My Uncle Eddie was a fisherman, also my father's brother, a husband, father, baseball player, provider, and many other things I know nothing of. Seeing as how he died about thirty years ago I'll never know a lot of things about the man.
However he did take me to Minneapolis Miller games but more than that, he took me fishing. On the water Eddie taught me techniques I still recall. Most of all he showed me the beauty of the fly rod. No, he never taught me how to cast, or tie knots, or fly selection. But he did use the long rod while I was with him and did catch fish with it. On one occasion, in front of a couple of other men and myself, he landed the largest bluegill I've ever seen. Dinner plate sized ( at least that's the way I remember it).
Due to my ignorance of the sport I had no real idea if my uncle was any good or not. But to me he was poetry in motion. Watching the man work out line and lay it on the water was enough to hook me. Somewhere in the back of my mind, so far back I didn't know it was there, he planted the seed that someday would take root and grow.
Maybe three years later I bought my first fly rod, reel and line at an Army-navy surplus store. Couldn't have cost more than fifteen bucks. My research as to quality went no further than, it's there, it's green, I've got the money, I'll buy it. Lord knows who the maker was. There's no doubt it was fiberglass. For fifteen bucks with reel and line, there was no way it could be bamboo. What the hell, all I knew for sure was I now had me a fly rod and no idea how to cast it beyond having seen my Uncle Eddie. Like all kids I was ignorant enough to be confident I could figure it out.
And over time I did. There was no intent on my part to catch fish. Considering the quality of the tiny lake I was practicing on any fish that ended up on my fly would have been a bullhead, carp, and above all, accidental. Even at my best, not every cast was perfect. But some were. Twenty yards of line whipped out and laid down like a feather. Yes, it was beautiful when it happened. Simply casting was also fulfilling in its own right. Almost an act of meditation if I'd had any idea what that was.
I have no idea what happened to that rod. Or the next one I bought twenty years later. It's possible I might have left it leaning against a tree in the woods. It was white and cheap. The color was secondary, the price primary.
There are memories attached to the second rod that go back to the early days of building the cabin. My six year old daughter Annie and I spent a few father-daughter bonding days alone together. I drove nails for part of the time and she did whatever six year olds do when they have time on their hands. It was bluegill spawning time and the two of us caught a meal from the shore of a peninsula, me casting, Annie reelin' them in.
A mile up a private road to a piece of undeveloped lakeshore that was up for sale it was a beautiful spot complete with showy lady's slippers in bloom. Had I the money I'd have bought it without a second thought.
The sunnies were no more than ten feet from shore. So close the two of us could see the fish attack, take the cheap flies I owned, and get hooked. A little moment that I'll carry as long as I live. Would even have been better had I not brought her home with a wood tick in her ear. Negligent father syndrome strikes again.
I told her it was okay to kill the sunnies so long as we ate them. Don't know if that was true but it sounded wise and fatherly. And we did eat them filleted, battered, and fried in butter.
Flash forward ten years to the beginning of my canoe years with Allan. Once again the need for a fly rod reared its ugly head when I came upon a barrel of sale rods in a sporting goods store. By now I knew for certain that graphite was the modern man's material of choice. No more crap fiberglass for me. Plus, I was able to spend anything up to a hundred bucks. Yup, I was gonna be one hell bent, lay the fly out into the backing to within half a mayfly wing's distance from where I was aiming, crazy man in a canoe. My only fear was the immense bill Minnesota's DNR was gonna have to foot when it came to restocking all the lakes I'd fish out.
Of course it didn't work out that way. For some odd reason I couldn't cast graphite as far as the old cheap fiberglass rods. And the new one was no where near as easy to feel the rod loading. Lucky for me the graphite rod was stolen along with some other rods in a cabin breakin. I still have the tip. Must have been some low life kids who didn't know enough to watch the rod tips when passing through a doorway.
Insurance came to the rescue and I had the golden opportunity to replace lots of marginal equipment with a few, well chosen, better rods and reels. And then never again leave them in the cabin when we weren't there. Figuring the problem with graphite wasn't me, I once again upscaled. And once again was disappointed with the performance. My Sage ten weight rod for pike and muskies was so stiff I couldn't get it to load at all. I be wimp? The ten foot, eight weight Redington was okay but no better than the old fifteen buck, Army-Navy special. Yeah, I used the rods but they weren't any fun.
In the back of my mind there lurks the fear that my dwindled distance had more to do with sitting in a canoe than it did the rod. I kept thinking the line should be shooting out like I was Lefty Kreh. But there the popper laid, a tad over a dozen yards from my rod tip. Oddly enough I was catching fish.
Then, last year, more or less killing time at an access waiting for the other canoe to pull in, it seemed to come together. The rod I was using was a garage sale find that had been bought and put on the rack to gather dust for better than a decade. Five bucks worth of bottom of the line fiberglass left over from the '60s. Yes it was in mint condition but it was no more of a rod than what I'd bought at the surplus store. Funny thing was, I could fire out fifteen yards of line with no effort. It loaded and catapulted line with an ease that spoke a familiar story to my muscles. Sure didn't see that coming.
Then, once again, my brain got in the way. If it was easy to cast a cheap fiberglass rod, what would a good one do for my ego? And that sent me to ebay and a year's thought and research. What was a good rod? What should it cost? What shape should it be in? While checking out the glass rods, my eye occasionally drifted off to bamboo. But decent production bamboo rods were way more than I wanted to spend, and way too effete, and way too old school for someone who grew up in the space age. Fiberglass was old school enough for me.
Finally I figured out what I wanted within the bounds of what was made and factored in that I'd be fishing while sitting on my butt a foot off the water. i.e. Longer was better than short. In the last week two rods arrived via the Postal Service. One from Florida and the other from California. What I ended up with is a pristine eight foot, Fenwick that will be good for panfish and bass and a top of the line, eight and a half foot Heddon for bass and pike and, most of all, a fear that I won't be any better with them than I was with graphite. Both rods are over forty years old and the Heddon is nearly as old as my first fly rod. Both feel familiar. I've lawn cast the Fenwick in the woods at the cabin where the back cast is limited. Hopes run high.
Now I'm starting to check out the bamboo rods on line. Someone protect me from myself! By the way, does anyone have a use for a nine foot, graphite pool cue?