April 3rd, 2000

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Fish The Whole River

By Ken Hackler, Crystal Lake, IL

I was in my late twenties the first time I fished with a fly (or any insect) that wasn't alive before I stuck it on a hook. Then I began dating the woman who would eventually become my wife, and I met her father.

Gerry was a little guy, maybe 5'8" and 125 pounds dripping wet. He grew up in the 1930's around Reno, Nevada, before it became a gambling resort. Gerry served in the military during World War 2, like so many of his generation. He was an aerial gunner and mechanic in the Navy, flying patrols from Bermuda on PBY seaplanes. Gerry had a lot of funny stories to tell about those days, and used to laugh when he said the only combat he saw took place in bars.

He married after the war, bought a used Packard convertible, and attended Mesa State College briefly before transferring to Colorado State University. After graduating with a Civil Engineering degree, Gerry moved his family back to Grand Junction and helped start the Grand Junction Steel Company. He spent his entire career there, becoming the Chief Engineer before retiring in the mid-1980s.

Gerry loved Lake Powell, in southern Utah, and was famous for his weekend boat parties there during the '60s and '70s. He was also an avid fly angler, managing to fish just about every lake, river, and stream in Colorado during his life.

His health was failing by the time I met him, and he no longer fished or went into the mountains. His travel was limited to driving Cricket, his 7-ounce Yorkshire terrier, to the veterinarian, or maybe to the old Safeway for groceries. Once a week he had dinner and a few drinks with friends, until even that became too much.

When I married his daughter in 1987, he gave me the bamboo fly rod he bought in 1946, along with some advice on using it.

"Fish the whole river," he said. "Don't expect the fish to be where you think they ought to be." He also told me to keep things simple. "Don't get all tied up over flies. Just use little ones that look like bugs. The fish don't know any better."

If I complained after a day of not catching anything, he would tell me to remember why I went up there. "The point is simply being there, not catching fish," he'd say. I took his point, but I chuckle about that even now. Gerry loved to eat trout more than anyone I've ever met. He once told me that if the trout were being finicky, and no one was looking, he'd stick a worm on his fly. That may upset a fly-fishing purist, but Gerry never went home without dinner.

So much for just being there.

When I learned how much he liked trout, I always tried to keep a few in the freezer for nights when Gerry came to dinner. I don't know if it made him feel bad, since he couldn't go up in the mountains to catch his own anymore. He never said. I do know that in return for a few trout dinners, Gerry gave me years of friendship and hours of fishing stories.

I think I got the best of that deal.

Before I moved away from Grand Junction, I used to drive over to fish the beaver ponds that Gerry told me about near Gunnison. The small brook trout in the ponds are skittish, and you have to approach quietly. That's almost impossible to do with all the brush and snags, but it's well worth the effort. I've lost a hundred flies in the willows around those ponds, but that's OK. Gerry left his share of flies up there too, so mine are in good company.

One of Gerry's favorite places to fish was Sunset Lake up on the Grand Mesa. Access is better now than when he first went up there forty years ago, and the tourists fish it out by mid-June each year. Despite the crowds and bad fishing, I still go there periodically - for Gerry. I seldom catch anything, but I don't care. The point is just being there.

Although many of my memories of Gerry involve fishing, the funny thing is that he and I only fished together once.

Before he became too sick to get out much, we took him over to a lake by the highway in Rifle. We spent the afternoon sitting on lawn chairs, drinking beer and fishing for stocked trout using salmon eggs and worms. He talked for hours about fly fishing, his old girlfriends, his ex-wives, and life in general.

I think he had a good time, but it took a lot out of him physically. Of course, he made sure we took a few home for dinner that night.

Gerry is gone now, I'm no longer married to his daughter, and I have three grandsons of my own. I still think of him when I take that old rod and drive up into the mountains. Inexpensive even by 1946 standards, it wasn't a big name brand or fancy. The only important name associated with it was Gerry's. It's in great shape and I intend to keep it that way. I want Gerry's great-great-great-grandkids to be fishing with it when it's 100 years old. It would be a shame for Gerry's rod to end up hanging on a wall somewhere because people were afraid to use an antique.

I also hope that my grandsons remember to tell their kids what Gerry told me: Fish the whole river. Keep it simple. The point of being there IS being there - not catching fish. However, if they do happen to catch a few, I hope they think of Gerry while enjoying dinner. ~ Ken Hackler


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