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