As I attempted not to vomit into the North Fork River I wondered where on the long list of bad decisions I’ve made in my life that last White Russian ranked. I’m nearly 42 years old and these days I have no business staying up much past dark, let alone drinking White Russians and telling old war stories with my college buddies until nearly dawn. Yet, that’s what I’d done and now here I was sweating in waders and trying not to pollute the very river that I’d come to experience. How had I come to be (possibly) dying of dehydration and alcohol poisoning on the banks of a river deep in the Ozarks of southern Missouri? Why, friendship of course.

north fork fishing
If any of these devils offers you a White Russian be very careful, it could create a tear in the space/time continuum.

By far the hardest part of traveling full-time is the lack of shared experiences with the people around you. Traveling and house sitting provides us the opportunity to get to meet and know a great many fantastic and interesting people – and then immediately leave them. I wouldn’t trade it for the world (or even a cubicle) but it does get old after a while and sometimes we need a break. So, after extensive watering lessons I left the house and garden that we are currently caring for in Deidre’s capable hands and made a trip to our hometown of Kansas City. The goal: surprise my Mom for her birthday, visit some family and hook up with some old friends. And by “hook up” I, of course, mean go fishing.

Every time I return to Kansas City it is a whirlwind of faces, dinners, new babies, questions and random events. While it’s wonderful to see so many people that I love, I never feel like I get to spend enough quality time with anyone and I’m always spread too thin. So this trip I devised a plan.

My devious plan was to grab a couple of guys and head to my buddy’s place in the Ozark Mountains and there, far from the pulls of careers, children, responsibilities and the allure of Candy Crush and the 24-hour news cycle, we would actually have a chance to sit down and really talk and reconnect. It would also give me a chance to visit my friend Justin and to fish a river I’d been thinking about a lot lately. See, I told you it was devious.

north folk river
With a view like this from the house, it was tempting never to even start fishing.

Justin and his wife Amy, own Sunburst Ranch, a beautiful place on the North Fork of the White River and they’ve been inviting me to come visit for years. But it just hadn’t worked out yet. I’ve known them for decades, we’ve kept in touch and even crossed paths in Mexico a time or two but hadn’t hung out in a while. My other buddies Aaron and Gary I’ve also known for decades so I was really looking forward to spending some time with them as well. Aaron is my “newest” friend since I’ve only known him about 15 years and I’ve known Gary and Justin longer than I haven’t known them so yeah, we’ve got those shared experiences I was looking for. Okay, so enough of the trip down memory lane, let’s get on the river. The last few years my fishing has been primarily in saltwater looking for tarpon, bonefish and jacks so I was excited to return to freshwater and look for some different prey.

drift-fishing-the-north-fork-river
Drift fishing the North Fork is a great introduction to fly fishing. It’s also a beautiful way to spend a day.

This post is ostensibly about fishing but I think we all know that nobody likes to hear other people’s fishing stories so I’ll keep the fishing part mercifully short. I think that most people who don’t like “fishing” don’t realize that the actual “fishing” part of the day is pretty small. I mean, you are technically “fishing” the whole time but you’re doing other things as well. When done properly, “fishing” also involves catching up, making fun of each other, taking in the scenery and in general, just enjoying being outside with your friends.

north-fork-rainbow
See? Just a couple of guys enjoying the day. Aaron catching his first Rainbow Trout probably didn’t hurt either.

On our days fishing, we had the inevitable trout fisherman’s paradox – the weather was too perfect. It was super sunny and the water was gin clear (Ugh, my stomach just turned a bit typing that, guess I’m still not recovered from those White Russians) and it was perfect on the water. Of course, fish aren’t cooperative in those conditions. So, while it was great floating weather for us, it was also great hiding weather for the fish.

It might have been sunny and the weather perfect but the North Fork is still a spring fed mountain river so it’s pretty cold in early Spring. And that’s exactly what Aaron found out when he took an unexpected swim.

Cold water and the threat of hypothermia mean that you need to get out of your wet clothes and into dry ones ASAP. Unfortunately we didn't have any dry pants on the boat. Fortunately, Aaron is a good sport.
Cold water and the threat of hypothermia mean that you need to get out of your wet clothes and into dry ones ASAP. Unfortunately we didn’t have any dry pants on the boat. Fortunately, Aaron is a good sport.

So now we’ve got 4 guys with a total of 3 pairs of pants and a lot of river left to cover. What to do? Well, Aaron was wearing clean underwear (because he was raised properly) and we couldn’t exactly quit miles from anywhere so he just floated the rest of the day pantsless. Don’t worry, we didn’t see a single other person so no children were frightened during the rest of the float.

While we may have had a shortage of pants and shots at fish what we didn’t have a shortage of was laughs. And that, my friends, is what “fishing” is all about. Sure, it’s more fun if you’re catching fish, but it’s still a heck of a lot of fun when you’re not doing so well. Plus, it’s not like we didn’t catch any fish, we just weren’t stressing about the ones we weren’t catching.

Gary's first Brown Trout made up for his slow morning.
Gary’s first Brown Trout made up for his slow morning.
North-fork-rainbow-trout
I didn’t want you to get the impression that I got skunked.

At the end of the day, this trip wasn’t about fishing for me. It was about rekindling friendships, strengthening old bonds and most of all, getting to spend some quality time with people I hadn’t seen for a long time. By those standards, I deem my devious plan to be a success.

sunburst-ranch-campfire
Is there a better way to spend an evening then sitting by a fire with a good beer and better buddies?

As I pack my things to fly back to Mexico tomorrow morning, my thoughts inevitably reach back over the last couple of weeks and especially those days spent on the river. It’s always hard and incredibly bittersweet to leave Kansas City. I love Mexico and our adventurous life but do miss my friends and family, sometimes terribly. My compromise is to live in the moment as much as possible, enjoy every second I have with those people I don’t see often enough and to truly try and be engaged when I’m with them.

If that means saying yes to that last White Russian (or 3) while telling stories we’ve all heard before – sign me up. After all, the laughter and memories always last longer than the headache anyway. At least I hope so, because this one’s lasted a while.

***Special thanks to Justin and Amy at Sunburst Ranch for putting us up, putting up with us and for putting us on some fish despite difficult conditions and total lack of skill on our parts.***