February 19th, 2001

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

Last Fish of a Grand Old Rod

By Joe Sanders, Rockford WA

I can't tell you when I first saw the rod, because I can't remember when I first started fishing. I'm sure it was sometime before I could walk. My first memory of the rod was seeing it stacked in the corner of dad's closet with about six or seven others. It was wrapped in khaki colored muslin with a fabric tie string and had that special "old" smell. I asked dad where he got the rods and he told me they were his fathers. His dad left home one day and never came back, so dad inherited the rods. I always figured they were made circa 1917, but I think pre-WWII would be more accurate. They were all spit bamboo. One was a Southbend and one was a Montaque Flash. The others were names I don't remember.

One day when I was about 10, my dad and I were fishing on Silver Lake just outside of Spokane and dad handed me the Southbend. We were still fishing at the south end of the lake, on the west side, in front of the A-Frame cabin. I still do fish that spot. The rod was a 3-piece, 9 footer, and was limber enough at the tip to tell if a fish was swimming close, let alone nibbling at the bait. Yes it was bait, but it was also fishing with dad. I don't remember what kind of reel dad was using but I was using a heavy Perrine automatic. One of those reels you have to wind up, pull the trigger and the reel would do the rest.

We were doing so well that everyone around us was asking, "What are you using"? We were limit fishermen, the limit was twelve apiece, and we caught fish until all limits were filled. That was the 'Old Days' and we loved to eat fried rainbows, hash browns, and corn on the cob. We went back to that spot many times. As good as the fishing was, on many occasions the fishing was slow. That was when dad taught me about patience. I would fall asleep with the rod in my hand, or watch birds along the shore, or do what ever I could to make the slow time pass faster. When I did that, my rod tip would have a tendency to dip into the lake and stay there. Dad would nudge me and say "Your tip's wet". I heard that a lot.

After several years, as you can imagine, the tip got dry rot and decomposed. For some years after that I lost track of the rod. Adolescence, the Army, college and a few other things seemed to take precedence over fishing. Probably 10 years were lost to the nonsense of non-fishing. Then one day I saw the rod in it's khaki wrapping and got it out to look at it. It was still rotten and decomposed on about the last 6-7 inches of the tip. I decided to try and fix it. So I cut off the dry rot end and reinstalled the tiptop. I moved a couple of snake guides to better balance the way fly line would travel through them and finished the wrappings with color preserver and a clear lacquer. Next step was to see how the rod fished.

I bought an inexpensive Martin reel and some new line. Some tapered leader and an assortment of about a dozen flies and I was ready to go fishing. A friend of mine had built a couple of ponds on his property where he stocked and fed rainbows. The top pond was really no larger than a back yard swimming pool. The lower pond was larger but you could still pitch a rock easily from one end to the other. It was gourd shaped and had a small island in the deep end. He would pump water from the lower pond to the top pond, and had a waterfall from the top pond to the lower. That would keep the water aerated and the fish healthier. He fed nothing but Purina fish chow and the fish grew rapidly to 5 and 6 pounds. Some even bigger. He said I could fish his pond.

I did. I made a nice long cast toward the island on the lower pond. I like the feeling of fly line whistling through snake guides as a result of a good cast. The only thing better is when it's caused by a fish pulling your line through the guides. It must have been hellgrammite season, because my hellgrammite was attacked by an old hook jawed brute, and I got real busy for about 10 minutes. I didn't have a net of course so I had to try and drag the fish on shore. The bank was a little steep and when I pulled him ashore, the rod snapped in half next to one of the ferrules. I got a really sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and landed the fish.

My friend took a picture of me holding the fish. This was a good fish and I vowed never to fish the rod again. I did however, fix it. I drilled out the ferrule and trimmed the broken end of the rod to fit. I used ferrule tight hot cement to reattach the two pieces. I rewrapped the joint, added some color preservative and refinished it. It looked pretty good, but by now was getting close to a foot shorter than original. I don't know how it fishes because I've never fished it again. I mounted it, rod, reel, line & fly, on a nice piece of wood and framed it. I also added the picture of me holding the fish under a piece of plexiglass. I went to a local trophy shop in the Spokane Valley and had them make a brass plaque that reads, "LAST FISH OF A GRAND OLD ROD." I added the plaque and gave the whole shootin' match back to my dad.

That rod hung on the wall of his bedroom until I lost him in September of '99. That's when I got it back, and it hangs on the wall of my bedroom now. Every time I walk past it or look at it I have to smile and remember all the good times. Most all of those good times either had dad or fishing or both in them. ~ Joe Sanders


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