There was a small shop attached to the house where he tied flies and built fly rods. Everything was a mystery as I opened the screen door, but I recognize the smell of cedar when I walked in. I knew nothing about leaders, tippets, tapers or nymphs. I just knew I wanted to fish dry flies.
I had turned sixteen that summer, and the fishing had slowed for me — again. It always did. So when the sun climbed higher and my freestone waters grew clear with their summer flows, the minnows I’d learned to fish so well just stopped catching trout. It happened every year, but I was old enough to be aware of the shift this time.
With my driver’s license, I discovered that traveling further to fish new rivers didn’t solve the problem — the minnows still didn’t work. But I knew I’d found better water when I saw trout rising all around me. They delivered a message. They wanted nothing to do with my bait, and now I understood why.
So the gentle, bearded man sold me a hand-crafted fly rod — and a fly line, a reel, a leader, some tippet and a box full of hand-tied flies, all for a price that must have cost him money. It was more like a gift to the curious young man in his shop.
He seemed so certain about things. We talked about flies and fishing and rivers and trout. The only other person I knew who carried that kind of assurance in fishing matters was my uncle, who’d taught me the ways of fishing the fathead minnow.
The shop owner then drew for me a map to Fisherman’s Paradise on Spring Creek. With pencil and paper abruptly torn from a notebook, he traced a path leading from where I was standing to where I am right now.
He told me where to park and how to fish. He showed me the basic cast, and I left through the screen door.
I removed the minnow needle and double bait hooks from my vest that night. I spent hours in the damp and dim basement, holding a fly rod and the strange thick line, dreaming of what might come. I found a pocket for the box of flies and a home for the spool of tippet. In the dark of the morning, I left my minnow bucket behind and followed the map to the river where I was told there was a wild trout behind every rock.
I caught no fish on that first trip. But I’ve never forgotten the trout that rose to my flies that day. It’s all I needed.
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