell in love with all things fly fishing later in life. Now, his days are spent pursuing all of Pennsylvania's freshwater gamefish on the fly, while attempting to make the hobby more accessible and approachable to everyone.

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