Story: Struggle, Hope, and a Return to the River

Written by: Pauly Larkin


Pauly Larkin appreciates his time on the water all the more for his struggles.
Photos courtesy Pauly Larkin

Editor’s note: We get a lot of emails from customers about their experiences with Orvis products, and we appreciate all the feedback, both good and bad. But every now and then, a story really touches us and reminds us that this sport that we love is often life-changing in ways we don’t expect. Here’s one such story.

Earlier this summer, I stood in the McCloud River, breathing in the fresh air, listening to the fresh snowmelt clashing against the rocks. I had made it home, to a place I feared I would never see again.

My name is Pauly. I am twenty-five years old, and for many reasons, I should not be alive to tell my story. But I am, and that is something I will never take for granted.

When I was twelve years old, I was given a gift: Cancer. That may seem like a strange way to view something so traumatic, but truthfully, I wouldn’t still be alive if I saw it that way. This unwanted growth in my body ingrained in me a newfound appreciation for life and its beauty, an appreciation of the little things–especially for those trips to the water. Needless to say, I fought and won that battle, and I never stopped looking for the next river.


In his most difficult moments, Pauly would dream of being back on the McCloud.

Then, a year ago, just when I thought I was in the clear, my left lung collapsed. As a result of the cancer treatments years ago, my body was failing, and I spent months in a hospital bed. I could only imagine the sounds of cold water clashing against my waders, the feel of the smooth cork handle of my rod in my hand.

After a series of ups and downs, I landed myself on the list for a lung transplant, and a new scar was etched onto my body. June 6 marked the one year anniversary of the transplant, and I am pleased to say that I have no plans to stop chasing my dreams about trout water. During my stay in the hospital, my brother and a friend made a promise to me. When I got out, we would travel to a place I feared I would never see again–the McCloud River in Northern California. I am pleased to say that that plan is now a memory I cherish.

On this trip, I used a variety of Orvis products because I knew that they would not fail me. This trip was a milestone for me, and I want you to know that your gear was with me every step of the way.

Pauly Larkin lives in Northern California.

24 thoughts on “Story: Struggle, Hope, and a Return to the River”

  1. I will be 69 years old come August 26, 2018. I have survived a heart attack, cancer, and a stroke and I feel the McCloud River is one of my favorite spot s to fly fishing. I am glad to see that you enjoy this river also.

  2. Pauly- you are a TRUE inspiration. I followed your story through your mom’s posts on FB and am thrilled to know you are now back in the beautiful McCloud fishing your heart out (using your Orvis equipment). Keep on keepin on, very awesome person that you are.

  3. That is a very well-written, inspiring article, Pauly. You must have had a good third grade teacher! Seriously, I was very moved by your article and am thrilled to see that you are following your passions. Maybe writing will be another of them?

  4. Thank you Pauly! The reflection of your journey is very powerful. You are an inspiration to each and every one of us. Go wet that fly!

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