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by Sue O’Loughlin
From the September/October 2015 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine
The first day of November looked to be a promising day. I had the morning off to go trout fishing and the weather was cooperating. Like most people, I don’t go fishing nearly often enough so I wanted to share my outing with someone. My husband and kids would all be at work. The grandkids were in school or at the sitter’s. As I considered my options, my husband’s uncle came to mind.
Don “Cos” Coselman, 92, was an avid angler throughout his life. He ice fished and spent much of the open water season sitting on the bench of a johnboat tied up to snags or floating slowly along to the hum of a trolling motor. This was somewhat surprising because, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army after graduating high school, he spent 21 days on a ship heading toward Europe and was seasick the entire 21 days.
Cos fished for any and all species, but he was a very adept trout fisherman until recent years left him unsteady. After falling into the stream a year or so earlier, Cos decided he couldn’t go fishing alone and his tackle box began collecting dust. I almost took it personally, however, when he hesitated before accepting my offer to go fishing. I don’t know if it was because I’d called him out of the blue or because his fishing partners were usually men, but after a bit of prodding, I convinced Cos to join me. When I asked him where we should go, he instantly said Otter Creek, a trout stream just two miles east of West Union. He knew this clear, coldwater stream held trout in deep holes and it had easy access which allowed parking right next to the stream.
When I arrived at his house that day, the first thing Cos said was, “You’re early.” I was early, but I was excited to get the day started. Next he said, “You know, you’ll have to watch me. I might pass out on you.” Hmm. “Let’s not do that,” I encouraged. As he finished tying his favorite trout lure onto his line, a “road runner” he called it, I looked around his workroom. The walls were paneled and dark, but he took a few minutes to show me his bench where his fly tying supplies were kept. When his eyes were younger and his hands steadier, he’d enjoyed tying flies to mimic the insect hatches and bugs he saw along the stream. Now, everything was covered in a light layer of dust. He confessed in a quiet voice filled with sadness that he hadn’t had much interest in tying flies since his beloved wife passed away four years earlier. To lighten the mood, I picked up his fishing pole and gear as he grasped his cane and we headed out the door. I knew he was keeping an eye on me to make sure I didn’t snap the end of the pole off when I loaded it into my small car. I helped him climb in and handed him his seat buckle, and we headed off to Otter Creek.
The morning was cool but mild for late fall, and I dutifully followed Cos’ directions to the stream. Otter Creek is one of two trout streams in Echo Valley State Park. Otter slips along and under the base of a picturesque limestone bluff topped with trees with vines and roots clinging along the edges. I was able to park the car just a short distance from the water and quickly grabbed lawn chairs to position next to the stream to allow Cos to sit while fishing. Next I held tightly to Cos’ arm, and we made our way down a slight slope to water’s edge. Cos’ movements were slow but deliberate as he surveyed the stream under the brim of his favorite fishing cap. I think he was casting before I finished emptying the car. He knew where and how he wanted his fly to land in the water and it wasn’t long before rainbow trout were rising to look at his offering. At first, neither one of us could get more than a light nibble, but eventually the trout became more interested after we switched from lures to PowerBait.
Time after time, we thought we had one hooked only to have it throw the hook just as we were hoisting it from the water. Eventually, either we improved our technique or the trout were less careful and we started to land our fish. Each time Cos landed a shimmering rainbow trout, his eyes lit up and a huge grin spread across his face. Usually he could slip the hook out on his own, but occasionally I gave him a hand with the slippery rainbow, and we bucketed the trout in a five-gallon pail I’d brought along.
Cos out-fished me as I knew he would. When he reached his limit of five for the day, we stowed away our gear and cleaned his catch. We’d been fishing for a little more than two hours and during that time he’d barely sat down and never once touched his cane. He also didn’t talk much. We were there to fish, not talk, but on the way back to his house we shared some laughs as he talked of previous fishing excursions he’d been a part of. As I helped him out of my car, he gave me a hug and thanked me for taking him fishing. I saw him into his house and leaned his pole next to the door where he liked to keep it. He told me he was going to cook the trout for supper. We often hear the phrase “take a kid fishing.” We need to remember there is a kid inside each of us and we never outgrow our love of the outdoors.
Just being outdoors is good for the soul no matter what age you are.
So once again, the next year, Cos and I went fishing on a beautiful fall day. We were less successful at catching fish, but the time spent fishing was wonderful. On our way home after that excursion, Cos pointed to a pasture of cattle and said, “We should have known we weren’t going to catch fish today! The fish don’t bite when the cows are laying down.” Who knew? In 2014, Cos’ health began to fail him and in March 2015, Donald “Cos” Coselman passed away quietly. Amongst the memorabilia his family gathered to capture his almost 95 years on earth were his fishing pole, his favorite fishing cap and pictures of him fishing with family, relatives and friends. Cos’ nephew, Father Dan Kirby, shared in his funeral homily that he identified Cos as “The Fishing Uncle.”
Who can you take fishing today? Who can you make a lifetime memory with? Don’t overlook those older kids! Now, grab your phone and make a call. It’s time to go fishin’!