The family has placed a wreath with Fred McCauley's picture at the Monongahela River site where he was last seen alive.
MAHFS photo by Mac Arnold
By Mac Arnold
I've returned from a second shoulder sabbatical.
Anyone who thinks that you bask in the late winter sun peeking through the living room window and relax on the sofa while watching spring turkey hunting DVDs after having torn rotator cuff surgery is dead wrong.
OK, I did watch both H.S. Strut's "Cuttn' and Struttn' 15 and 16" but it took some time before I could take in the hunts without grinding my teeth in agony.
Actually, the extra mild weather we've been having in Michigan is especially aggravating for me because I would be on full-go prep for spring gobbler but instead I'm stuck with a full no-go shoulder.
So what I can do at the moment is limited but I'm confident I will be ready by the May 7 opener.
But much of this is on the back burner.
A little more than three weeks ago, my family incurred a tragedy.
On Feb. 28, Fred McCauley, my father-in-law, was swept into the mighty Monongahela River in Star City, W.Va.
A coal miner for 36 years, he retired in January and was just beginning to enjoy the "easy life" despite a host of physical ailments.
The 62-year-old Morgantown, W.Va., resident was excited about a new fishing reel he recently purchased and was wanting to try it out on a balmy pre-spring day in the Mountain State.
He took the Chevy van down to the convenient boat launch five minutes from his house, where there are also places set up along the dock for anglers.
What happened next remains a mystery.
Fred was seen in the video from a camera monitoring the area in two sequences, one getting out of the van, then at the end of the dock and by the next cycle, he was gone.
What is known is he couldn't swim, nor did he have on a life vest.
In addition, he was on dialysis and battling a rare disease, so it is unlikely he ventured up a steep hill to walk away from his life.
Another strange aspect is nobody saw him fall in.
Yours truly had just fished there as recently in August of last year and it seemed as if someone was there at the pavilion every night -- much to my chagrin -- to watch the spectacle of me trying to load the canoe on top of the Jeep after an evening on the water.
Fred and I also fished that very section of the river many times over the years -- sometimes with his son Mike joining us.
We often clashed on world events being we were at opposite ends of the political spectrum but we did find common ground on classic country music and, of course, bass fishing.
We agreed to disagree, set aside our differences, which with my father-in-law was saying something as staunch as he was on some subjects.
I have been fishing since I was a small boy where I got my first start with perch at grandmother's cottage on Bear Lake, Mich.
And although I've considered myself a decent all-around fisherman to include bass, it seemed as if I took the endeavor up a level once I joined Fred and Mike on outings close to 14 years ago.
With them, bass fishing is king.
Along with that, I found a new appreciation for the sport that Fred said was similar to chasing a big buck "because you have to hunt them the same way."
And hunt them we did -- all across West Virginia from the Mon River to Stonewall Jackson Lake in Lewis County and then once on a trip to Missouri.
The beauty of this jagged countryside I was shown on these trips was overlooked at times in the quest for the magical lunker bass.
There was a soggy outing at Stonewall during an all-day downpour that comes to mind where I thought: Good, I'll be able to rest up today at the camp. (I had made the six-hour trip from Michigan the night before.)
But then to my disbelief, the show went on.
I battled hard for the two fish I hooked that day.
We later dodged a lightning storm in a culvert. Often during such a break, many strategies were bandied about -- and not always ones about bassin' -- before we would begin the next relentless frenzy of casts.
A favorite saying of his was, "There aren't any fish in this river (or lake)."
Wouldn't be long and one of us would have our lines bent over from a strike.
Then there was the often heard: "All this fishing is hard work. I need to go back to work to relax."
This stemmed from the sweat and frustration of putting the boat into the water or returning it to the driveway at the house and then the monotonous gear grab back and forth.
But there we would be the next day, doing it all over again in the foggy mist of early morning.
It is upsetting that after all those years of toiling in the mines -- "where it is dark as dungeon" -- from a Johnny Cash song I wanted to play for him -- that he only got to enjoy three months of retirement.
And this summer we won't be able to go on our annual bass fishing vacation, which despite him calling "hard work," was likely one of the highlights of his year. I know it was for me.
At least he passed while doing something he loved to do; that is the only consolation, if any, of this horrible incident.