Fishermen Battling Illnesses Seek Solace At Water's Edge
By KENNETH DEAN Staff Writer
NEW HARMONY -- Tucked under a canopy of hardwoods, Black Fork Creek winds to and fro, passing under a concrete bridge on Farm-to-Market Road 724.
The well-worn paths on both sides of the reddish-brown water and the tell-tale signs such as red and white bobbers attached to fishing line tangled in branches prove this is a sweet spot for anglers.
The smell of earth and flowering trees, the sounds of birds chirping from the treetops and the slow-moving water lapping the sides of the banks create a serene environment, disturbed by the occasional humming of a passing vehicle's tires on the bridge.
As a mockingbird sounded off, Jim Hancock, his wife, Sherial, and Jim's sister, Cindy McMichael, kidded each other over who was the best angler in the group.
Their chorus of laugher, while boisterous, was more subdued than the noisy mockingbirds above.
"Oh I'm the best," Mrs. Hancock said as she yanked back on her rod, setting the hook in the 3- to 4-pound freshwater drum's mouth.
"Booyahhhh," she exclaimed as she hauled the reddish-silver fish onto the bank.
Mrs. McMichael laughed while Hancock shook his head, congratulated his wife and turned back to check his bobbers. With a sigh, Hancock reeled in his lines and casted out again as the mid-morning sun reflected on the water.
Fifty yards from his bobber, a large fish broke the water, and a splash rippled out across the creek. The trio just laughed.
"It's the adrenaline and all that I love," Mrs. Hancock said. "We're the three amigos."
"Or the three Stooges might, however you want to call it," Mrs. McMichael said laughing.
On this day the trio was fishing with nine dozen minnows.
"When the minnows run out then it's time to go home, unless I catch some crawdads in the ditch over there, then we go fishing with them," Hancock said.
Across the creek, Joe Flores watched the excitement and recast. He, too, was hoping for a better outcome than the many times before that morning.
Neither Flores nor Hancock knew each other, and it was strictly by chance they were fishing at the same place at the same time.
But both men shared a common love of fishing, and both are suffering with medical conditions hindering their ability to work.
Flores said from beneath the rim of his straw hat that he has cancer and can't work.
"I have cancer all over, and the doctors said to go home and wait, but I can't sit there because it gets boring, you know?" he said as he watched his line go slack under muddy water.
Flores said he tried to stay out of the sun and wore a hat to protect him. He doesn't get to fish as much as he'd like.
Though his eyes told the story of the battle with the disease, Flores smiled and said that he loved to fish.
"Why sit at home when I could be out here fishing and enjoying myself?" he said.
With a look of determination, Flores cast again, this time closer to the bridge.
"I've caught some 13- and 14-pounders out of here, but it's not looking good today," he chuckled.
Hancock said he had to retire several years ago after contracting Hepatitis C when a tattooist used a dirty needle. Since learning he was positive for Hepatitis C, he has developed cirrhosis of the liver.
"I used to stay home all the time, but the medications are helping and I feel a little better," he said as he put another minnow on his hook.
His jaundiced hands made sure the hook was bent properly before casting his slippery bait into the waters.
Both men said their fishing excursions are therapeutic to their physical and mental well-being.
"There's nothing like a good day of fishing to make you feel better, and besides these two (he said indicating his wife and sister) are the only two that I fish with. We joke and kid each other, but we have a good time," Hancock said.
As noon approached and the sun shifted to shine straight down on the water, the anglers showed no signs of giving in to the disappointment of only one fish being caught for the day.
"No, I'm not going home yet. I got a good feeling I'm gonna catch one," Flores said, laughing before looking back at his line.
A hundred yards away from the fishing spot, only the birds above could be heard chirping, the sloping hills and sprawling trees hiding the spot where a few anglers watched their bobbers, hoping for a bite.
Jim Hancock watches his bobber intently as a fish plays with the bait under the water's surface. (Staff Photo By Kenneth Dean)