December 15th, 2003

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

Memories

By Robin Rhyne, Texas

As long as I can remember I have always been fishing somewhere, somehow. My very first angling memory is at an unknown farm pond, my father helping me to throw a red and white spoon that was attacked by a bluegill who was literally no bigger than the spoon. I was impressed.

Then there was the old covered fishing barge at Lake Benbrook west of Fort Worth. They had some huge flatheads in a tank by the cash register. All those arcane fishing items and fishing paraphernalia in the glass case. Did anyone ever buy any of it? I suspect that if the old bait shop is still there, that those gee-gaws might yet be waiting on a buyer.

Smells are a major part of the fishing experience. Some have become so familiar over the years. Beef jerky, minnows, blood bait, anise, and lake water. The floors on that old barge creaked in a soothing, comforting way. Heaters in the winter. Life of Riley stuff.

And remember those Eagle Claw snelled hooks in the long skinny packages, the ones with the picture of the guy in the funky fishing hat? Eagle Claw still uses that exact same packaging. I take comfort in that fact even though I have not used any Eagle Claw snelled hooks in quite some while.

That trip to the barge I was catching bluegills like crazy until I dropped the old Zebco 202 in the drink. Bummer! Trip over. Back to the realities of the first grade and life's drudgery.

My family used to go out to the lake on weekends to picnic and fish. Momma and daddy would set up the bait casting rigs with dough bait, Wheaties and other carp baits. Carp were the thing with their great runs, they were tremendous fighters. I used to love to hear my father tell about the carp that tore the reel off of his rod during a carp tournament. What a beast I imagined it to be! The Coleman lantern burned brightly on the beach and we sat and waited and I dreamed of fish.

More memories: a trip on Eagle Mountain Lake on a bright, sunny day, in a fourteen foot aluminum semi-V boat. That old boat had ages of layers of paint that told its long life story. That trip was where I first saw the sand bass schooling. What an incredible sight for a boy, it looked like acres and acres of boiling water! I tossed my Hellbender in the midst and was rewarded with a huge, smashing strike and a fight with a sand bass. The Hellbender was my favorite lure forever after. There were late nights in my uncle's boat out on Eagle mountain. We sat with the Coleman lantern suspended over the side and clouds of baitfish rolled up to the lights. We caught fish after fish. My uncle schooled me in the art of slow jigging a minnow. There was the time I woke up in a boat on Lake Benbrook and saw a tornado funnel on its way, that was one fast trip to the marina, let me tell you!

At some point early on in there I started subscribing to Outdoor Life, Field and Stream and Sports Afield. I was a voracious reader, devouring every piece of literature I could lay hands on. Living vicariously through all those great old stories, Jack O'Connor hunting big game out west. . .and the fly fishing! Now, I had never even seen a fly rod or a fly fisherman much less done any fly fishing. No one in my family fly fished, we knew no one who did. But the Zebco 202 was a known quantity on known territory and these guys were off in far away places catching exotic fish like trout, salmon, and grayling. I just had to have a piece of that! (I also needed a hunting falcon, a blow gun, a ferret, a 7X57 Mauser and a mini bike but those are different stories.)

As it was approaching Christmas the call went out that what I wanted was a fly rod. The Santa illusion was already gone, this was practicality at work. The rod that I got on that twelfth Christmas so many years ago (was 1968 really all that long ago?) I have to this day and still use. The reel is still here but stays in its box missing several crucial little machine screws. The sinking line? I tossed that a few years back, it was beyond salvage and there was no room in my designs for it.

OK, so what does an eleven-year-old kid in Ft. Worth, Texas do with a fly rod? We went to East Texas to camp in the Davy Crockett National Forest. One fine early morning I arose before the rest and proceeded down the shoreline with fly rod in hand. My explorations reached an inlet filled with lily pads. Just like the pictures in the magazines. I tied on a Miss Prissy out of the little round blue plastic dispenser, flailed in what must have been an amazing display of uneducated, uncoached casting and proceeded to catch bluegill after bluegill, bass after bass. No one was more surprised than me! I had not even brought along a stringer (this had been a tentative outing, my very first with the fly rod so I was not at all certain what would happen) so could only release them back into the lake. I was catching and releasing simply because there was no other choice. Back at camp I was thrilled! I was jabbering a mile a minute about all the fish I had caught. Then the man whose family we were camping with asked, "so where are all these fish?" and gave me an incredulous stare. I pretty much stopped fishing after that, nothing like being told you're a liar when you aren't. But that brilliant little morning on a small East Texas lake had planted a seed that would grow over the years, sometimes slowly, sometimes not.

My next trip was to Red River New Mexico. Trout! The marvelous wonderful trout! The sainted land and its holy fish! I was finally going to live the dream that I had read about so often in those miles of piles of outdoor magazines and in barber shops. But it was not quite the experience I had dreamed of. I wish I could tell you about all the trout I landed but it just didn't happen. What I did get was my first coaching on casting. A woman took pity on me and my felonious line flogging, stepped in and told me to "stop, wait, let it straighten out behind you." At least now I was not endangering innocent lives. I can't tell you what fly I had tied on. I can tell you that I got to fish for trout.

There were many other trips and experiences, fishing all night on the banks of the Brazos below Granbury Dam. Wading out chest deep into Aransas Bay at Goose Island State Park in Rockport TX, a boat pulling up next to us and showing off the shark and gar that they'd caught on the trotline right nearby. Stacking oil cans in the bait shop to earn dead fish for crabbing bait. Floating down the Brazos in a float tube back in 1976 when float tubes weren't yet quite "hip," catching all kinds of fish.

It was years later, after a life that went in a direction that did not have room for fishing or outdoors that I finally decided that it was time to return to the fold. I have taken tying back up, can cast without anyone calling the police and in general am having a great old time with this art. I hesitate to call it a hobby. I feel that demeans fly angling as a practice. Its art, it's a practice, it's a way of life. It's also about meeting some of the nicest people I have ever run into. I can only liken it to church and the closeness that one develops with the rest of the congregation. The congregation of fly anglers is one that I am proud to be a member of. ~ Robin Rhyne

Copyright 2003


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