Ashland boy needs a fishing buddy

ASHLAND — Filling a few minutes before school, Noah Kramer pores through his favorite Cabela's catalog in search of the latest bass lures that might work for steelhead in the Rogue River.

Recalling a passage in the "New Encyclopedia of Fishing," he cross-references his notion. Just to be sure, the 11-year-old Ashland boy then skims the book "Ultimate Freshwater Fishing" about steelhead's propensity to bite certain lures.

Finally he's satisfied the lure is worth buying someday.

"I love fishing," Noah says. "My mind's always on it. I constantly think about when I should go, where I should go, what I should be using. It's so much fun.

"Plus," he says, "it kind of calms me down."

To say Noah likes to talk about fishing is more than an understatement: it's a diagnosis.

Noah has Asperger's syndrome, a developmental disorder whose symptoms include an abnormally intense focus on a single subject. For Noah, that's fishing.

It's like his brain is hard-wired into The Outdoor Channel, but in Noah's life the cable isn't hooked up. In a non-fishing family, this compulsive angler needs more than countless catalogs and stacks of reference books to satisfy his fishing fix.

All Noah wants for Christmas is for someone to take him fishing: a couple of members of a club; a grandfatherly retiree with an open seat in his boat; anyone.

"I just want him to have a fishing buddy," says Joyce Van Anne, Noah's mother. "I take him when I can, but I don't know anything about fishing. Besides, it's not the same doing it with your mom. He wants to be a fisherman."

It wasn't always fishing. Noah channeled his early Asperger's into Legos.

In preschool, he became enthralled with hoarding the plastic building blocks and creating geometrically precise buildings that had to be perfect.

"It's the intensity that makes it different," Van Anne says.

It could easily have been train schedules, sports statistics, weather or maps. Those are some of the common focuses among the estimated two in every 10,000 kids who have this version of autism that affects their ability to socialize and communicate.

Sometimes the eccentric behaviors are perpetual hand-wringing or ritual dressing. On the flip side, Asperger's kids often develop exceptional talents or skills in specific areas, and they usually can't help but share their extensive knowledge.

"People just think I'm smart and talkative," Noah says.

The obsessions come from nowhere, stay for no specific period and leave for no apparent reason. When present, they are as indelible as birthdays.

"We can trace his interests," Van Anne says. "He's kept a list."

In kindergarten, a simple pop-up book turned Noah on to oceans. From there, he switched to ships. Then to the Titanic, then to airplanes and eventually World War II. As a 5-year-old, he became obsessed with battles and armaments, insisting that the airplanes he drew in class had the proper Japanese and Nazi markings on the wings.

"We joke that, whatever his special interest is at the time, at least it's not Nazis," Van Anne says.

Nazis gave way to water purification systems. Then camping. Spy gear. Comic books. Foreign currency. Football. Bikes. Watches. James Bond. They all took turns front and center under Noah's intense mental spotlight.

"With my Asperger's, whatever it is stays as long as I like it," Noah says. "It's all guesswork."

In preschool, Noah was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. A special-education evaluator, Van Anne saw grade school patterns that suggested Asperger's, but wouldn't acknowledge her own hints.

"When does it go from typical to weird?" she says. "Besides, I was in a bit of denial."

The denial ended with Noah's diagnosis in fourth grade. The family freely discusses the syndrome with Noah, who understands his "Asperger's moments" are part gift and part affliction.

"Sometimes I really like it because I can memorize extreme amounts of information," Noah says. "But I can never remember to take out the trash. I guess it just depends upon whether it matters to me."

Fishing began to matter immensely to Noah in August, during the family's annual vacation with friends at a cabin along the middle Rogue River near Galice. A few casts of a bass plug became a five-day preoccupation.

"He got the fishing pole out and he cast and cast and cast," Van Anne says. "He stopped talking."

When an 18-inch summer steelhead inexplicably bit his bass plug, Noah became more hooked than the fish.

"It was so much fun fighting the fish," Noah says. "I was so happy with myself."

He caught a rainbow trout and a squawfish before that first trip to the Rogue ended.

Back in Ashland, Noah's appetite for fishing information expanded. He sought out the catalogs and the reference books and newspaper articles. He checked out every fishing book from the Ashland Middle School library, reading and rereading everything he could get his hands on.

"It's all fishing all the time," Van Anne says.

One main crutch is the Cabela's Spring Master's Catalog 2007, 472 pages of daily discoveries. The 288-page "New Encyclopedia of Fishing" and "Ultimate Freshwater Fishing" are like bedtime stories.

"I've only read them two times, cover to cover," Noah says. "But I skim them every day."

In between, he designs, creates and paints his own lures, testing them on bullfrogs and mosquito fish in a neighbor's pond.

But that's not good enough.

Noah's actually fished only five times. He aches for the real thing.

"My problem is there's nothing near me where I can fish," Noah says.

Van Anne says she can drive him to Emigrant Lake or the Rogue, and she can sit shivering on the bank while Noah gets his fix.

Only a real fisherman with some space in his boat and some patience in his heart can help Noah turn his obsession into an avocation.

"The river is the happiest place in the world for us," Van Anne says. "I don't want it to be all about searching through catalogs and buying stuff. Noah needs to be there with someone who can share his interests.

"He needs a fishing buddy," she says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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