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)