Dick Hanousek’s father was killed during World War II in France when Dick was a toddler, leaving his uncle as the boy’s father figure.
The relationship between the two became urgent one day when the uncle interrupted a knitting tutorial that Dick was giving by his mother and aunt.
Dick was 5 years old at the time.
“Come on, kid,” said the uncle. “We’re going outside.”
Dick, of St. Paul, who died last week at age 82 in his winter home in Arizona, learned his lesson well.
Not the one about the perils of a life spent knitting.
The one about the blessings of being outdoors.
I first met Dick in 1981. Around the same time I met Bob Nasby, also from St. Paul. The two were different – Dick was a businessman and Bob was a laborer – but identical: they were both consumed by fly fishing.
One conversation led to another, and the following spring the three of us were alternately basking in the warm Key West breezes and, about 30 miles out to sea, casting tarpons off the Marquesas Islands.
In the months to come, we fished together again. First in belly boats in a small lake along the Gunflint Trail, tossing streamers for rainbow trout, then chest deep in Lake Michigan off Door County, Wisconsin, carrying neoprene waders and hoping in the moonlight that the bulbous brown trout in the lake would find our flies.
At that time, Dick was 42 years old and had already lived several different lives.
In high school at St. Thomas Academy, he had been a boarder, meaning he lived on campus. When he graduated, he joined the army, serving three years before enrolling in the College of St. Thomas, as it was then known.
While in college, Dick purchased his first company, Pioneer Paper Stock, and throughout his 20s and 30s he bought, operated, and sold several businesses. In his entire adult life, he has never received a W2 from an employer. He has always worked for himself.
Dick was fishing at the time. But his primary interest was hunting. Ducks. Stag. Grouse. West Elk. He loved everything.
Until he doesn’t.
“He got to a point where he didn’t want to kill anything anymore,” his wife, Kathy, said. “He always loved hunting and said he would teach his children how to hunt. But he was done with it. That’s when he took fly fishing seriously.”
Something else also changed around this time.
As her net worth grew, her satisfaction with the growing process lagged.
So he sold businesses that needed his day-to-day attention.
And went fishing.
Steve Hanousek, the eldest of Dick and Kathy’s five children, was around 20 at the time.
“Dad once told me he had good friends who made a lot of money and sometimes lost their families in the process,” Steve said. “He didn’t want this to happen to him.”
Although Dick was never happier than when he threw a size 16 Adams at a rising brown trout on the Whitewater River in southeastern Minnesota, the next day – or the day after or the day after – he could be knee-deep in a river in Alaska, or on Christmas Island in the Pacific or off South Andros in the Caribbean.
He traveled light, sometimes with only a sports bag, a pair of waders, two or three fly rods, wader boots and little else. Kathy was always invited, as were Steve and his sister, Kris, and his brothers, John, Matt and Rich.
Newspapers were more forgiving during those years of spending attending such distant angling adventures – boons, some editors called them – and for a long time I filed dates with Dick from Costa Rica , Bahamas, Alaska and other fish worthy destinations.
During these trips, we would occasionally meet other fly fishermen, both women and men, who had the money and the time to travel the world fishing.
Some of these anglers, I learned, cast as much with their ego as with their guns.
Years ago he and I were fishing on the North Island of New Zealand, and after a beautiful day on a clear, serpentine river, we endured an excruciating, overlong dinner alongside blustering industrialists who told long stories about the winged trophies they had brought to hand in exotic places.
Twice or more Dick had been to most of the places the men had given their names. But he never said a word.
“Dad once told me that he had good friends who made a lot of money and sometimes lost their families in the process. He didn’t want that to happen to him.”
For Dick, his fishing trips, whether to Scotland’s famous Atlantic salmon rivers or Stony Brook, his all-time favorite trout stream near Brainerd, weren’t about restoring his self-image but to galvanize one’s connection to life – all life – no less that of an emerging ephemeral rising from the dimpled surface of a crystalline river.
When I told my two sons that Dick was dead, they were silent. They had fished many times with Dick, as they had with Bob Nasby, and my sons know the debt they owe each of them.
Not for the fishing lessons given or the secret streams revealed.
But because Dick and Bob taught me that if I started throwing fly lines to my boys at age 5, like Dick and Bob did with their children and grandchildren, I would have fishing partners for life.
As would my sons.
“We had dad cremated in Arizona,” Steve Hanousek said. “In about a month, I’ll be bringing his ashes back to Minnesota. I’ll be taking a route through the mountains and stopping along the way at some of his favorite rivers. He’d love that.”