Friday, October 4, 2002

Musings Upon Another Season’s End

I’ve written before on the end of trout season. It’s often a melancholy time for me. I’ve never liked endings, even temporary ones like the passing of trout season. Perhaps in an attempt to distract myself, for the past few years I’ve taken to hosting a party of sorts on the last day of the season. I invite a few friends – whoever can come – to join me on some stream and fish the day away.

When the day’s fishing is done, the waders peeled off, rods stowed, and the initial reports of fish caught and missed submitted, we try to go for a nice dinner somewhere. I always envision a large tender steak or a big plate of pasta with a nice red wine, but it often turns out to be burgers and beer at a local bar & grill. Regardless, I haven’t fished alone on September 30 for a while, though often one or more need to cut out early. That’s OK. I understand the demands of family and job as well as the next guy.

This year was typical. Four of us fished the Rush River near Martell, WI. Some of us even caught a lot of fish. Not me of course. Still, it was a good time to walk in, get to the stream, split up and fish for an hour or two, then join up again by chance and get the report of the last hour’s angling.

I caught up with Bill at one likely looking pool just before he caught the fish of the day – a 16” brown male. Too bad I didn’t have a camera to document the catch. Still, it’s there in our minds’ eyes. Bill then generously gave up the pool to let me catch one, a nice 9” brook trout – my personal best that day. Man, even if they’re small, brookies’re pretty in September!

An hour later, after I’d landed two or three, I caught up with Lew and got his report: 15, although some were pretty small. Kind of like I felt at the time! We found Brian and Bill and walked back to the car for lunch before diving into the woods again in search of more trout, not really wanting the season to end.

Of course, darkness came and the season did end. Three of us (one had to head out early for a son’s hockey practice) went into Hudson for dinner and had a final celebration. Nothing big, just some chat about fish, jobs, kids, spouses… life. I’ve said it before, it’s funny the modest extent to which fishing involves catching fish. The fish, they’re not meaningless of course. I love to catch ‘em. But really, they’re just a catalyst for making a life that’s worth living.

Saturday, April 27, 2002


I learned to tie flies several years ago and I’ve always enjoyed it, though I haven’t done nearly enough. The natural extension of this sort of behavior of course is that you start playing around with new designs. In fact, most folks will tell you that this is a major draw to fly tying in the first place – the chance to create your own fly and catch fish with it.

So this is what I did a few years back. Based upon the brassie concept, I simply put a brass bead on a hook, wrapped some tin weight behind it, and covered the whole mess with some bright red floss. I tied in a bit of black dubbing right behind the bead and thought the result might be part stimulator pattern and part caddis emerger. I’d never seen anything like it, so when I started catching fish with it, my daughter and I dubbed it “Ed’s Special” kind of like Lefty’s Deceiver or the Troth Caddis. I didn’t noise the naming part around too much though. It was mostly a private thing between father and daughter.

Well, it turns out I spent one of the most enjoyable half hours I’ve ever spent on a trout stream, fishing to a small pod of fish with that fly. They were in a tiny hole on the Rush River, no bigger than my kitchen. Of course I was backed up to high and heavy brush and had to stand so close to the fish that I couldn’t hide. I could see them everywhere and miraculously, they didn’t spook. I could have stood there all day long, watching them take nymphs and fight for position.

I threw that Special to the head of the pool and took fish on every third or fourth cast for quite a while. Some were small – seven or eight inches – but one or two were in the 12” to 15” range. I watched every one I caught turn on its side and take my fly. MY FLY! I’d invented it, I’d tied it, I fished it, and the fish ate it! Surely no greater thing could happen to a fly fisherman.

So with a mixture of pride and modesty, I presented a few to Bill one morning as we headed out. He took one look and said, “Nice flies. Serendipities. Thanks.”

My ego hasn’t fully recovered to this day.

Friday, March 8, 2002


I recently read A Flyfisher’s World by Nick Lyons. It’s a nice anthology of his magazine articles from the early ‘90’s. I recommend it. As I was reading, it occurred to me that Mr. Lyons is one of my fly fishing heroes. He has successfully blended fly-fishing, writing, and publishing into a wonderful career. Of course this career has not been without its frustrations and compromises. In fact, those very frustrations and compromises are at the heart of many of Mr. Lyons’ stories.

This realization about heroes got me to thinking about other fly fishers who are heroes to me. There is a retired gentleman and former club president here by the name of Hugh who pretty much gave me my start with my local club (MN Fly Fishers). Two other former club presidents named Greg and Brian are the standards by which I measure my casting (and surely I fall far short). My good buddy and Best Man Lew taught me to fish with nymphs and thereby multiplied the number of fish I catch several-fold.

Ask another friend of mine Bob about the relative merits of various dog breeds, or my good friend Bill about the finer points of wading in ranch country, or retired writer Jack about any of a thousand things in the heritage of fly-fishing. All three carry fabulous knowledge and great good humor to liven a western fishing trip. A woman I know named Ellen ties the most beautiful Blue Winged Olives I’ve ever seen. I catch fish with flies I’ve tied myself because she taught me how to tie them. I shall be her student always.

Now probably none of these people would think of themselves as heroes. If asked, they’d just say they were trying to pass on a little bit of knowledge here and there, helping some folks along the way, that sort of thing. They’d probably be a little self-conscious to know I was mentioning them here but I feel fortunate indeed to count them all as friends. I try to give back a small measure of what they’ve given me – a few flies, a kind word, or help with a fouled line. But what can you give back to a Nick Lyons or a Lefty Kreh or a Gary Borger? Yes, we might run across these folks somewhere. (In fact, Brian ran into Lefty Kreh on Christmas Island once and has been calling himself “Righty” ever since.) If we ever do see these folks, we might say a quick, half-embarrassed “Thanks,” but can we count on that? I think not. I decided the way I can say “Thank You” to these folks is by the concept of paying forward. I think that’s what they’d want, too.

It works like this. Watch these people. Emulate the ones you admire. That’s what heroes are for. Do what you can to do what they do, then put your own stamp on it. Share the knowledge you gain by doing so. Show a son, a daughter, a spouse or friend a new fly, a cast or a technique. Learn all you can about whatever interests you, whether it’s streamside bugs, fly line tapers, rod materials, flyfishing literature, or a new place to buy outdoor gear. Then pass it along – pay it forward. Be a quiet, half-self-conscious hero to the next generation.

It's Not About the Toys

I was just doing some e-mail administration and cleanup and I came across some stuff from an e-mail listserve discussion thread of a while back about why we fish with bamboo rods. I thought I'd pass on this little bit of flotsam.

This happened one evening when I was fishing in western Wisconsin in the spring of 1998. It was one of those beautiful May evenings we get too few of around here. I pulled up to one of my favorite spots and noted only one car parked there. I thought myself lucky, as this place is also one of everybody else's favorite spots. I got out of my car and walked onto the bridge, as is my wont, just to check out the stream. It was running well if a bit cloudy. Downstream about 200 yards I could see the owner of the other car, slowly casting across and downstream. I didn’t think much about it and turned to gear up.

As I finished pulling on my waders, an older gentleman came walking out of the woods - the fisherman from downstream. We shyly greeted each other. Shyly, because in this day and age you aren't ever sure if you're welcome at the stream, even though the law and fishing regulations may be on your side. When we both figured out we were "friendlys," he came over and we started to chat. He was fishing with his son, he said. He was visiting from Florida and they had a chance this evening to wet a line. His son runs a commercial graphics business in the northern metro of Minneapolis/St. Paul and is pretty busy.

The old gentleman mentioned that he hadn't fished in ten years. First the move to Florida, and more recently cancer had cut into his fishing. The disease had ravaged his casting arm to the point where it looked like he’d taken a grenade in Korea. His elbow was covered with a bandage from his most recent surgery. He said he'd been in and out of the hospital eight or nine times in the last three years, but he felt he was holding his own. I allowed as how perhaps the fishing was the best therapy he could find at this point and he heartily agreed. I tried but I couldn't take my eyes off his arm, wondering at the courage I felt it took to fish when he wasn't even healed from the knife. It made the scratches I'd gotten earlier in the evening from a patch of thistles look pretty silly.

We talked some more about how big the fish were – or weren't – in this stream, and whether it mattered. We decided it didn't. Just to have the opportunity to catch them was all either of us needed. Seven inches or twenty-two, the privilege was the same.

I waded in and started to fish while he watched. As I moved upstream, he started chatting with a couple of farm kids who came down with their worms to try their luck. I got involved with my tangled line and then a fish or two and lost sight of him. The next time I turned around, he was still talking to the kids.

When I finally got back to the car a few hours later, he was gone. He and his son had that evening of fishing that they wanted and that he needed. I hope it makes the difference for him.

Oh yeah – he fished with a 35 year old Shakespeare fiberglass rod and a shiny green automatic reel. You see, it’s not about what the rods are made of. Fishing’s not about the toys. It’s about wearing them out with people you love.