On the dedication page of what many consider the finest book on the outdoors ever written in this country, The Old Man and the Boy, Robert Ruark notes that the book is in memory of his grandfathers, his father, and "all the honorary uncles, black and white, who took me to raise."

I suspect that most of those who visit this forum had someone, or maybe several someones, who took them to raise in the sense of introducing them to fly fishing and guiding them as they took their tentative first footsteps down a path of enduring joy.

Certainly I did, and I'll start this new thread by saying that I hope it will provide many of you with the opportunity to thank the person or persons who served as your mentor(s). For me it's a chance to tender a heartfelt thank you even as I look back in longing to my beginnings with the whistling line and long rod.

My primary mentor was my father, Commodore (and yes that was his name, not a military title) Casada, a man who loved fly fishing, who grew up in what is now the Park, and who somehow found time while eking out a hardscrabble living to teach his boys the joys of casting to trout. He gave me my first fly rod (a hand me down South Bend Tonkin Cane 7 1/2 footer which I still own), turned a blind eye on regular visits to his vest to get a few more flies, and most of all took me along from the time I was six until I was old enough to go it alone. It was a gift beyond compare, one which has now lasted for well over six decades and continues to give every time I string up a rod, step in a stream, and make a cast. It was also a great privilege, in his final years, to be able to go back in our joint memories to shared days on Smokies streams (Dad died last January, aged 101, and still full of memories of his times on Deep Creek, Forney, and other streams).

There were other mentors, lots of them--Claude Gossett, Levi Haynes, Alvin Miller, "Hop" Wiggins, Raymond Mitchell, and especially Frank Young--who were part of backcountry trips, patient teachers, or just "heros" who didn't even know I looked up to them as only a starry-eyed boy can do. The names won't mean much to any of you, but I hope you share my thought that it is important for all of us to respect and remember those who "brought us" to sparkling waters and special places.

With that in mind, I hope many others will share their recollections and insights on their mentors, even as I know you'll concur that the best way to repay them is to pass this grand sport on to others (especially coming generations).

Jim Casada

P. S. I'll offer a sort of New Year's gift--if you haven't read Ruark's The Old Man and the Boy, make a point of doing so. It is compelling, wonderful reading, and while it has nothing on fly fishing or the Smokies, the book is full of lessons for the sporting life. A treat awaits you.