The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water. Together, these items weighed between 12 and 18 pounds, depending on a man’s habits or rate of metabolism.
The Things They Carried
In the movie Platoon, there’s a scene where the young, battle-seasoned Sergeant Elias checks the packs of his new grunts (Chris and Gardner) and pulls out, one by one, what they were instructed to carry in boot camp, but what they wouldn’t need in the jungles, swamps and mountains of Viet Nam. These things, after all, have to be ‘humped’ as a grunt would say, and weight in that hot and steamy environment could snuff the life out of any fighting man.
I think of this scene every time I pack my vest for fishing. What do I really need? What can I expect on the water? What do I need in order to fish safely? Will I be equipped for the weather? Will I be equipped for the fishing?
I typically pack tubs – one each for the type of fishing I do – a warmwater river tub, a tub for the trout streams of the Catskills, a tub for trout creeks, a smaller tub with pond gear, a tub for the salt… So before I head out to “the bush”, I’ll take the appropriate tub and pack it in my car along with my wading gear, my rod and tackle, and my vest. I’ll carry these things in my vest, in my fishing shirt, or around my neck and on my wading belt:
- Bottle(s) of water
- Cell phone
- Waterproof watch
- Rain jacket
- Wading staff
- Toilet paper
- Tippet spools
- Lanyard with nippers, tie-fast knot tying tool, forceps, leader straightener, small triangular file
- Thermometer of IR water temp gauge
- NY State Fishing License
- Extra reels and/or spools
- Landing net
- Split shot
- Leader wallet
- Rigged fly rod / reel
- Sunscreen, lip balm
- Fishing hat
- Extra clothing and/or gloves (weather dependent)
- Heat tabs (weather dependent)
- Fly boxes (fishing dependent)
- Topo map
- Lunch / snacks
I can fill out a vest pretty well, and all of that has to be humped, sometimes good distances, while wading. I won’t pretend that it is anywhere near the weight hauled by a grunt in Viet Nam. And in almost all cases, there’s no threat of being shot, but still…
Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried, also writes about the weight that soldiers “humped” in Viet Nam. He gets pretty technical very early in his writing – spouting off military acronyms for all sorts of weaponry and gear – most of which I recognized from my own military experience and my fascination with military history. But the real story he writes is about the other things the men carried and the things that truly weighed them down – their worries, their fears, superstitions, girlfriends, troubles back home… In the face of battle, staring at death, scared out of one’s wits, a man faces what is truly essential, and I suppose after such experiences, is cleansed of what truly doesn’t matter. But then again, those very experiences added weight to their drooping shoulders on the way home, if they made it home. As we are seeing now, much of that does come home. O’Brien writes a chapter about one soldier he served with who survived the war in Viet Nam, but sadly, not at home.
I will admit that I carry some of those things too when I head to the water. I try to fish without weight, but sometimes the matters of daily life jump on. I may be swinging a wet fly, dead drifting a nymph, or stripping a streamer only to have work, family, or other worries grab onto my line and claw their way up to my very being. But I will also say that fishing often dissipates the very darkness that intrudes. The wondrous scenes of nature – an eagle flying overhead, a mink slipping along the bank of a river, the autumn colors of trees, the rush of water, the incredible camo of a smallmouth bass, the green of the back and the rose of the side of a rainbow trout brought to net, the throb of the head shake, the jump a fish gives for freedom…
I have carried many burdens as all of us do. But fly fishing is often the outlet that vaporizes them. The tug on a line is magic to me. And has saved me…