October 23rd, 2006

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

On Remembering Old Friends
By ~ Roger Murray, (Gnu Bee Flyer)

I recently spent some time at my local fly shop and at the urging of the owner operator tried my hand casting some of the better rods he had available. Prices ranged from $110.00 all the way up to a beautiful 9ft 5 weight that felt like a wisp in my hand. Wow! $1000.00 for a single rod! Plus $500.00 for the reel! I could see perhaps spending $110.00 for the lower priced ones but $1500.00 of my hard earned money for a rod seems just plain nuts.

Still I fantasized about owning one just like it some day. When I win the lottery pops to mind.

When they had a 40% off sale I bought a new 9ft Sage 5 weight that is a dream to cast.

I have been out practicing with it every day since I got it. My casting improved immediately due I think to me being finally able to feel the rod loading. It is truly a thing of wonder to me. I was thinking that this would probably turn out to be my favorite rod. Then I got to thinking..Perhaps not my favorite after all. There are two fly rods from my past worth more. Out of 25 or 30 fishing rods of all types that I have owned over the years, they are at the head of the list. I realized that the $1000.00 rod wouldn't even be close.

Number one would be my first fishing rod. It was a homemade six foot willow wand cut from an old weeping willow down by the creek. Willow not because of the suppleness of it but because to a kid willow peels easily and makes neat whips. It was not a fly rod to be sure but I flung the thick mono line out like casting a fly line as the rod had no reel. It got wind knots a lot so for those reasons I classified it as a fly rod. It was decked out with custom guides made by bending the eyes of safety pins at right angles then held fast with hockey tape. It never occurred to me that the lack of a reel made the addition of guides to the rod completely unnecessary. What the heck it made it look like a real fishing rod. When the tape idea didn't work I wrapped the pins with miles and miles of my moms black sewing thread. The thread was my Grand Dad's Idea. Then my dad supplied me with some varnish to hold the threads fast. When finished it was a thing of beauty! I proudly showed it to my two sisters thinking to make them jealous. Forgetting of course that they cared not a whit about fishing or any other boy stuff for that matter. They promptly ratted me out yelling MOM! MOM, Roger took your thread Roger took your pins. Did I mention that my sisters were stinky meanie tattle tail brats in those days? I spent the next two hours facing the corner without supper as punishment for the thread and pins without asking.

Even though it cost me my next three weeks 25 cents allowance to pay for them and a trip to the woodshed, (not go get wood either) it turned out to be worth it. All summer long I fished the creek and the oxbows for lunkers I just knew had to be living there. I never caught a lunker but I just knew they were there never the less. Many a bull head and sunfish met their match facing that marvelous rod. Still for all its glory it would every once in a while let me down when a thread would loosen wrapping around and around my line in a kind of death grip. Some of those tangles rivaled the Gordian knot for their stubbornness in the undoing. I loved that rod, for without it I couldn't reach out and try for the really big ones in the middle of the creek. Sadly one day I broke it when a hog nosed sucker surprised me. It grabbed so hard that my tired old willow, sagged in the middle with a sickening snap. The long hot summer had dried the suppleness right out of the willow. A splint made with some hockey tape and a willow twig got me thru the rest of the day. I was in denial for a while but during the bike ride home I finally came to the realization that its time had truly come. I gave it a nice send off by depositing it in our neighbors ever present bonfire.

My Mom hearing of my tragedy and seeing my obvious dismay left the room, returning shortly handing me a fresh spool of black thread and a box of safety pins. Here, you can use these to make another one. I took these treasures from my Mom's out stretched hand heading straight for my bike to go get another willow wand. "No! not now it's too late, you can get a new stick tomorrow, besides don't you have homework?"

I reluctantly agreed, tomorrow was Saturday and I would have the whole day to make a new rod. It would be two feet longer and I would figure out how to put a reel on it.

Bright and early I arose, eager to get my chores done. I wanted to be off to pick out the very best willow branch for the new rod. Half way through feeding and watering the chickens I heard a call from the house. It was my Granddad. "Come on Laddie-buck We're going to town. I need you to help me with the bags." Those gentle readers not blessed with a Scottish Granddad, perhaps are unaware of the dire things that can befall one so foolish that they talk back to their Granddad. Even worse fate awaits him who calls him grampa. He is Granddad, head of the clan. He must at all costs be listened to and obeyed. Experience had taught me well. I didn't dare refuse or even grumble under my breath in the presence of granddads incredibly sensitive hearing. Devastated at the delay I rode in silence hoping against hope that we would shop and be home by noon. Granddad had many friends and was known for taking hours to shop for a single item. I had spent many long boring hours while he and his cronies re-fought the war to end all wars.

I was surprised when Granddad stopped in front of "Tinks" the local combination Sports shop /bike repair store/feed and supply store. Granddad shopped at his friends stores. No sense dealing with strangers. I hadn't thought Tink the store owner was a particular friend of his.

As we entered the store we were greeted by Tink himself, with goods in hand, I've got the items you called about right here all put together ready to go. He handed my Granddad a long wooden box and a paper bag. Money changed hands and I was hustled out of the store. Never in my memory had my grandparent been in and out of a store with such dispatch as happened on that day. "Come on Boy get the lead out! We've got things to do places to go and it's getting late." We sped along towards home in the battered old family truck, the mysterious purchases resting between me and Granddad. I figured it was probably a rake handle to fix the one I broke so I could clean out the chicken house. Surprised, we sail right past the front gate not even slowing down just a blast of the horn in salute to my dad working on the tractor.

Luckily I am with Granddad the head of the clan, my sisters will have to do their chores as well as mine ha! ha! an unexpected bonus! We travel down past the lake to where the river begins. No use me fishing there because it is too far a cast for my meager equipment. Granddad stopped the truck sets the brake and leaps out all in one motion, "Come on Boy haven't got all day." I slide out wondering what we are getting at the riverbank. "Here open this!" He thrusts the wooden box in my hands. Startled I just stand there. "Go on open it Laddie it won't bite you!" I flip the small brass latch and open the lid. I am speechless. Laying there on the red cloth lining is the most beautiful bamboo fishing rod I had ever seen. "You'll need this too he growls, handing me the bag."

I see a smile begin to spread across my Granddads face. I don't remember him ever smiling at me before. I am still speechless. There, in the bag, is a box with a reel pictured on it. I open it to find that the reel is already filled with line, backing and leader. A half dozen flies of different types lay scattered in the bottom of the bag. I am stunned, my eyes fill with tears, "for, for me," I stammer?

"Quit yer blubbering boy, of course for you, do you see anyone else around here? Tie one of them things on and get fishing." He quickly hauls my bike out of the back of the truck from under a tarp, sets it against a tree and jumps back in the truck.

"You worked hard for this with my chickens. You showed grit fishing with that dammed stick like that, you remind me of your dad so you earned this. You be home by noon, hear? Them dammed chickens don't feed themselves you know." I detect a tiny catch in his voice and what looks like the beginnings of a tear at the corner of his eye. I had always thought that my Granddad didn't like me because I was always in some trouble or other. Then as the truck disappeared down the road I was totally overcome by it all so much so that I begin to quietly sob with the joy of it; glad Granddad was gone and couldn't see me crying. My Granddad comes from a time and background that allows little emotion to surface. I knew his gruff words as he drove away had cost him a great deal of effort.

I have always cherished that bamboo rod. It cast much like Castwell's broom does and over time it developed a distinct bend to the right. The bend gave it a kind of unsettling twitch during casting as I waved it about in a vain attempt to get some distance. It came with two different tips and I alternated breaking them off several times till each was about 6 inches shorter than it should be. About all you could say for the aluminum reel was it held line and jammed every once in a while whenever I dropped it in the sand which was a lot. You could not tell me they were not the best rod and reel in the world. They were from my Granddad! Sadly It didn't make it to our new house when we moved about 35 years ago. I miss it.

Today I probably would dismiss out of hand, any rod as poor as either of my first two were.

But as a boy of 10, long before I was taught to judge a things worth by its price tag, I still recognized a thing for its worth and beauty and not what it cost. Besides $1000.00 is just plain nuts! ~ Roger Murray

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