Saturday, February 2, 2013

ONE OF LIFE'S SIMPLER PLEASURES

A mountain stream in Western Pennsylvania
I sat on the porch late this afternoon with my usual fresh brewed coffee in hand, feet up on the porch railing, black lab at my side, and freezing my tail off.  I was thinking to myself - "Is this all there is?"  Now, I'm thankful for the fantastic, dream life I'm leading but, I have this drive to fill even more hours of the day making memories.  Back in Greenback I would take the dogs to the old State Park to round out the day but, over here there's not much I can do once I park the truck.  I'm not complaining at all.  I'm just saying I have the time to spend fulfilling my outdoor wanderings and can't do it due to gasoline costs getting from here to the Cherokee National Forest where I moved from.  For some reason my thoughts returned to a time when I used to roam all over Pennsylvania visiting the famous trout streams I would read about in the trout magazines I received monthly.  Back then I was addicted to fly fishing for trout.  My entire life was centered on fly fishing.  We're talking 1980's here.  Pennsylvania is blessed with the finest and cleanest trout streams in this country.  Presidents Grant, Eisenhower, Carter and more have fished on the most famous creek of all - Spruce Creek in central PA.  President Grant had an affinity for a creek named Yellow Breaches located in the Lancaster area of PA.  Yellow Breaches got it's name from the fact that the British Red Coats waded across the limestone stream back during the Indian wars and the water turned their white trousers yellow when they dried.  That's the story I got anyway.  I never questioned it.
The fact is that these mountain streams were not only beautiful but offered some hidden medicinal cure for whatever ailed me at the time.  Headaches were forgotten and that distasteful task of firing an employee on Monday was pushed out of my mind, at least for the time being.  Just being present at the stream's edge is heaven but, add the challenge of fishing for the inhabitants who live just below the surface is nirvana, especially when the tool used is a fly rod. 
Fishing for "wild trout" with a fly rod requires a unique set of skills that many anglers have difficulty mastering and some never do.  A thorough knowledge of trout activity is of ultimate importance.  An understanding of entomology (study of insects) is essential.  Many trout fishermen catch fish and many are very knowledgeable but, less are knowledgeable enough to catch wild trout consistently in all water environments.  When it's all said and done - the level of expertise is not important.  I know of one person who carries the fly rod to the stream and finds a comfortable rock to sit upon and smoke wonderful, sweet cigars while he absorbs the stream-side settings surrounding him.   What is important is the enjoyment of being there doing what one loves to do no matter what the skill level.  Fly fishing opens the mind and settles the nerves.    I'll let this line of dialog go.  This isn't a "how to" for fly fishing.  This is about one of life's simpler pleasures that I have let fall along the wayside of life's journey. 
The above fly fisherman who is displaying perfect form in preparation for the forward cast upstream is me.  I'm saying that with tongue in cheek.  I have always been driven to perfection when using a fly rod.  There are countless different casts and methods of presenting a tiny artificial fly to a trout.  The current is watched and analyzed to determine the route down the stream the fly will travel.  The little artificial morsel must be cast the proper distance to a predetermined point and touch down upon the water in the most delicate fashion, just like a live natural fly would.  The current will carry the little faker down stream to the waiting mouths of trout or, better yet, to the mouth of one particular trout.  This all requires patience, skill, ability to read the water, understanding the reaction of trout to the artificial fly and finally how hard to "lift and apply pressure" with the rod when the fish sucks the fly into its mouth.  It's exciting - trust me.
Above:  Posing for the picture.  Hey - everyone does it.
I was very much involved in fly fishing when I moved to Tennessee.  As a matter of fact I visited a few streams that appeared to be great trout habitat but, could only catch very small native trout.  These fish were in the streams located in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  Some friends told me to try the tail races of certain reservoirs.  I gave it a shot but found the scenery not to my liking and, the water was in constant flux due to the high volume water releases from the dams.  The finesse required to present tiny flies to the trout would have to give way to huge nymph and streamer patterns that I hate.   I have always sought out the most pristine, out of the way streams to fly fish when in the mountains of Pennsylvania and Maryland.  Tennessee, it seemed, placed huge dams on all it's rivers creating chaotic water conditions on the tail race areas and rivers beyond.  Everything was artificial.  The result is that I lost interest in fly fishing.  That all being said - I have an inclination from time to time to plunge back into it.  The biggest restraint of all is the cost of getting to great mountain trout streams in North Carolina.  North Carolina has not dammed up all its rivers and streams and is noted for excellent trout fishing.  I do have a motorcycle and it is inexpensive to operate but, no dog could accompany me.  It's always something.
Savage River in Maryland
About this time I was finishing my third cup of coffee and was freezing.  The sun was setting and even Shade was getting cold, I think.  As I walked into the house my mind went to books written by experts on fly fishing that have been my guide for years.  Writers like LaFontain,  Harvey,  A.K.  Best,  Gherich, and Humphrey to name only a few.  I've got them all and more in my library that resides in a large cardboard box in the next room over from this one.  All my fly tying gear is over there too.  I have it all.  Several fly tying vices are tucked away for safe keeping in boxes along with all the accessories required to create the tiny patterns that mimic the food of trout.
I found an old fly box full of flies and pulled a few out.  Wow - can I still tie these like this?
I should have laid a penny down beside the fly above.  The fly is a size 20.  That's small.  I tried to recall how I created it with thread and feathers.  There are actually three different types of feathers used to create the little fly above.
I suddenly missed the challenge of all this fly tying mess.  Precision is required and patience.  There is even an old world method as well as a modern technique that can be used.  Old world is better.  Older is always better. 

I pulled out my fly tying vises (used to hold the hook) just to look at them.  Everything was covered in dust.  The vice above is an A.K. Best vice.  What a writer and professional.  He made his own line of fly tying vices and associated equipment and I bought it all.  He was old world in everything he did.  He was a craftsman who did it the old way.  I respect that.


On Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River in Montana
One thing lead to another and I just had to pull out the metal tube that contained my favorite tool for catching wild trout.  I coveted this fly rod.  It was my favorite for years.  

It is a five piece, 8'9" graphite 5 weight, middle action Winston fly rod.  What a honey!  I've owned many, many fly rods but none of them felt as good as this rod.  It made me feel like I was Houdini on a trout stream.  It has perfect balance and is totally predictable.  I can, or could, lay a fly in a tea cup at 50 feet distance.  It is a delight to handle on a trout stream.
 The hardware is real silver and the handle is the best Maple wood.
I gotta make sure I leave this baby to a friend so the IRS doesn't get hold of it.
 Above is the serial number and below is the specifications hand painted on the rod.

I've always been a stickler for quality, especially when it applied to the activities I embraced with fervor. 

I placed all the stuff back into the dusty confines of their boxes and shuttled it all back to the room on the other side of the wall.  It was rather exciting to revisit the things that revitalized so many wonderful experiences from the past.  I oftentimes tell myself that next summer is when I'll fly fish again but, so far it hasn't happened.  Maybe it never will again.  Maybe I've extracted all the enjoyment from the activity that I am allowed to have.  Maybe the attitude is, "been there - done that."  I don't know.  It's a different life down here in Tennessee and some of the activities I used to enjoy in Pennsylvania have fallen along the roadside during the journey down here.   Since moving to Tennessee - I have gained more wonderful experiences than I have lost.  I'm living one right now.  We'll see what the future brings.  I'll keep ya posted.