Al Campbell, Field Editor

October 11th, 2004

One Great Guy (Guest Column)
By Elliott Warshaw, Rapid City, SD

I like to flyfish. I like the visual appeal when you watch someone flyfish. I liked the idea of flyfishing before I ever saw A River Runs Through It. The only problem was that I lived in Illinois, nowhere near a good trout stream.

I went to an Outdoor Show where a local flyshop owner had a booth. When I asked him where flyfishing could be done, he looked at me and said, "Where is there water?" That opened my eyes and it wasn't long after that I had my first flyrod.

By necessity, I am a flyfisher on a budget. That flyshop owner was very patient with me, answering all my questions, and warmly accepting even the smallest of purchases that I made. However, one walk through the price tags of his or any other shop that I came across, and I felt like I was a bit of an outsider looking in.

And then, one day, my flyfishing life took a huge turn for the better. Finding FAOL was a big deal to me. It made me feel, not like I was being judged, but like I belonged to the "fraternity." It was open, honest, and packed with so much useful information, I nearly exploded with excitement. I spent a great deal of my free time that first week reading articles, dreaming of all the trout waiting for me to bring to net, and learning. Mostly, I learned.

I did a lot of learning reading Al Campbell's articles. I was so inspired by some of his writing that I even sent him an e-mail one day thanking him for his contributions to the flyfishing world (at least MY flyfishing world). Corny? Maybe, but it just felt right. Al sent back a nice reply, and that was the end of it. Or so I thought.

Fate loves to step in and do you a favor now and again. My favor was that I was allowed to transfer to Rapid City, SD. I couldn't believe my luck. Trout streams, more trout streams, and even a guy named Al Campbell were now going to be easily within my reach. Little did Al know what he had in store for him.

I think I had been in town about 14 whole hours before I made my way to where he works. I introduced myself, and we talked for a while. As it turned out, it was a long while. He answered all my questions (and I had a bunch) and we talked about fishing, Rapid City, the restaurant I ran, and more fishing. I walked away thinking, "What a great guy."

Al is a walking encyclopedia of flyfishing and tying knowledge. He is more than willing to share his experiences with you. He doesn't have a whole lot of patience, though, for people who are looking for the easy way out. I don't much blame him, either. It must be very tiresome to have people ask you for your wisdom and get mad when you don't serve it up the way they want to receive it.

Once, when I asked what pattern I should use in the streams, he directed me to some of his articles on fly patterns. Al has a funny way of making you learn while he's helping you out. I tied up some Al's Foam Hoppers and promptly caught my first Black Hills trout. A small brown, with the brightest red spots I had ever seen. I hopped in my car, drove back to town, and made a beeline for Al. I walked up to him in the store, thrust out my hand, darned near shook his off, and thanked him half a dozen times for the help. I showed him one of the hoppers I had tied and got the best response I could have ever hoped for. "Now that's one of the best I've seen done". Wow, was I grinning ear to ear as I went home to tell my wife the story.

In January, when I was talking to Al about my consistent ability to not catch fish, he said, "We'll have to go out sometime. Maybe we can figure it out." Out we went, in the cold with the snow on the ground. He showed me how he catches the trout. As a matter of fact, he showed me how he caught trout three times that day. I didn't catch any. The funny thing about it, though, was that Al considered the day to be a loss. A loss? He caught three fish! When I told him so, he just said, "The idea was for you to catch a fish." A few weeks later, I went back to the same spot and, twitching a black nymph as it started to rise at the end of the drift (just like Al showed me), I caught another trout. Probably the same one Al caught, but that's OK by me.

Thinking back, most of the trout that I've managed to catch have come directly from advice that Al has shared. One day, in honor of the guy, I even named an FAOL flyswap in his honor. He became the honorary judge of the Al Campbell Wannabe Flyswap. I think I named it that because I was an AC Wannabe. The rules were simple. You could tie any pattern you wanted, as long as it was an Al Original. I tied my favorite pattern, the Al's Foam Hopper. I think it spoke volumes for how people feel about Al because, even though most folks were "swapped out," when they saw that Al was involved, the swap filled up very fast (I thought it was my bribe of a prize, but it was Al). Everyone seemed to enjoy it and there was even talk of a pony ending up on the prize table. Fortunately for me, with postage being what it is these days, the prize was a lot smaller.

I see Al now and again, sometimes when he comes by the restaurant, but mostly when I sneak away to his workplace for some conversation, window-shopping, and the occasional purchase. He always has time to stop and talk. It was during one of these visits the other day when he told me he hadn't been feeling well and was off to the doctor's the next day. Actually, he said he never felt this bad in his entire life. I was concerned. I wrote him an e-mail a few days later asking how his visit went. No reply. Tonight I went trolling for Al in the chat room. I asked if anyone had heard from him. That's when I heard the news. He is, indeed, very ill.

I am here now asking you for a simple favor. Would all you AC Wannabe's please keep Al in your thoughts and prayers? He's always been there for us. It's our turn to be there for him.

Get well soon, Al! ~ Elliott Warshaw (ilmbaba)

Previous Al Campell Columns

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