Archive for the ‘Fly Fishing’ Category

The Magic Fly Rod

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Darkness was falling and I had to hurry. Nowhere was that more evident than the time it took me to find the eye of the number 16 Parachute Adams. Fifty-eight-year-old-eyes don’t let you forget some things.

But finally it was done. Pulling the tippet snug I could feel the stretch of the monofilament, the barb of the hook biting slightly into the flesh of my thumb.

I had already made a pact with the fishing gods. Just fifteen minutes. This one last pool. Then I’d walk out in the dark. It wasn’t lost on me that there was a tinge of foolhardiness written in that deal. I was risking the rod, after all.

But the limpid last hour of a late spring day has an otherworldly quality to it. I couldn’t help myself.

Kneeling abreast of the boulder at the tail of the pool, I fought the urge to hurry. “Just watch for a minute,” I reminded myself. “You can spare that much.” The head of the pool, forty feet away, was already shrouding into darkness, the light and the water merging into one. My squinting eyes walked slowly back along the rock ledge, the downed log, and the broken riffle, back to where the knee of my waders rested in the water.

“Okay,” I thought to myself. “One cast. That’s all you get. Right there.”

Twenty-five feet.

Looking behind me at the channel in the trees where the line would have to go, I stripped off several handfuls of line. Then with a flip of the rod tip I pulled the line into the air, the leader and the Adams following. I knew I couldn’t see the backcast so I didn’t bother looking. But I could feel the rod load with the same spun, silky smoothness – like a wet kiss – that it had all afternoon and that told me everything I needed to know.

And then the firm stroke rolled forward and the rod had that rightness about it and the line unfurled in a tight curl. At the last minute I released the last couple feet of line from my left hand and watched, satisfied, as the tan line fell quietly to the water. I couldn’t see the leader, certainly not the fly, but I knew where it should be. I had to force myself not to look there.

By all odds, it should have been a bust. No indicator. No way to see. Done.

But the afternoon had already convinced me that the rod brought something special to the game. And so, having slowly stripped two yards of line back as I gauged the drift of the Adams, I wasn’t surprised when some fathomless, preternatural sense, spun out of that graphite blank and down the line to the leader where the fly lay, caused me to lift the rod tip.

And instantly there it was. The weight and the sudden, shocking aliveness of the rod in my hand.

I didn’t land him. I had the pleasure of his acquaintance for the space of only a few heartbeats. Then I heard, and could vaguely see, the skittering jump and the sudden slack line and the aching disappointment.

But it was okay. As I reeled in the line and felt for the soggy fly so I could snip it off, I already knew I had something special. Carefully feeling for the ferrule, I gently prised the two sections apart. As I headed down the trail, slowly making my way back to the truck, I kept marveling at the rod. I didn’t feel embarrassed by the thought that came to mind.

The one that told me I had just been given a bit of magic.


Early October, four decades and change earlier, I’d have been hurrying the half-mile home from where the school bus dropped us off. Quickly changing, I’d grab my rifle and three or four rounds of .22 Long Rifle from the yellow box of Super-X that I carefully husbanded. Then I’d be out the door, anxious to get in the woods. It was squirrel season.

That year Outdoor Life published a story about the Anschutz Model 54 .22 rifle, imported by Savage at the time. I must have read that story a hundred times. I yearned for that rifle more than I can possibly describe. To me it represented, surely, the absolute pinnacle of what a squirrel rifle could be. Had the devil come knocking on the door with one in hand, I would have sold my soul.

Alas, my soul was spared. That Mossberg of mine ended up having to suffice.

And so it was. As I grew into a young man – and then yet into a middle-aged one – Rugers and Remingtons and Winchesters and Smith & Wessons and Colts defined the boundaries of the weapons I acquired.

They were fine, workmanlike weapons. They served me well. I have absolutely no complaints, no regrets. Indeed, I cannot think of that Ruger No. 1 I carried in the November woods for all those years without a smiling fondness. In the shadows of my memory, the place it mostly lives these days, it is like an extension of my arm and my eye and my heart.

But something happened. As I went wending through the years of the sixth decade of my life, I slowly came to understand a bit of wisdom: that the greatest commodity to which we might be graced is not fame or fortune, or power or riches.

It is, simply, time.

It seems a shame to not realize such a truth as a young man, when you have a nearly full bank of the stuff. But no, most of us come to that realization only towards the latter end, after well more than half our allotment has been spent.

It was shortly after acquiring that bit of wisdom, that I remembered. The dream from long ago.

And so I went ahead and bought that Anschutz.

And the first time I squeezed the trigger on a round, one in which the sear broke with an otherworldly rightness, I knew that kid in me from forty-some years earlier had been right.

Sorry it took so long.

And so it was that time was much on my mind when I called Tom Morgan. Tom’s Time. Gerri’s time. My time. Everyone’s time.

I knew, more than anything else, the vastness of what had been lost. What had been put aside by the choices I made as a young man. I knew, as well as anyone, that there was no more time to lose.

I had heard. Now I had to know.

Three-weight. Seven-feet, nine-inches.

When it came, after waiting forever, I sat staring at the long cardboard tube for over a day. That’s another thing that time-wisdom thing gives you… a proper appreciation for slowing some things down. Like lifting that glass with two fingers of good whiskey to your nose and reveling in the spirits there, before taking the first sip.

And when I finally did lift the package, heavier than it should have been, slowly pulling the tape off the end to extract its contents, I was prepared to be amazed. But even that did not prepare me.

I have never owned anything like this. It is exquisite, substantial, sublime in every possible way.

But, of course, that is what it is.

How about what it does?

The answer to that would have to wait a few more days. And then I had my answer.

It is magic.

first look


never to be sold

awaiting its destiny

Of 3-Weights and Brook Trout and Time Lost

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Out of the entire lexicon of fly fishing, “gossamer” is probably my favorite word. It conjures images of a placid pool in the falling half-light of dusk, on a late spring day. The hatch is coming off. And there’s a fisherman standing there, tying a speck of a fly onto a wisp of a line. A hair’s breadth worth of tenuousness.

Raising the rod, the fisherman false casts once, at an angle to where that trout is rising, and then, turning a few degrees, he gently sends the tight curl that is the line back towards where it needs to be. The leader unfurls with a softness that speaks of women and dainty things. And if he is either lucky or good, the fly falls to the water with an almost preternatural lightness. In doing so it encapsulates the hope of everything.


I’ve been away too long. Don’t ask me why. I don’t have a good answer. All I know is that I’m back.

First the half-start of a nodding thought one morning a couple weeks ago. The remembrances, coming slowly at first, but then gaining strength. And then the casual click over to the Orvis site.

They were having a sale: Buy a new rod and they would throw in the reel and line and backing for free.

That old 6-weight Limestone of mine was pushing 30 years old. I wondered what had changed while I was away. What might one of those new 5-weight Helios be like?

And then yesterday, the ride over the mountain on the Harley. I hadn’t been to Harry Murray’s shop in 25 years. It was good to sit and chat with him again.


And now today, standing in this pool with water up to my knees, a 3-weight in my hands. I’ve never fished with a fly rod this light. And at 6’10”, I’ve never fished with one this short. I have brought many questions with me today.

I don’t yet know it, but this will be the best pool of the day. I stand at its tail, after having climbed carefully over the rocks which bound its nether end. My stealth won’t matter. Having tied a #18 ant onto a 6x tippet, my first attempts are ugly. Pulling the tan line out the rod’s tip, I false cast to gain some length, and then attempt to shoot it the twenty feet upstream to the riffle I have in mind. The line falls short, the leader collapsing back upon itself.

Lifting the rod, I try again. Stripping two more arm’s lengths worth of line from the reel, I make the distance this time, but the presentation is anything but clean. I shake my head, wondering if it’s the years of rust or this tiny, new fly rod.

“Slow down. Let it load,” I remind myself as I try a third time. There’s only a single, narrow tunnel of space behind me within which to make a back cast – one of the reasons for the diminutive rod – but this time it all comes together. The line floats back behind me and, like a sail suddenly catching the wind, I can feel the rod filling with energy. When it comes forward the line has that tight curl that is expected of it and the leader unfurls with a graceful beauty.

Having already lined the trout and splayed the water and generally made a mess of things, I already know I won’t catch any fish in this pool. Not today at least. But having found something of the measure of the rod, I decide to stay awhile anyway. I quickly come to enjoy casting the little 3-weight.


It’s funny the little things we forget. It’s supposed to reach over a hundred today. And although it’ll be a few degrees cooler here in the shade and elevation of Shenandoah National Park, there’s no doubt that this is a hot, late-July day. Yet despite wearing long pants and hip waders and a fishing vest, sliding slowly into the water brings an instant, almost blessed relief. A little bit later, edging forward in the pool, I feel sudden coldness on the thigh of my left leg. Glancing down, I confirm that my waders have reached the limit of their protection. I’ve always marveled at how a little creek which at first glance seems to be so boringly shallow can hold water of such surprising abundance.

After awhile my back cast fails me, my fly finding a thick clump of vegetation on which to attach. After retreating to the rear of the pool to rectify that, I sit down on one of the rocks. Snipping off the ant, I pull a #16 Adams from my fly box. Even with my reading glasses and a splash of direct sunlight providing illumination, it takes a dozen stabs with the end of my tippet before I find the eye of the hook. That part of things is certainly very different.


Thirty minutes later I’m half a mile up the trail, looking at other pools. Gazing down into one large pool I see a young woman sitting in the middle in water up to her chest. Her back is to me and my initial disappointment at seeing the spooked pool is given pause when I don’t see bra straps or a bathing suit top. My first thought is that she is skinny dipping. Ginny – who knows me far too well – would probably shake her head and wryly observe that I tend to be overly optimistic. A few minutes later the girl swims towards the ledge where I now see a young man standing. Her boyfriend I suppose. No, she’s not naked after all.


I haven’t seen another fisherman all morning, but my solitude has slowly given way to an increasing murmur of other human voices and the occasional sight of people walking past the stream. The couple swimming in the creek was the last straw and has finally prompted me to turn around.

Working my way slowly back to the truck, I pause as I pass a slot in the trail. Breaking off the path, I drop down through the woods to where I can hear the water. There’s a small pool there. Studying the approach, I discard the direct route down, the one marked by the dull path and the flattened vegetation. Skirting to the lower side, the one hidden from the water by the large rocks in the way, I pick my way carefully through the poison ivy. Bent down among the rocks, I intuit the shape of the pool more than actually see it. Stripping ten feet of line out the rod, I flip the Adams in a tight curl to the side of the pool I cannot see.

The brook trout hits without hesitation. And in an instant my rod is alive, holding within it the vibration that is life itself. Bound to me by a gossamer thread.

The thudding joy I feel, the lift in my chest, is all remembrance. The one I had forgotten.

I think I won’t forget again.