Dave's Place: Fish or Chips?

Combining poker with hunting and fishing is a dicey proposition.

Field & Stream Online Editors

If my wife, Robin, had not so delicately pointed it out, I might never have realized that I have a problem.

It was on a cool evening this past September. We were in a campsite in northeastern Utah, a short drive from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and its wildly prolific tailwater, the Green River, which boasts more trout per mile than any other in the country. Having just finished a late dinner, we sat across from each other at the picnic table as I shuffled a deck of cards in the lantern's circle of yellow light. I dealt Robin two cards, face down.

"You've got a problem," she said.

"C'mon," I pleaded. "Just a few hands."

"Oh, all right."

"You got any change?" I asked.

"No," she said. "And I don't want to play for money."

"Well, we have to play for something." Looking around, I eventually noticed the pale blue berries clinging to the boughs of the nearby juniper bushes. I picked 40 of them and placed a pile of 20 in front of each of us.

"You've got a serious problem," she concluded.

* * *

She was right, of course, but I didn't see it then. Nor did I see it the following day, when it should have been obvious. Gambling, of course, has any number of potential pitfalls, one of which sportsmen may be particularly susceptible to. And bringing this problem to the forefront, I think, is especially important now.

I have only anecdotal evidence to back this up, but it seems that the recent poker craze has found some footing in the hunting and fishing community, and that more and more of us are spending our downtime at deer camp or the hours off the water dealing hands of Texas Hold 'Em. This shouldn't be surprising. Poker demands guile and patience, both of which any good hunter or angler should have in spades. It involves bluffs, which are not unlike outright lies and should therefore come especially naturally to fishermen. And, perhaps most important, consistent success at both poker and the outdoor sports requires no small amount of luck.

And there's where the problem lies: Both require luck, and as we all know, Luck is a fickle lady. Asking her to stand by you in two endeavors more or less at the same time is asking for trouble-a classic example of pressing her.

The day after Robin and I played cards was the day I'd planned to fish the Green, and lo and behold, I woke up to below-freezing temperatures, high winds, a sore throat, a burning cough, and a desire to crawl back in my sleeping bag and die. I had no problem taking Robin's juniper berries, but I had little luck taking trout from the Green's cold currents the next day.

Later, at deer camp this fall, I had all the luck needed to lighten my friend Paulie's wallet, but none in the deer woods surrounding the camp. And more recently, at Thanksgiving, after I made a queen-high straight on the turn and raked in all the remaining chips, the wind wound up wrong for decoying geese at our favorite blind. As it stands, I'm up about $30 and 20 juniper berries but down about 20 trout, one deer, and at least three or four geese. So, I do indeed have a problem.

No doubt this is what Robin was referring to, and I have to thank her for pointing it out. Moreover, I think it's a lesson that any of us who have been bitten by the poker bug can put to good use. Like anything, gambling should be done in moderation-to avoid stretching your luck too thin. So, don't play poker the night before hunting or fishing. Instead, wait until after you've had a luckless day afield or astream, then call up your friends and raise the stakes.

Good luck.