Good Friends and Fishing Memories

The following is a letter I received from Christian after we filmed the show as he recollected his last fishing trip. The episode of Spanish Fly on 1/11/09 is dedicated in loving memory of my good friend, Christian Goodpaster. Our hearts go out to his family and friends. 

Gustav nor Transplant Bays Good Friends and Fishing Memories

By Christian Goodpaster

We set off from Key West Yacht club just as the sun began to rise. As the Action-Craft skiff begins to come on plane across the greenish tinted water, I am thankful I have been blessed for another day of life. Today isn't just another day, today I'm fishing and filming with Jose Wejebe in the Florida Keys. Our quarry; fish and reflections of the past and present. A celebration of the "bro's!"

Jose and I became friends after being paired as fishing partners by Gary Ellis (The founder of the Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series which raises funds for Cystic Fibrosis research) during the 2000 Checca Redbone. Having been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis in 1986 at the ripe old age of 1 1/2 years old, the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted me a wish just before the Checca tournament in 2000. My wish was to go fishing with my idol, Jose Wejebe the "Spanish Fly". I soon learned my "wish" would become reality, and was I ever charged!

Our guide for that very first tournament together was Capt. Dale Perez of Key Largo, a very knowledgeable guide who along with Jose, helped me catch my very first Redbone Slam, a redfish and bonefish. Along the way Jose taught me skills and tips to be a successful flats fisherman, and in the end an enduring friendship that has lasted for years. Since the trip I have been totally addicted to flats fishing, always looking forward to my next trip to the flats. I now have Jose to blame for being broke! Brotherly love!

I grew up with an ever increasing love for the outdoors. Having Cystic Fibrosis, (CF) I was limited by my teenage years of the activities I could participate in with my peers such as sports. CF is a genetic disorder in which the lungs cannot clear mucus of the airways like a normal person's lungs would be able to do. The lungs eventually become a breeding haven for bacteria, and in turn over years destroys the lung's airways. It's very common for CF patients to be hospitalized more then once a year for IV therapy treatment, also referred to as a "cleanout". The median age of survival when I was born in 1984 was 16 years of age.

Thanks to modern-day breakthroughs in treatment and therapy, the median survival rate is now up to an astonishing 32 years of age. Eventually, qualifying patients will undergo a lung transplant if they wish and qualify.

In 2000 I became sick enough that I had to be put on a lung transplant list myself. After narrowly escaping death in July 2000, (due to a series of infections) I moved from my home in Indiana to North Carolina to await my transplant. After waiting on the list forty months at the University of North Carolina, (UNC) I received my life saving double lung transplant February 16, 2004 after five dry-runs, (called in to find out the lungs are no good for one reason or another.) Five years later I am alive and most important, still on the water doing what I live for, fishing.

Times were not always so simple though. I couldn't keep up with my peers in physical education class let alone play sports. Little would I know at the time, this would be the greatest thing that could have happened come a few years down the road.

As time went on I found myself fishing more than I ever had in the past. When I did go fishing my friends were always there for me. They helped with the launching of my boat, loading, and even packing me on their back up the boat ramp. Speaking of packing me on their back, one year my brother packed me in the woods for a spring turkey hunt. Two miles of carrying all our gear and myself on his back, our hunt would eventually prove successful later that morning, and a very tired brother!

During my transplant I had the chance to look back and reflect on my life. Being away from my friends and most of my family really brings time for a person to consider where they are going, what he or she wants to do with their life, and what they have done with their life up until that particular point. It was like a mid-life crisis at 19 years of age. Scared to die awaiting the transplant, scared that I wouldn't make it though the actual procedure, and worried if I had done everything in life I wanted, while making a difference to someone else in this lifetime. These were some of the things that played through my head during the long wait. The music artist John Mayer wrote a song called "Why Georgia Why" which I appropriately named my "transplant song". It explains the trials and tribulations I was experiencing at the time, with a few added quirks related to the area I happened to be staying in.

After settling in my new apartment in Durham, North Carolina I eventually learned to tie saltwater flies. This is where being sick in high school and missing out on sports kicked in. I grew up hunting and fishing every chance I had, primarily fishing. When I moved to North Carolina for my transplant all I could do was tie flies and fish. With a rod in one hand, and oxygen tank and tubing wrapped around one shoulder, I set off each evening to my favorite apartment complex fishin' holes! Catching bass, crappie and bream kept me happy and content and looking forward to another day of fishing and most of all, having faith I would at least live long enough to have a shot at my transplant. Within the first few weeks of my move, I begin to be known around town as the "oxygen tank fisher."

It wasn't always glamorous if you could imagine. Being skinny due to CF and fishing with an oxygen tank at my side, it wasn't the greatest feeling. While watching the pretty Tarheel girls jogging along the lakeshore paths, I may have not of been great looking, but it was sure a beautiful sight to me none the less!

As I once more set back and look upon the past today as I once did pre-transplant, I am very thankful I had the woods and water to pull me through the hardest times of my life. From that first squirrel taken at age five, to the first bass caught on a frog-patterned hula popper and Zebco 33 when I was four, I have so much to be thankful for. These times when my father and brother got me involved in the outdoors provided a foundation that not only could I enjoy the rest of my life, but would one day save my life. For me, nature possesses healing power and the will power to pull though another day to matter what I'm going though. I live to fish, I fish to live.

There are so many people in this world with all different types of sicknesses, not only physical but mental also. All you can hope for as life nears an end is that you made the most of your days, and just maybe, maybe you made a difference in someone else's life that they too, look at life as a honor and privilege and pass on these same positive ways of thinking to others. Who knows, you might be pulling another person though one of their hardest times in life without even knowing it. That my friend, is called an "angel."

Today my health has has taken a turn once again. In 2007 I ran into some problems. For the past year I have been fighting chronic rejection (rejection of my lungs.) Most lung transplant patients at some point develop acute and chronic rejection. Some pass away due to cancers and infections, but rejection is the main cause of mortality. Acute can be treated and most of the time totally taken care of, although chronic is much harder to treat. Over time chronic rejection eventually destroys the airways to the point the patient dies, or receives a second transplant if possible. Over the last year I have lost over 60% of my lung function due to chronic rejection. The best outcome with chronic rejection is to hope to slow the process down with medications and buy the patient more time. With this in mind, Jose called inviting me to come be a part of an episode of Spanish Fly. As soon as the shoot was over, I had to be back to UNC hospital to begin a regimen of treatments. Hopefully to stop my decline of lung function and rejection.

I arrived in Key West on August 24, 2008. With the help of some great people such as Mr. West (JM Media camera man) Mikey (and a few other camera guys who help film Spanish Fly), they made my stay first rate. It was so great to see Jose again the first morning at the yacht club. We've shared so many great memories over the years. During my transplant we kept tight knit with one another. He would call often checking to see how I was doing, and if I needed anything. Usually I would reply that a new baitcaster would be nice! One of my favorite memories that often comes to mind is the time I first met him at the Checca Redbone. Everyone at our table was finishing up their steaks at the kickoff party. Some of the people had a few pieces left over. At this point Jose politely asks my my mother if he may have the rest of her steak. Bite by bite, one by one, he eventually makes his way around our table finishing up the leftover steak. I was astonished and amused by this incredible feat! Who would have guessed my idol of many years would be so open to ask for leftovers at our table. I couldn't believe how down to earth he was. I can't say enough for Jose. He is truly a great guy and friend.

We set sail the first morning for some baby tarpon in the mangroves. After Jose and I both hooked up and lost three fish or so to the root laden mangroves, we moved out to deeper water in search of permit. Not a minute too late either let me tell you. After nearly scratching myself to death in front of the camera before raising my voice, I learned what a sand flea was! I hope I never have to deal with these nasty pests again. I scratched for the next hour! Apparently, they stay out until the sunlight is high and warm enough to push them back to their lair for the day.

The prior week before August 24th, was originally supposed to be the actual filming of the show. Due to a hurricane it had to be postponed another week. Well to our unfortunate surprise another hurricane (Gustav) would begin to brew and approach the outer Keys the day of our shoot. With the outer hurricane bands moving in becoming dark blue and gray, approaching fast, the weather was soon to make our fishing tough. Dodging rain storms and looking for good sunlight, we endured the storms hoping for a break later in the day.

After a timely move to another area escaping the rain, and the wind pounding our backs and high wakes, Jose spotted a group of waking permit. Armed with a new prototype Shimano spinning rod and Stella reel spooled with hi-vis Stren braid and fluorocarbon leader, I cast my lively crab just up current from the feeding permit. They were on a feeding path heading directly to the bow of our boat at dead noon. With the perfect cast coordinated with a side wind, the permit took the bait and the fight was on! It was immediately apparent this permit had a set of strong shoulders. The guide, Stevie Impalameni, eased the outboard into gear and followed the fish regaining line from the pintail surge. After nearly twenty minutes of heart throbbing adrenaline, with the permit diving under the outboard prop several times, and persuading me to perform a "skiff like dance" around the skiff's edge, the fish was at last in bay in Jose's hands. After a few pictures, hugs and handshakes among bro's...the permit was released alive and healthy to be battled another day like a WW II hero. We went on to catch a few more permit before switching game plans that morning.

With the permit under my belt and a break in the clouds we switched to bonefishing the shallow flats with current. Stevie Impalameni had done his work in the days prior and put Jose and I on several successful "silver ghosts" stalks and hookups. With our bonefish and permit down, we decided to anchor up with the Stiffy push pole on an open shallow flat to take a break for lunch. By this time the wind was increasing even more, making casting somewhat of a challenge and seeing fish even harder. While we were all having some delicious cuban subs for lunch and bottled water that West and I had picked up that morning, Stevie spotted a huge barracuda. I immediately stopped eating and tossed a red and white Yo-Zuri topwater toward the barracuda.

With everyone's adrenaline pumping Stevie and Jose said, "Christian, reel the lure as fast as you can and don't stop."

The cuda immediately turned on the plug and followed it to the boat before shying away. I immediately made another cast. Once again the sharp teethed predator gave chase only to produce the same results as the first cast. Ripping the bait back again for the third time churning and spitting water into the air, the cuda wasn't so lucky. After a cannonball-like splash on the blowup taking the plug, the cuda was on. "Tight line bro." It's hard to believe how aggressive and fast these fish are until you experience it for yourself. With permit, bonefish, cuda and a airborne shark in our quarry, it was time for some tarpon revenge, although you'll have to watch the show to see the outcome of the storyline.

At the end of the day we managed to have a great time together catching many fish, getting some awesome footage, and just a terrific time on the water. Before leaving Key West and heading back home to Indiana Jose and Mr. West took everyone involved in the shoot off to a fine seafood house for dinner. With our friends and families around, we shared stories from the past and reflected upon the prior days. It was a truly great fellowship between both new and old friends. During my stay I met a lot of new friends, learned what it was like to have the job of a cameraman, and got to see all the hard work it takes to coordinate and produce such a great show as Spanish Fly. Staring out of my plane's small window heading back home I pictured visions of so much pleasure. So much fun. Hoping, praying, this wouldn't be my last trip back to the Keys.

When times are hard and you don't think your going to pull through, remember as simple as this is, there will come a better day. Stay strong, hold your head high, and live each and every day as it was your last. It's not always easy to be strong but if you keep your faith and a smile on your face, it will take you farther then you ever imagined. Live your own life doing the things you love the most and you'll look forward to tomorrow. A day where more memories can be made. For me fishing has been my cure. Not just a way of life, but puts life back into me.

If you want to help and for more info you can click here

The Sweet Melissa Fund provides financial assistance to lung transplant patients and their families at UNC Hospitals. To make a donation or for more information go tohttp://www.sickgirlspeaks.com/sweetmelissa.html

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