Fishing with the Goose
June 13, 2011 – On May 30, Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello and I flew to Denver and drove from the airport to tiny Leadville, Colorado, where we would spend the better part of the week with Hall of Famer Goose Gossage.
As I wrote about in this blog a few months ago, the story on Gossage is about the pastime he enjoys most these days — fly-fishing.
Although I had been fresh water fishing since I was a young child, I had never picked up a fly fishing rod until a few months ago when I took a few lessons. My goal was to avoid embarrassing myself in front of a baseball legend.
The plan on May 30 was for Petrozzello and I to settle in to Leadville and meet up with Goose the next morning. But as we drove through the Rockies in a snowstorm — at the end of May — Goose invited us to his cabin for dinner.
That’s where the Yankees Magazine story will begin. A few hours into our trip, we found ourselves in Gossage’s cabin, where he was cooking us dinner — spaghetti with a gravy made with bison meat! The night proved to be as memorable as the food.
After having breakfast the next morning with Gossage, we went back to the cabin to get ready for the first day of fishing on one of the 28 lakes that are part of the Mt. Massive Lakes Fishing Club. The club is located on 1,000 acres of land in what Gossage appropriately calls “the greatest place on the planet” and it only includes 150 members. Each of the members own a log cabin on the club’s land.
Dressed in full body waiters, Gossage and I each fished from small (5 foot) one-man pontoon boats, in which we were sitting in the water and propelling ourselves by kicking. We were also wearing flippers on our feat.
Before I could land my first fish, Gossage already had three in his creel. Three beautifully colored rainbow trout. I caught my first rainbow trout of the trip less than an hour into the morning, and I was amazed by the strength of the fish.
“You have to be rugged to make it our here,” Gossage reminded me. “Even the fish are tough.”
By the time we broke for lunch, I had caught seven fish and Gossage had landed 13.
That night, the owners of Gossage’s favorite establishment deep-fried the trout for us and for the several locals who were sitting at the oak bar.
I enjoyed some of the best fishing of my life the next day. It started off slow, but it ended with a wild flurry. As the sun began to set on June 1, the fish began to bite. After going an hour without a bite, Gossage and I moved to another lake. Gossage caught three rainbow trout in his first three casts at second lake, and I caught 14 in the last hour we spent there. Each of these trout were between 15 and 20 inches — which for non-fishing experts is between 3 and 8 inches larger than an average sized trout.
This was one of the three most thrilling assignments of my career. The story I wrote about the day Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played a game in my hometown of South Orange, New Jersey in 1929 and my story on Alex Rodriguez from earlier this year are the other two.
I enjoyed every minute of the trip, and I will be forever grateful to Gossage for allowing Petrozzello and I into his life. Without Gossage’s tremendous kindness and outrageously funny sense of humor, the trip wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable — and the story wouldn’t be what it’s going to be.
Gossage is completely at peace with his life, and that was best illustrated in one of our last conversations in Leadville. With a few deep-fried trout on our table at Pastime Bar, Gossage said, “I didn’t retire. I just faded into the sunset. And this is the exactly where I want to be.”
In the same conversation, I asked Gossage to grade my fishing performance in Colorado. While I was completely ready for anything, I felt pretty good about things, considering that I caught 33 fish in three days. For this writer, who loves to fish (as much as he loves baseball), Gossage’s answer was absolutely poetic.
“Your grade was awesome,” Gossage said. “You caught more fish than any other guest I ever brought up here. You did great.”
For all the behind-the-scenes details of this snapshot of Gossage’s life, pick up the July issue of Yankees Magazine.
And one last note… this story is dedicated to one of the single greatest fisherman and human beings I have ever known. My lifelong friend, Al Celano, spent far too many days on the water with me to count. I can’t remember a minute of those days in which I didn’t feel truly blessed to be in his presence and to be his friend. While my days of fishing with Al have come to an end, the memories that were made during those heavenly times will bring me joy as long as I’m on this earth. Thank you, Al, for those days of grace.
–Alfred Santasiere III