Fly Fishing Relics Deserve A Hallowed Place by Rick Fowler
With the advent of summer I realized my “outdoor stuff” closet needed to be redesigned and redecorated. I discovered seldom-used equipment that needed to be replaced or discarded. Deep in the corner of this space among waders, tackle boxes, shell cases and ice gear, lay an aged fly rod, hand tied flies and a book my grandfather, no doubt, used as his outdoor bible. The carefully crafted rod has been tucked away in my closet for years. Previous to that, my father had placed it in his before he passed away. Dust has settled on the protective tube, which houses the rod, and the denim-like shroud which adds further protection to the three-piece assembly, remained tied at the top in a shoelace knot. I have known these treasures were here, but it has been 15 years since I have sat down with them.
I settled myself onto an old milk crate that I don’t remember why is still in here, released the rod from its confinement, uncapped the flies encased in small test tubes and proceeded to peruse the Outdoorsman’s Handbook, Fifth Edition, published by the Angler’s Guide Company in 1920. Though the first pages I scan are not dog-eared or floppy from constant use, they are worn as if my grandfather’s eyes had read from this section time and time again. My gaze settled onto a non-descript section called “Dry Fly Fishing” and I read the following excerpt from one, Emyln M. Gill.
The writer maintains, without fear or contradiction, that a study of dry-fly methods and at least an occasional use of the dry fly will add very greatly to the pleasure of any wet-fly fisherman, and will enable him at times and under certain conditions to take trout when the wet fly proves unavailing; and to take large fish under conditions where the use of the wet fly will attract at its best only fingerlings.
And in addition to all considerations of how the basket may best be filled, there is a constantly increasing number of anglers who consider sportsmanship methods first, and the size of the basket afterward. There are those who pay very little attention to the number of fish caught, and who derive their principal pleasure on the streams from practicing with the greatest possible degree of skill those methods, which are most artistic and sportsmanlike. If a full basket were the only desire, why not use dynamite and nets, practices that are obnoxious to all anglers?
With Their Work Done…
This seemingly innocent passage seems to have had some merit for my grandfather. Yet, it also merits a second look from me. The author seems to be admonishing those who only know fishing as limiting out, unsatisfied unless the creel has a monster in it, unfulfilled if the day produces zero fish and unable to maintain patience in an area of the stream for more than a few minutes. However, most importantly he also alludes to the fact that anglers need to be sportsman. I sense the urgency in his words, and the warning in his voice. Yet I realize that today, even with the high tech designs of rods and reels, the popularity of this sport has risen but the essence of which Emlyn M. Gill wrote so long ago remains constant. Most fly fishermen and women still find pleasure, artistry and sportsmanship in seeking our river quarry with flies. We still keep to the rule of: “fishing: good trout stream waters carefully, and not disturbing good water before fishing.” However, I wonder if Gill and my grandfather would be proud of our advancements? I wonder if they would admonish us if we left sometimes boiling waters to relocate in pools and still waters of the same river, citing, ‘you can’t be in a hurry!’
With Their Work Done…
My gaze shifts to the bamboo rod. Just above the handle is a LARABEE signature however; I’m not versed in the history of these pliant rods so the maker remains a mystery to me. I wonder though, if the rod maker ever envisioned his labor would survive into the 21st Century? There are a few nicks, especially near the tip and also near the cork handle. I can only imagine how they got there. Perhaps, it was bumped against the steep slope of rocks on the Sturgeon River as my grandfather climbed down to enter its waters. Maybe he laid the rod down against a projecting river rock as he gently released a brookie in the Bear River. Maybe another was a result of getting caught up in the tag alder or cedar saplings that lined the Pigeon River banks. My attention now turns to the flies. I gently release one from its enclosure and it falls into the palm of my hand. It looks like an Adams, but I’m not so sure that it’s not my grandfather’s own design. How many trout did these expertly tied flies fool over the years? How many shore dinners were cooked due to the quality of imitation these designs had? How many nights did he patiently and painstakingly put together these river recipes? During this reflection, my gaze wanders to their encasements. Were these tubes his answer to a dry fly box? Was this collection the extent of his fly repertoire, or were others lost in the decades that followed their introduction to streams and rivers? Did he fish blue-winged olives in June and July like I try to do? Was this Hendrickson his choice for April on the Ausable he dearly loved? Might he have been chastised by his buddies for only using this particular sulphur dun toward the last week in May?
With Their Work Done…
My parent’s years ago decided that they too needed to clean out their closets. Soon a garage sale was in the making. Luckily for me I happened to be home that weekend from college and saw on a table near the garage door my grandfather’s outdoors bible, flies, and rod with price stickers on them. I shudder to think that these gifts might have been lost. As for now, I’m going to reserve a place in my “outdoor stuff” closet for these precious, at least to me, relics. I know I’ll never enter another stream with them again, but each time I open this door, I’ll see them and remember.