STORIES THE VIEW UPSTREAM Posted Nov 20, 2017 By: Keith "Catfish" Sutton Anglers Who Went Out in Style Whether it's exchanging a hearse for a bass boat or requesting that their ashes be turned into fishing bait, these anglers will always be remembered as the fishermen they once were People come up with some very creative ways to memorialize friends and family members who loved fishing and have gone on to the great beyond. (Photo courtesy of Keith Sutton) When we die and go to that great fishing hole in the sky, we all hope our friends and family members give us a good send-off – one that memorializes our great love of fishing. That might mean having our ashes scattered over our favorite fishing hole or having a specially made fishing-themed headstone placed on our grave. Some anglers ask to be buried with a favorite fishing rod or lure. Others request that a special fisherman’s prayer be said at the funeral services. Occasionally someone wants a unique epitaph on their tombstone, like this one on a Rhode Island fisherman’s grave: “He’s done a-catching cod, and gone to meet his god.” In today’s world, however, more and more people are choosing to memorialize the deceased in less traditional manners. The passing of any person is a sad event, and funerals are justifiable fixtures of sadness and mourning. However, sadness for sadness’ sake isn’t enough for some people who believe funerals should also be celebratory. They should give the dead a send-off that is respectful and reverent of that person’s memory, and they should give mourners a chance to smile at the quirks and passions of their lost loved one. Such is what happened for Ronald “Manny” Bloss Sr., a 78-year-old fisherman from Mount Wolf, Pennsylvania, whose family decided that a traditional hearse would not be an appropriate vehicle to deliver the casket to the funeral home and graveyard. Bloss loved fishing, hunting and river running. He had several boats, and family members were following his wishes when they used one for his final journey. He traveled to the cemetery in style with his casket loaded into his aluminum johnboat and pulled to the gravesite using a pickup. “That’s what Dad really wanted,” Bloss’ daughter, Tina Rohrbaugh, said. “It was like him going fishing, going for that last ride.” Funeral home director Michael Gladfelter said he couldn’t recall ever using a boat in place of a hearse. He just wishes there had been time to create a sign reading “Gone Fishing” to hang on the side of it. “That would have been so ideal,” he said. When Gene Sparks of Pell City, Alabama lost his battle with cancer in 2015, he took his final ride in a bass boat. Everybody who knew “Papa Gene” knew he loved to fish. “Didn’t matter if it was freshwater, saltwater, the Gulf of Mexico. He didn’t just like to fish. He loved it,” said Sparks’ son Steve. The father and son discussed Gene’s funeral just weeks before his death. “Me and my dad were sitting at his kitchen table, planning his funeral,” Steve said. “I told him I had a big surprise for everybody when the time got here, and he said, ‘Boy, what are you going to do? Put me in the back of a pickup truck?’ He started laughing, and I told him no, I was going to give him his last boat ride. He just smiled and gave me that look and said he sure wished he could be around to see that. “It was strange sitting there planning my dad’s funeral, but it sure was a blessing,” he added. When Sparks died, true to his word, Steve made sure his father was transported from the church to the cemetery, a ride of about 4 miles, in a bass boat. The boat was on a trailer with the casket secured on top. Steve Sparks, his brother and their two sons rode with the casket in the boat. Terminally ill British angler Pete Hodge, a national fishing champ and winner of hundreds of competitions, arranged for his mortal remains to be handled in a much more unusual fashion. His dying request was that his ashes by turned into bait so his friends could enjoy a bumper catch of fish. According to his wishes, he was cremated in a coffin made of wicker to look like a fishing creel. Then a friend mixed Hodge’s ashes with maize, hemp and soya to create 30 pounds of groundbait. At a memorial service, Hodges’ widow Caroline and daughter Sally catapulted the bait into the River Huntspill in Somerset where the ardent angler had fished for more than 40 years. That signaled the start of a fishing competition for Hodges’s friends. “Pete always said that when he died he wanted the fish to gobble him up so he could swim up and down the river after his death,” said Mrs. Hodges. “When he got ill a couple of years ago, he put it in writing that this was what he wanted. Everything that he wished for was done right down to the last. It was only right for us to carry out his final wishes.” Before he died, Mr. Hodge said, “It may sound strange but it is my dream – to be back in the river catching fish is where I belong. I hope my friends make me proud with their catches.” They did, catching and releasing several nice bream, Hodge’s favorite fish. And finally, this story about my good friend Wade Bourne, a Tennessee outdoor writer and TV show host whose name is probably familiar to many of you. Wade was cutting a Christmas tree on his family farm just before Christmas in 2016 when he collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack. Wade was mourned by many people who knew his love for the outdoors, including members of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA), where he had been a member for decades. When SEOPA’s annual conference at Kentucky Dam Village State Park rolled around in October 2017, those in the organization came up with a unique way to memorialize their fallen comrade. “We asked Wade’s wife Becky for the Christmas tree Wade had just cut before his fatal heart attack,” said SEOPA executive director Lisa Snuggs. “She saved it for us, and my husband Henry and I picked it up on the way to the conference. “Then, on October 18, Becky was joined by conference attendees on a jetty below the park’s main lodge. Becky spoke of Wade’s love of SEOPA and how special Kentucky Lake was to them. She was working at Land Between the Lakes when they met, fell in love and married, and they first lived just a few miles from where we stood. “When she finished her comments,” Snuggs continued, “personnel from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife submerged Wade’s tree near an already existing fish attractor, adding more cover to the spot where anglers come to fish. Everyone stood in silence as the sun lowered toward the horizon behind the boats.” “I must admit my heart nearly sank along with the cedar tree as it fell into the abyss,” Becky said later. “I quickly realized, however, how fitting it was to return it to nature where life will be resurrected from it.” Wade would have liked that.