Misty water colored memories
Here is a quick recap of how it all started for me.......... it is hard to believe that this story is over forty years old and that the "old man" is long gone.......... but certainly not forgotten ....... hopefully my boys have caught the fly fishing bug from me and that the chain will continue .......as it should.
It is funny how a split second visual, a smell or even a sound can trigger very specific, detailed and distinct memories in our subconscious. Such was the case as the once purple rod sock which had faded to an almost pink color like the washed out lateral lines of a hatchery rainbow slid out of the familiar battered purple rod tube. The smell of the varnish and the honey color of the cane sent me back many years. This was my dad's fly rod, over 50 years old and still solid and firm. As I held the rod I felt myself transported to another place and time with a memory that seemed as vivid and real as the rod in my hands.
The sun was warm on my back, but not quite warm enough to burn off the slight chill the mid morning air still held. Southern Colorado high country was a blessed relief from the oppressive mid summer heat of central Texas. I was as happy as a 7 year could be. We were on our annual two week vacation to the mountains around Creede, a trip that I looked forward to with more anticipation than even Christmas which for a young boy says a lot. I had just returned from a 2 hour horseback ride which was one of my favorite activities but not the one I had frantically been hoping I would be allowed to do this morning. I wanted to go fishing like the grown ups did, not bobber fishing in the kiddie pond but real fishing with a fly rod in the Rio Grande River just like my daddy. A mythical, magical form of fishing with long flexing rods and waves of line rolling across the sky like the tips of ocean surf, unfortunately however, it was a form of fishing that my parents considered to difficult and dangerous for a young boy like me. My short sighted parents just couldn’t see how important it was to me. As grown ups often do, they refused to listen to reason and wouldn’t let me go fly fishing regardless of my well stated and convincing arguments of “ppplllllease caaaaannnn I huh ppplllllease”, lips quivering and tears welling up in my eyes. No matter how hard I cried or how much of a fit I threw they refused to see how grown up I really was.
Even the beauty of the mountains around me couldn’t pull me out of my funk as I entered the cabin feeling all misunderstood and under appreciated. My mother told me to go change into some old clothes and old tennis shoes, as I had an errand to run. I rolled my eyes at her in that ever so endearing and intellectual way that most 7 year olds have of non-verbally saying “ahhhhhhaaa moommm doooooo I haaave toooooooooo”. She swatted me on the butt hard enough to get my attention but not hard enough to cause much pain and told me to “do as I was told and don’t sass me”. Even with all of my protests I knew enough to basically follow that advice, I may have been 7 but I wasn’t totally stupid. I changed quickly, dreading having to do an errand on this beautiful day. Mom told me to run lunch down to my dad who was fishing on the river and handed me a sack filled with a can of Vienna sausages, a hard boiled egg, a box of raisins and a single can of cold Coors (which as every Texas or Oklahoma kid of the era could tell you must be really special stuff cause you couldn’t get it at home only in CO … … and it sure put dad in a good mood). I asked her if that meant I could go down to the river by myself which was normally “off limits” and she softly agreed. She said dad would be almost to the big bend just up from the highway bridge on this side of the river. I knew exactly where she meant and dashed off before she could even finish the obligatory “you be careful and don’t get wet”. Of course that meant I was required by kid logic to take the short cut, the one that required I jump across the creek. I couldn’t let the cold beer get warm by taking the longer dryer route could I? The creek loomed ahead, it was a simple 3 foot jump, no sweat at all. My adrenalin was pumping so hard and I was running so fast I leapt like a cat, practically flying over the creek and clearing the other bank by at least a foot. Then why did my shoe and pants feel wet? Oops, guess I over shot my take off point and started my jump about a foot into the creek. I looked down at my wet jeans and my soggy white Chuck Taylor Converse. Oh well it would dry quickly I’ll bet no one will notice. Hey if I scuff my feet in the dirt of the road I bet it will dry quicker, great idea huh. So I bounded down to the river, not a care in the world. I soon found my dad standing in the river almost exactly where my mom had said he would be. I stood back in awe as I watched him sea-saw the rod through the air somehow snake charming the line into actually casting that teeny tiny grizzly wulff (and yes even at 7 I knew it was a grizzly wulff cause that is all my dad fished in those days). The sun was warm and the air scented with pines as I stood transfixed, watching the grace of his casts and the magic of the fly riding those crystal clear currents flowing over rocks and boulders of every imaginable color size and shape all framed against the backdrop of the blue green silhouette of the mountains. I had no idea how long I had stood watching this wonderful ritual my dad called fly fishing but suddenly I was jerked out of my reverie as I simultaneously saw and heard a small splash in the vicinity of where I had last seen his fly. His rod bent in a deep arc and pulsed and pumped in a way I had never seen my little zebco do with those monstrous six-inchers I catch at the kiddy pond … … this must be a giant. Sure enough I saw a gold and brown shape darting wildly about in the clear water. What no rainbow, this must be one of those “germanbrown” thingys I had heard my dad talk about. The battle was hard fought but brief and soon enough, he held the wiggling fish in his hand. It seemed larger than any fish I had ever seen. He held it a second admiring its beauty and quickly slipped the hook out of its mouth. I was entranced by the sight of the fish and couldn’t take my eyes off of it … … that is until dad popped the poor thing over the head with the bone handled butt of his knife and adeptly slipped the fish into his creel. I remember feeling surprise at the swiftness of the fishes dispatch but also a sense of pride that my daddy could actually catch something that we could eat, a true mountain man living off the land or river. I finally made the connection between the dead cleaned fish dad layed out in the sink when he took them out of his creel and the living swimming versions wild and free in the river. (keep in mind this was forty years ago and catch and release was just a new concept barely gaining ground ...... besides keeping the occasional hatchery trout isn't a mortal sin... at least in my opinion) (half way there)
Dad seemed to sense me watching him and turned to face me standing on the riverbank, smiling in that special welcome he always had for me. I made me swell with pride and love just to see him. It was almost like a physical hug passed between us even though we were separated by 15 feet of flowing river. His eyes quickly scanned my body, taking in the leg of my jeans which were a wet soggy gray-brown from the knee down and the one shoe which was the color of good pinto beans compared to the other white one. His eyes crinkled a little more into silent laughter as he said “you took the short cut cross the creek didn’t ya”. And my eyes got wide as once again my dad proved that my parents were magic wizards who could see everything, how did they do that. He waded to shore and draped his big arm around my shoulder as he took the lunch from my hands and steered me to a big grassy swell where we sat down. He began to eat in silence as he stared out at the river and the mountains and I could see the far off look of satisfaction and contentment in his eyes as he slowly chewed and watched the beauty of the country that surrounded us. I was in heaven just being allowed to be down here, so happy just to be sitting here with him that for once I sat stock still and didn’t say a word. I felt a chill on my arm where my dad was pressing the golden can of Coors which meant that I would be the one who got the honor of pulling the pop-top. I pulled with all of my strength, finally being rewarded with that soft sizzle of victory and the sight of the tab end pulling away from the stark white foam gently rising out of the opening. I could smell the beer as I bent the pop-top so the ring stuck out of the top of the can and the tab was bent back inside the can just the way my dad had taught me so the tabs wouldn’t fall out and litter. I gave him my most imploring look and he gently nodded and I got to take my very first sip … just barley getting a taste or maybe even just a smell but somehow that taste and smell lodged in my brain as a part of him, an enduring association. I watched his throat as he took a long deep pull of the cold beer somehow sensing how refreshing to was to him after a full morning of fishing. After he put the can down he turned toward me kind of frowning, saying “your wet ... your mom is gonna be mad”. I cringed knowing he was probably right this was the fourth time I had fallen in that creek already this vacation … … and we had only been here for two days … … guess I should quit taking the short cut, huh. He was silent for a while still watching the world around him, then he said "tell ya what I‘m gonna do … … when your mother is mad at you she is mad at the rest of us as well … … so I am not going to tell her about you falling in the creek … … and to explain why you are wet we will tell her you went fishing with me”. My heart leapt did this mean……….? He continued “and since I have always taught you not to lie to your mother and to always tell us the truth, I guess I really have to let you … … just to make it the truth … … you understand”. The size of the grin that instantly split my face was so big he started laughing in spite of himself. I hugged him reveling in the feeling of solid warmth that radiated out of his large body into my own little one. We stood together and he picked up his fly rod while we walked to the river. The bite of the ice cold river shooting through my chuck taylor’s and jeans was so strong that I gasped in shock. “Cold huh” was all he said as he wrapped his arm around my waist and steered and me around and over the boulders that lined the riverbed to the spot where he had been standing when I saw him catch that fish. I felt his body supporting me against the current that was trying to push me downstream while I fought to get upstream. (A metaphor I was somehow able to catch, even at 7 years old and one which has never left me as I always knew he supported me in every thing I do). I was in a trance of swirling excitement which was almost too strong to even be able to grasp much more than the general concept that I was finally going to get to fly fish. He placed the rod in my hand; I felt the worn smoothness and slight ridging of the grip, I remember how large it was in my small hands. I felt his hands close over mine as he began to draw my arm back in the classic slow dance between two and ten that most of us recognize as a fly cast. The line just kind of twitched the first few time not really flowing in precise waves like his had, but he gently helped me apply a little more pressure at the right times and soon enough we had a true fly cast sailing through the air. How long we stood like that; me wrapped in his arms while he gently lead me through casting motions and the basics of stripping in line while following the bouncing and dipping of the grizzly wulff riding high on the gin clear current backlight by sunshine reflecting off the stones of the river bottom like a natural spot light, I can't honestly tell you. But I can say if it were up to me ... ... we might still be standing there today.
Then suddenly the unexpected happened, a dark shadow detached from the flashing camouflage of color along the bottom and darted to the surface in a kamikaze attack on that grizz. I didn’t move an inch, I felt as if I was watching this bigger than life at a drive in movie; all dressed up in my pj’s in the very back of dad’s I-H Travelall. Dad’s fishing instincts were strong enough that he somehow raised my arm in a hook set in spite of the shock that he must have felt in a fish actually rising to such pitiful fishing. I felt the rod flex under the weight of the fish and the pulsing of the fish on the other end of the line echoed the pulsing of the blood in my veins. I felt dad’s arms drop away and heard him say in a clear soft voice those immortal words that I have echoed so many times to countless others over the years “get your rod tip up … … take your time … … we aren’t in a hurry”. At first I just stood there legs braced against the current and the pull of the fish just locked there trying desperately not to screw this up, which was my natural tendency with anything new or unfamiliar. My next reaction was to start reeling like a mad man, zebco training at it’s very best. Dad quickly reached out and stopped my frantic reeling repeating “take your time … he will come when he is ready”. The rest of the fight is but a blur to my over stimulated brain … … and my next memory is of my dad slipping the net under the 11 inch rainbow who was now at our feet doing gymnastic flip flops while body surfing on the surface of the Rio Grande. The feeling of relief when I saw that fish slip safely into the net cannot accurately be described. I collapsed back against my dad letting him support me while I tried to get control of my breathing and my whirling thoughts. I watched as he unhooked the fish and handed the net to me. I stared in wonder at this creature slowly fining in the lee of the net. I watched the fish until I felt the weight of a bone handle knife being pressed into my arm which were shaking with adrenalin rush. I took the knife feeling the heft of the counter weighted handle in my hand, turning it around so that I held the blade just as I had seen my dad do and popped this beautiful gift from the fish gods solidly on the brain pan. I felt a strange exhilaration mixed with sadness as the fish twitched once and then ceased all other movement. The sadness faded quickly however as dad taught me how to clean the fish. After that was done, dad and I walked back to the cabin. Me about two steps in front … … my fish hanging limply from my hooked finger and my feet about two feet off the ground in my pride and excitement of the moment. As we passed other cabins people stopped to comment on my beautiful fish which they couldn’t help but notice, because I would practically hit them with it if they didn’t make a comment to admire it. They always asked if I “caught that by myself’ and I would answer “yep all by myself no help from anybody”. The first time I gave that answer I remember twisting quickly to see if dad was going to correct me by telling the whole truth but he just nodded and smiled, thus giving parental approval to my first but definitely not my last embellished “fish tale”.
As the memory faded from my forty seven year old brain, I looked at the rod in my hands and realized how much it had faded as well. I thought back to the passage of time, the changes in Broadacres ranch and the river in Creede, the cabin that my parents had built there some 15 years later, my transformation from uncertain youth to uncertain father of two who already have fly fishing memories of their own, and finally the sadness of the passing of my father. But still the changes and flow of time hadn’t dimmed my pleasure in that wonderful memory. I decided on the spot to restore the rod to the way I remembered it, the way it should be.
And to try and write this story down to preserve it as well.
Please take a minute and recapture your own fishing memories and more importantly take a child fishing, either yours or someone else’s, and help them establish memories of their own. After all that is the only way we can build a new generation of fly fishermen and women.
anyone that made it all the way through that long winded narrative without any pictures without skipping around deserves a "brownie button" or a cold beer.......... your choice
I can only sum that up into two words....GREAT STORY:biggrin:
It would be great to be able to have that cold beer with dad but as you pointed out, for many of us that day has long past.
Wow! What a great story! Very well written! Thanks for sharing.
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