My thoughts on everything from albacore tuna to zebras
| Thirty… or now that I think about it, it’s more like forty years ago; I picked up a fly rod (See my story Flora Belle). It was an ungainly and unforgiving thing, though I didn’t know it at the time. It was 9 ft. long, made of bamboo, and felt rather like a limp noodle in my hand. It came in a battered cloth case and had been passed around the family from one fisherman to another. My cousin Fritz had written his name on the end flap of the case. The case had an aluminum sleeve with three different rod tips; two of which fit the rod; the third did not. The fly line was stuck to the spool like overcooked pasta to the pot. The wicker creel had a hole in the bottom a 20 in trout could easily slip through and the plastic fly box was home to a number of unidentifiable dry flies with rusty, bent and broken hooks. Of all the hands that fly rod had fallen into, I knew of no one, including myself that had any knowledge of fly fishing.
The local sporting goods store sold me a fly line; sinking, floating, double taper, these were never mentioned. They sold me, or more accurately, my Dad some leaders, and the smallest screw eyes I had ever seen. Apparently you screwed one into the end of the fly line and the leader was tied to it. That was most intriguing, and unlike any bait fishing or spinning I had done up to that point. Along with the line and the leader came a handful of something called “poppers” which were unlike any “fly” I had ever seen.
I don’t recall ever catching any panfish on that fly rod, though I do remember fishing for them. I did catch a chain pickerel and that was quite an experience. I was with my Dad in our boat, fly line strewn about, beating the lily pads (literally) in search of panfish when this pickerel emerged from the depths and engulfed my popper. It was a white popper. I had no idea what to do next. My Dad offered advice from the back of the boat while I struggled to gain control of rod, line and fish. Somehow, I’m not quite sure how, the fish ended up in the net and I remember being amazed at its size. It had to be the biggest pickerel in the pond. Imagine my disappointment when Dad said, “It’s not big enough to be legal.” We released the fish and I looked at my pickerel chewed popper in dismay.
My experience flyfishing with that flyrod is filled with a bunch of “nevers.” I never caught a panfish. I never caught a trout. I never landed a largemouth bass. I say landed, because I did hook one. It was a comedy of errors. The fish took the popper. I endeavored to set the hook, much like I would have done with a spinning rod. Not an easy thing to do with a 9 ft. limp noodle. It danced across the water and the lily pads. I struggled with the spaghetti like mass of line at my feet. The fish surged. The reel fell off the rod and plummeted to the bottom of the lake. The fish dove into the lilypads and wrapped my line around them until it broke and he was gone, along with my popper. I retrieved the reel from the bottom of the lake and reeled the line in. I disassembled the rod and placed it in the case. I picked up my spinning rod and went back to fishing. Neither Dad nor I spoke about it. It was the last fish I ever battled with that flyrod.
The flyrod still resides in my collection of fishing paraphernalia. I’m not sure why, but it does. I relegate it the same amount of respect as I do the Popeil’s pocket fisherman my grandmother bought me. Curiously enough, I did catch a 24 in brown trout on the pocket fisherman. And, until lately, I have never given flyfishing much thought at all but when I did, it bothered me that I hadn’t succeeded in mastering this art. After all, above all else, I am, in my soul, a fisherman.
Those of you that have followed my not so current blog will remember a few blogs back where I lamented on my loss of enjoyment and the ability to relax while fishing and hunting. I attributed that to my occupation; Sort of like taking a busman’s holiday. Last August I was treated to a ten-day vacation in our local hospital’s intensive care ward. Without boring you with the details, the reason for my being there, and the subsequent recuperation allowed me ample time to reflect upon what is really important in my life. I made some important discoveries. First, I am not invincible. Maybe I was at 18 or even 30, but not at 52. Second, nothing is more important to me than my family and third, spending time fishing and hunting is something I truly missed and more importantly, something I need. Still I was somewhat hesitant to tackle either, because of health reasons and the fear I had lost the enjoyment forever. I wasn’t able to do much last year, but with the arrival of spring on the horizon I began to make plans for fishing.
My youngest son looked forward to going. That was one of my successes with him. He truly enjoys fishing. I’m not sure that he enjoys it for the same reasons I do, but that really doesn’t matter. My wife too, was looking forward to going. Though, if the truth is known, I believe a part of that is because she is worried about me. No matter, I will use any excuse possible to spend time with her, and spending time in our boat fishing is better yet. We caught fish. Not a lot, but some. Still, I couldn’t help but think something was missing. While the spark, the glowing ember of what made me fall in love with fishing was still there, the excitement that fanned that ember to a steady flame still didn’t seemed to be missing.
One Sunday morning as I leafed through the newspaper I noticed an ad from Bass Pro Shop. Among other things they were selling complete flyrod setups; Line, reel, rod for $69.00. I thought about it. Maybe it was time I gave flyfishing another chance. So after quizzing the salesman, who it turned out I knew, I plunked down the cash for an 8wt rod and picked up some poppers also. I wasn’t going to spend any more money until I figured out if I enjoyed it or not. I tossed the rod into my rod box where it stayed for the next several fishing trips. Then, one evening, while fishing a local lake with my son, the wind died down and I could see some bluegills in the shallows. I remembered the flyrod so I got it out, rigged it up and tied on a popper. The second cast produced a nice fat bluegill and my son was suitably impressed. I asked if he wanted to try it.
With that simple question, my flyrod disappeared and I watched with great amusement enjoyment and envy as he landed one bluegill after another. It was back, the excitement of watching him cast and land bluegill after bluegill fanned that spark
I have had many exciting experiences a fisherman. Experiences where I was both successful and not so. All have provided precious memories, but none will rank up there with my sitting back in the boat and watching my son land those bluegills on the brand new flyrod. Neither of us knew what we were doing, but somehow, for the bluegills, it didn’t matter. I now find myself learning about flies, hanging around the flyshop, anticipating taking a flyfishing class and maybe one day being good enough to land a nice 24-inch brown trout on something other than a Popeil Pocket Fisherman. Somewhere, I’m sure, the original owner of that 9 ft limp noodle flyrod is smiling.