Baptism has its roots in Jewish antiquity.
The basic concept was that if a Jew had become ceremonially “unclean” through the violation of one of the laws in the Torah, they had to be cleansed in order to be eligible to participate in religious observances at the temple.
The Greek word from which we get our word “baptism” means to dip or immerse. In 1311 at the Council of Ravenna, the Catholic Church decided that sprinkling or pouring was acceptable for their practices. My family, however, has long been in the camp of dunkers, both from a belief system and in how we approach bodies of water in general.
In my youth, I was not much of a swimmer. My mother’s fear of water somehow was imprinted on me, and even though I took lessons, the concept of swimming was slow to take root in my juvenile mind.
I clearly recall after a week of swimming lessons in the city pool, students were to demonstrate our new found abilities by diving in and swimming across the dreaded “deep end”. I held my breath, dove in, and promptly forgot to swim. I slowly sank, looking up at the surface wondering what I was supposed to do next. Perhaps that was because I had not learned to swim in the shallow end, since it was too easy to fake it where my feet could touch bottom. It was, in retrospect, very peaceful under the water, until the lifeguard jumped in to pull me from the depths.
A few years later, at the end of a church service, my mother was helping some ladies prepare for their baptism. As she peeked out of the baptistery, to check on the progress of the service, a slip landed her in the water while the congregation prayed. At the sound of the splash all eyes shot up. Mom had skedaddled through to the other side and was nowhere in sight, but the image of her lone, low heeled pump floating across the surface of the water is indelibly ingrained on my mind.
Eventually, I did learn to swim and mom learned to stay away from the baptistery. My early fear of water gave way to the fascination of lakes and rivers, seasoned with a bit of healthy respect.
In recent years, my desire to explore moving water eclipsed my desire to fish large lakes. I spend as much time as possible chasing piscatorial treasures in moving water; it just seems more alive and mysterious to me than stagnant ponds.
However, my change in venue apparently did not change my Baptist upbringing. I still on occasion, find it necessary to be re-baptized, though not through conviction or conscious decision.
Recently, while in the charge of a young guide, I found a unique way of going about a ceremonial cleansing. I was in the front of a 3-man fishing raft in a swivel seat. We just completed fishing a run by anchoring the boat and wading the length of the run. Upon returning to the raft and finding my place in the seat, I leaned over the side to assist my guide in freeing one of the oars from an obstruction.
I then heard a small ping signaling the loss of the retaining clip which held my seat in place. In an instant I knew it was show time. Fortunately I was prepared for the performance.
I chose a slow headfirst slide over the side of the raft as my initial baptism in this particular river. It seemed dramatic and respectful to me, without a much screaming. I had deftly laid my fly rod down before the event, which allowed me use of both arms to slow the dive to an almost fluid descent into the river. I felt this was more gentlemanly, since several homes dotted the banks, and the hour was getting late. I didn’t want to disturb someone’s supper. In addition it allowed my guide to develop just the right amount of fear. After all, who doesn’t need a good adrenaline boost at the end of a day of rowing? I felt it was my civic duty to help out.
Some people simply and awkwardly fall out of boats, trip while wading, or step off into a hole. This shows a distressing lack of style and imagination. If you fish, you must come to terms with the fact that you will at some point find yourself in the drink, so some preparation is in order. With a little forethought and practice, casual observers will marvel at the display of grace as you float your hat. It’s the least we owe to our sport, and will likely cause many onlookers to wish to participate in a sport that encourages such freedom of personal expression.
In the interest of furthering this niche of the fishing arts, I humbly submit the following brief guide to falling into the water with style.
There are many variations on the theme, but first consider your conveyance. If you are on the deck of a flats boat, your options are considerably different than if you are wading in a mountain stream. Just as it would be uncivil to use an eight weight rod on Smoky Mountain brook trout, or a 12 gauge on quail, attempting a drift boat drive from a kayak just isn’t cricket.
Next, you should take into account your audience. On salt flats, considerable distance between anglers is common. Wearing bright clothes and shouting loudly are considered proper form before hitting the drink. This way, one is better able to draw the attention (and associated appreciation) from those as far as one hundred yards away. Large arm movements are a nice touch as well, as they naturally draw the eye away from watching corks and lines to something truly remarkable. From personal experience, I would suggest using arm motions that start slow and increase in speed until just prior to hitting the water.
Entry into the water should be calculated to create the largest splash possible. Remember the beloved cannonball dive at the local pool? Extra style points are given for soaking nearby friends and/or guides.
Finally, and critically important to the overall score, is how you emerge from the water. Neophytes try to scramble out as quickly as possible. My encouragement is to linger a while to allow the observers to take in all that has just occurred. Then as cool at MacArthur returning to the Philippines, calmly take a bow and re-mount your conveyance as cleanly as possible. A bow or a wave for a particularly inspiring dive is acceptable, but don’t overdo it. Discretion is the better part of valor.
In closing, always show due appreciation to the masters of this sport, and be willing to share your knowledge of proper diving techniques to the young. In doing so, you will leave a legacy that will inspire future generations of anglers.
Oh, and the raft? Yeah, this is the one…props to my friend Bill Higdon on the oars in this pic…