There seems to be a lot of discussion lately
concerning purists, elitists; putting fly fishermen,
and women in upper classes, damned near comparing
some to royalty and others as having no class at
all. It almost began to bother me, then I thought
to myself, why should it?
I was a lucky kid growing up with both parents, and
luckier than that, two parents who loved to fish.
Did they ever contemplate such ideals as purism or
elitism? Nope, never crossed their minds and sure
as hell never crossed mine as a youth growing up
in Auburndale, Florida.
I was asked to write this column, and I agreed with
a lot less enthusiasm than one may have expected. I
agreed to it only after I asked that I not be expected
to write just about fly fishing, or just fishing, for
that matter. I even warned Deanna and J. C. I might
just get on a soapbox from time to time, but so far
I haven't. Well, this article might take me there.
Carlos Okla Henderson was my dad, and he certainly
wasn't a purist, or elitist. He fished mostly for
fun and for good eatin' bluegills, shellcrackers,
bass and speckled perch. But he did fly fish with
cane. Surprised? Don't be. The cane was a sixteen
foot, cane pole bought at Maggie's Bait House and
rigged with a length of eight-pound test monofilament
line, and a cork-bodied poppin' bug bought at Fred
Baugh's Shoe Repair and Tackle Shop, right across
the street from Maggie's place.
Fred's shoe and tackle shop always smelled of
leather and shoe glue and cigars, and I'm pretty
sure Fred wasn't a purist either, except maybe in
replacing someone's worn out soles on the bottoms
of their old brogans. Fred's place was also
somewhere everyone in town gathered to BS about
fishin' and huntin', or stand around and shoot
the breeze with Fred while he fixed their shoes.
Maybe even purist is the wrong word. Fred was more
of a perfectionist, actually, when it came to shoe
repair. Fred's gone now, so is his shop, and the
art of repairing shoes, mostly. Gone are the many
cards of brightly-colored cork bugs that were hung
on a thin wire just above the shotgun shells that
were stacked on the worn, wooden floor.
No, Dad surely wasn't a purist or elitist either,
but he was a perfectionist in the carpentry field.
That was his trade, and what he put together with
wood and nails bore his trademark, his name, and
was so marked with five dots appearing as the
number five on the side of a die. Fishing was
reserved for enjoyment, nothing more, and
certainly nothing less, but in the same sense,
a sort of religion and that's the fiber he passed
on to me. Pure enjoyment, that's all.
I wear the title of "captain." So what? It only
means I know enough about boats and waters that
I so happened to pass a lengthy test. Just don't
call me Captain in public; I'll probably turn
around to see who you're talking to. Just call
me Gary, or Flats or Dude, and please don't call
me Mr. Henderson, that is a title reserved for
my dad, or his dad. Oh, you can label me as a
perfectionist, though. I am that. The flies I
tie, the care of my equipment, my glasswork,
my cooking. But isn't that part of my structure
my dad and folks like Fred passed on to me? You
bet it is.
Let me get back to Fred's shop. His warm and
inviting place, and those like it, has all but
disappeared around these parts. A venue where
one could just show up and spend a few minutes
seeking advice from an expert, not an elitist.
Fred could multi-task, and with a short stub
of a cigar tightly gripped in the corner of
his mouth, would lecture, as long as one stood
there, on the subjects of fishing, hunting,
outdoor life, or life in general, all the while
cutting a piece of thick cowhide in the shape of
the sole of a shoe. I'm afraid if one had ever
referred to Fred Baugh as an elitist, Fred would
probably have thrown them out of his shop. Purist?
Not really. Fred hunted bear, deer, and ducks;
basically anything in season, not sticking to one
certain variety, and he was a guy who taught his
two sons to do the same. He fished all waters for
all fishes with every piece of tackle he stocked
in his store, and I'm pretty sure he sold my dad
his first and only fly-rod and automatic reel; mom's
fly-rod came from Fred's place, too. I bought my first
over and under shotgun/.22 rifle from Fred for
twenty-five bucks. But that was long ago and I was
just a kid. No papers to fill out, only a call from
Fred to our house to check if my parents knew what
I was about to purchase. Common sense played a large
part of growing up then, something that has gone away
along with the friendly shops like Fred's. But Fred
wasn't a purist or elitist, he was just someone that
knew a lot about a lot.
Maybe we are all caught up in defining and labeling
to the tenth power. I never want to do that...too
restricting. As I mentioned in my article in the
very beginning of writing this column, I'm not a
purist. Heck, I'll still fish with a cane pole and
worms and teach my grandkids to do so, after all,
that's the way I started. If you choose to be,
that's fine. Just don't preach to me on becoming one.
Saltwater fly-fishers are a different breed. As
Micus once said in one of his articles, we are a
colorful bunch; sometimes in appearance, sometimes
in personalities, sometimes in language. But two
of the facets we share with each other; we are fun
loving and we share an irreverence to seriousness.
So, does this make us less of fly-fishers just
because our flies are huge and our rods are heavier
and our false-casts are half the line carried on our
reels, or maybe because our surroundings are different?
I've fished with saltwater fly-fishing purists; Steve
Letchworth, Terry Friedrich, Jon Cave, just to mention
a few. But if I decided to pick up my light-tackle,
spinning rod that sat next to my nine-foot, nine-weight,
they never looked down their noses at me, or lectured
me in the choice of my method.
The particular tackle I happen to be using on a given
day dictates what purist mode I'm in at that very moment.
I'm sure as hell not, and never will be, an elitist,
and if I ever call myself the latter, slap me up
'side my egotistical and condescending head and
remind me of my roots. My dad and Fred Baugh
certainly would have.
So, whether it's a hundred and thirty pound tarpon
on a twelve-weight, or a ten inch brook trout on
a two-weight, makes no difference. The important
thing to remember is that it is the "purest"
fun we can have and being a "purist" isn't
all that important, but claiming to be an elitist,
well, just stay at home and enjoy yourself in the
See y'all next week. ~ Capt. Gary
Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much
of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area.
After moving a little closer to the coast, his
interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still
visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."
He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's
and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little
over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow
water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came
around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary
doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the
waters will ever be present.
Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater
patterns in the early '90's and has participated as
a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers
on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting
and tying instructor and stained glass artist,
creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.