Fishing for signs of the election season

Posted Oct. 06, 2008, at 2:39 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 3:24 a.m.

I figured back in May that this was going to be an interesting season of guiding. My fishing clients include physicians, investment bankers, owners of large and small companies, lawyers and other professionals. I was sure there would be plenty of economic anxiety, but the really hot topic this year would undoubtedly be the coming election.

In the confines of a guide’s canoe, the truth doesn’t need much coaxing. People tell you what’s really on the their minds, as if those crystal clear waters would readily reflect a fraud.

With some exceptions, the general stripe of upper crust, “hook and bullet” enthusiasts is, and traditionally has been, Republican. I therefore jumped the gun, making the assumption that the vote of my clientele belonged firmly to whichever presumptive candidate emerged from the GOP.

Not long after ice out, I could tell that something was different. From those first raw days of mid-May, I began to hear grumblings from dispirited sports. They were not complaining that it was 40 degrees and raining – perfect salmon weather – but that their politics and their party had led them down a primrose path. They seemed angered.

“I vote Republican to vote against big government and for individual rights,” said a doctor I’ve guided for a decade. “Now government is bigger than ever and those rights are on the endangered list.” For half the day, he ranted similarly between casts.

Then the chief financial officer of a major university whispered these words in a quiet cove as though someone might be eavesdropping: “We were misguided into a war and it has bankrupted the country. There are lots of other factors, but that’s what got us where we are. Everything else has been an aftershock.” He could not in May have foreseen the September bailouts.

These early bombshells set a surprising tone even before the candidates were chosen. The same themes echoed throughout the summer after they were: embarrassment over the Bush presidency. Distrust from America’s friends and allies abroad. Unimaginable debt for future generations. The U.S. economy in a death spiral.

During these floating discussions, what kept rising to the surface was a sense of disillusionment. More than a few of these anglers, some well up in years, felt deserted by their trusted stalwart, the Grand Old Party.

I couldn’t help thinking of my recently deceased dad. A banker and an Eisenhower Republican, he too was small on big government and big on rights.

With the size, scope and power of the federal government soaring, with civil liberties – especially those pertaining to privacy – imperiled, it was safe to say by midsummer that the conservative sports I was guiding were not, as a group, going to gift the party lever to John McCain. The candidate their party had fronted, no matter whom he chose for a running mate, had helped the Bush administration keep digging after the country was already in a hole.

In August, an investment mogul who I knew to be a registered Republican announced unabashedly that he was voting for Barack Obama. That was when I felt the bedrock of a whole political belief system showing cracks. As if to open those cracks further, a corporate attorney who works overseas told me to what new lows America’s “stock” has sunk in the world. He was talking about the good will that we could once take for granted. While casting a bass fly, he told me he was casting his vote for Obama.

A watershed moment came with the fall fishing as a client of many years returned for his annual September outing. His 40-year career as a tough New Jersey state prosecutor left him yearning for the peace and tranquility of eastern Maine lakes. He has freely shared his conservative views over our many years together. On our second day, the 72-year-old was casting an in-line spinner for smallmouth bass when he said, “The kind of change that’s needed now usually comes from youth, not age.”

I let his words settle a moment, then asked, “Are you saying you’re going to vote for Obama?” He said, “Yes, I probably am.”

Finally, for the season closer, I guided a newcomer to Maine – a Vietnam veteran combat chopper pilot from Illinois who arrived with an Obama sticker on his car. On his first of three days of fishing, he mentioned that he had met Barack Obama in his home state and heard him speak many times. As an avid sportsman and gun owner, he had his antennae ready to pick up any Second Amendment forewarnings. Instead, he has thrown his full support and confidence behind his state’s senator.

With fall’s first chills and the financial death spiral under way, I began to distill the thoughtful, if unexpected, words of people I’ve long respected. Most of them had thrown me a curve this summer. Most were changing their voting patterns in order to change the course of the country. This made me proud of them and proud to be in a country where this was possible. As a guide who allowed himself to listen and to receive guidance from his clients, I too am committed to changing courses with a vote for Barack Obama.

Randy Spencer is a Master Maine Guide, writer and musician. His guiding business is based in Grand Lake Stream.

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