Every once in awhile I get a phone call or email that really moves me. It happened just the other day, in an email from a fellow named Philip Metz. Philip wrote a touching article about a determined youngster and angler, Tanner Hrobak, who is battling cancer. Philip shared the article with me and asked if I could perhaps help him get the story out to the media. How could I say no?
OF TARPON AND TRIUMPH | BY PHILIP METZ
As the sun inched slowly above the horizon, we quietly poled the boat toward a small pod of tarpon eagerly sipping baitfish on one of the many tidal flats in the area. I had anxiously awaited this trip, carefully researching the migration patterns, fishing techniques and feeding habits of my intended target, the silver king. Not too long ago, in a hospital room miles from the coast, a young boy could only dream of the day he would be back on the water chasing his favorite fish, the tarpon.
It seemed like yesterday that Tanner Hrobak was running around his father’s tackle store, pestering him to close the shop early and take him fishing. Back then it was bluefish, striped bass and weakfish along the New Jersey coastline that tickled his fancy. There were other pursuits that Tanner enjoyed but nothing seemed to delight him as much as grabbing a fishing rod and climbing aboard his father’s boat. The times spent on the water were magical for the both of them. But all that would change one fateful day in April with a conversation no parent should have to experience. Doctors had confirmed that Tanner was sick. Not the kind of sick that kisses and hugs can cure, but the kind that requires hospitals, surgeries and hours of pain-staking treatments. The diagnosis was cancer and the outlook was anything but positive. The cancer had arrived in the form of a tumor in Tanner’s brain, and threatened to choke the vivaciousness that had made him such an energetic and fun-loving boy. The road ahead would be filled with daunting challenges, endless journeys and arduous tasks.
Through it all, fishing seemed to be the farthest thing from anyone’s mind, yet the water and its beauty never seemed to leave Tanner’s thoughts. Miles away from the ocean, at The Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, Tanner spoke to other young patients about the tarpon, snook and sea trout that roamed the waters surrounding his home. He told them how pelicans would beg for scraps and turtles would glide effortlessly along the canal. Somewhere in those descriptions the children were removed from the medical apparatus and painful regiments that dominated their days. There in the descriptions of a young boy, they too were meandering along the waterways, experiencing what nature had to offer.
It was then, sitting at my fly-tying bench on a chilly morning, that I thought there must be something I could do to recognize Tanner, his plight, and all the other children stricken with illness. As I thought of all that had transpired since his diagnosis, I grabbed my thread, some marabou and hackle, and began what would become my tribute to Tanner and his fellow patients. As I considered the pattern I would create, not only did I want a fly that would be productive, but one that also told the story of these children. I began with a head consisting of light blue thread, representative of the hospital scrubs these patients and their families are all too accustomed to seeing. Then I tied a white marabou collar to signify my hope for better days in the lives of these children. Next I added some red marabou, revealing the heart and determination exhibited by all those affected with illness, followed by a layer of yellow marabou to reflect the bright demeanor these patients have in the face of great adversity. Completing the fly, I chose a white splayed hackle, signifying a breakthrough and victory over illness. Finally, a touch of flash material that represents these children as shining stars who inspire us all. I named the fly “Tanner’s Revenge,” as no illness can deter his spirit, determination and zest for life.
Upon completing of the fly, I contacted The Fly Shop in Redding, California. They graciously agreed to produce the fly and send a portion of the proceeds to The Children’s Hospital to benefit those who battle illness. Fishermen who purchase a “Tanner’s Revenge” have the opportunity to realize their dreams of a trophy catch, while supporting so many in need. We as fishermen have the ability to make a difference in the lives of others, which is far greater than any fish we could ever catch.
Back on the water, as we inched closer to the feeding tarpon, I looked back and saw Tanner and his father sharing a moment that had become all too rare over the past few months. They were on the water where they belonged, doing what fathers and sons are meant to do. As I looked back toward the feeding fish I realized our fight had begun even before making the first cast.
I want to thank Philip for writing and sending me this article. It’s been my pleasure to pass it along to you here. If you’re interested in learning more about Tanner Hrobak or the Tanner’s Revenge fly, feel free to contact Philip at[email protected]. “Tanner’s Revenge” flies are available at www.theflyshop.com.
Babe Winkelman is a nationally-known outdoorsman who has taught people to fish and hunt for nearly 30 years. Watch his award-winning “Good Fishing” and “Outdoor Secrets” television shows on Versus (VS.), Fox Sports Net, Wild TV and many local networks. Visit www.winkelman.com for air times where you live.