A Fly Fishing Short Story

27 June 2006 By Dan Bachman • Other • Comments (2)

A short story written from my experiences as a young boy…

Without Grandpa

The sun darted in and out of the peaks of the hills as the old station wagon rounded the bend into the valley.

“They’re getting bigger.” father said as he looked into the distance where the jagged snow-capped Sawtooths began to form and come into view.

“What is?” asked the boy as he sat up, rubbed his eyes and looked out the window

“The mountains”

“Well I don’t like them—they look like they are going to fall down on us.”

“It won’t be much longer now, we’re nearly there.” The road straightened out as they came upon a farm with a long white fence that went on along the road for quite awhile and then abruptly turned down a dirt road to a metal gate. Above the gate was an arch with a funny shape that couldn’t be read as they passed by. Beyond the gate stood a matching white farmhouse with a black roof and shutters.

“I’ve always liked that place,” father said surveying it closely. “It’s a nice spread and they take good care of it.”

“It is nice—We’ve been here before?” asked the boy as he looked back and could see the still dark shapes of horses under a stand of trees.

“As a boy I spent many summers at our cabin here with your grandparents and your uncle. And your mother and I came up a couple of times before you were born.”

“I’m sure I would have remembered the mountains” quipped the boy.

The farms became smaller and the houses more numerous as the boy’s father would slow down the station wagon from time to time and make comments about how things had changed and this or that was new or gone.

Soon the road ran next to a broad river and a sign before a bridge read “Big Wood River”. As they crossed the tires moaned a funny sound that was interrupted by the ‘thwop’ of the seams on the bridge. Looking across through the other window the boy saw a second bridge just up the river. Its black weathered metal formed a network of girders over the bridge as a single locomotive crossed going back where they had come from. His mind wandered back…

Just 3 days earlier he was packing for a trip. The excitement of going fishing where grandpa had taught dad was nearly too much bear. He had heard the stories about grandma dropping off grandpa and dad in the morning near a bridge and then picking them up hours later just below beaver ponds. Grandpa was an amazing fly fisherman that could catch more fish than anybody dad knew. He had taught dad how to fish and the boy only wished that he was still around to teach him.

 

Dad made the turn at the light and then followed the road for 5 miles more before they crossed a flat bridge without railings, the words “Trail Creek” could barely be made out on an old tin sign riddled with bullet holes that hung awkwardly from a single nail stuck in the post.

“Let’s go take a look.” father said as he pulled the station wagon over to the side of the road just past the bridge.

“Should I get the poles?”

“No we’ll go up further. Your grandfather would stop here on the way up the canyon when he would take me fishing. He said you could tell if the fishing was going to be any good just by looking at what the creek was like down here.”

As the boy opened the door of the car the musty smell of sagebrush and nettle stung the inside of his nose. They crossed the road and where it fell away they stepped down to the pebbled bank of the creek. Willows and large cottonwoods stood guard as the creek ran back and disappeared. The rocks lining the creek could be seen clearly through the water as it burbled past.

“Two weeks ago,” father said, “the fishing wouldn’t have been any good. It’s running low and clear now.”

“I don’t understand.”

“In the spring and early summer the snow melt from the Sawtooths fills the creek and it runs high and murky. You have to wait until it settles down so the trout can see the flies.”

“Are you sure there are fish in the stream?” asked the boy, “It doesn’t look very deep.”

Father chuckled. “Let’s drive up further.”

Looking under the bridge the boy could see two men fishing on the other side. They were standing on the edge of a pool created by the bend of the creek around a large fallen tree. The lines from their poles went straight downstream into the pool.

“Look Dad, are they fly fishing?”

“Looks like they are wet fly fishing—maybe using nymphs. See how they fish downstream. It’s different from what I’ll teach you. You’ll see.”

 

It had been hardly an hour since Dad had shown him the basics. “Keep your back cast up and toss your fly gently upstream into the current above the hole,” had come the advice. He had watched the refined stroke of his father’s well used fly rod, the soft landing of the fly and then the lightning fast flick of his wrist as he set the hook on a small brook trout that snapped at the offering. The boy had tried, he really had but his fly would slap the water and when a bite did come, he was painfully slow to react pulling an empty line from the water.

“It will all come with time. Practice is the best way to get better. Why don’t you go upstream a ways and I will catch up with you soon.”

The place where trees had fallen into the water next to bank looked like promising but a good while spent fishing had not raised so much as a sniff from a fish. Upstream past a long shallow section with wide rock strewn banks the deep water next to a submerged rock has had not yielded anything as well.
So there he was alone looking for another place on the water that was similar to what he had been shown. Maybe just around the next bend…

 

As he emerged from the willows the boy thought he saw something move. Beyond a tree on the riverbank to his right a man was pulling a fly back and forth through the air. The man’s gray hair pushed out from under the brim of a weathered fedora and little tools hung from the front of a fishing vest that bulged with pouches.

The boy watched intently as the man threw his pole forward and laid the fly down gently on the water along the far bank. The fly drifted down over the ripples until it neared a log where the surface of the water gave way to a flash of silver and green. With a flick of his wrist the man lifted the tip of the rod and the line went taut for a moment and then snapped back towards him through the air. Muttering something inaudible the man wound in the line, tucked the rod under his arm and pulled a pair of thin wireless glasses from his pocket and rested them on the end of his nose.

As the boy walked near he could see the band of the man’s hat was covered in flies, all different types large and small. The man turned the fly over in his hand examining it meticulously through his glasses and then pulled down a thin flat object that was suspended on his vest.

“That looked like a nice one,” said the boy as the man jumped.

“You startled me. I thought I was alone. You could give an ole man a heart attack sneaking up on him like that.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Yeah he was beauty, I may get him yet. He’s just sitting under that log feeding in the current.”

Looking through the water the boy could see a dark shape but couldn’t be sure if it was a fish or shadow or rock.

“What you doing?”

“I think I broke the tip off the hook when I lost that fish. Gotta keep the hook sharp,” came the response as the man continued to fuss with the fly.

“You ought to see if you can catch him.”

“Oh,” stammered the boy “I’m not much good really—today is my first time”

“Well I have just the fly for you then,” as the man pulled out a fly box with his empty hand and perused the selection.

“Here you go” said the man handing the carefully selected fly to the boy that had walked close to accept it. “It’s called a Royal Wulff and you can’t go wrong with it on this water.”

The boy fumbled with his rod for a minute finally grabbing the fly on the end of the line. The man set his rod down carefully against a willow.

“Let me help you with that.” The boy handed the rod to the man who pushed it away a little and tilted his head back to look through his glasses.

“This simply won’t do—let me put a longer tippet on your leader.”

“I lost 4 flies back there.” The boy pointed in the direction that he had come. Quickly the man snipped off the old fly, cut a length of line from a small spool that hung from his vest and tied the new line to the leader.

“Now where’s that fly that I gave you?” The man plucked it from the boy’s outstretched hand and deftly twisted line around line, pulled the end through a loop and pulled it tight. He trimmed the loose end with a small pair of snips.

“Now all you need is a dab of floatant and you are good as gold.”

The boy turned the rod over in his hand. On the back side of his reel a small smear of mucillin remained from the dab that dad had put on earlier. Picking up the smallest trace of the grease on his finger the boy reached for the fly from the man and spread it on the hackle of the new fly.

“Move over just past that rock. Do you think that you can cast to the log from there?” asked the man. The boy gave a hesitant nod and began to move his rod back and forth giving out more line on each throw until he thought the distance was good. With one last stroke the boy threw his pole forward. The fly landed well short of the target and the line bunched up in the water as the man walked close.

“You’re doing well. This time wait a little longer on the backcast before casting forward,” as the man demonstrated with his arm. The boy reeled in the extra line until he had just the right length to start again. Casting cautiously the boy stopped the pole if only momentarily on the back of each stroke.

“A couple more feet of line should do it.”
The cast flew forward straight towards its target as the boy watched the line lay out nice and straight on the water with the fly bouncing abruptly of the log and into the water.

“Perfect,” the boy thought to himself as the fly danced in a small eddy for just a second before being slurped down so gently that only the man saw what happened.

“Set the hook, you got him!”

Pulling hard back on the rod the boy nearly fell over stumbling across the rocks that were behind him. He was not going to let go of the rod though even if he fell down and cracked his head against a rock. The trout thrashed violently against the line on the surface before diving for the safety of the log.

“Reel him in—keep him from getting under that branch.”

The boy’s trembling fingers struggled to hold the reel knob as he wound it frantically to back up the trout while the man grabbed for his net and stepped into the creek.

“Work him towards me,” the man said motioning to the fish as it turned downstream. Backing up the bank the boy pulled to move the fish near the man.

“Got him, it’s a brookie,” the man held up the net “very nice fish young man, very nice.”

Smiling wide the boy ran down to the bank. The green speckled back and salmon pink belly glistened in the afternoon sun. Turning the fish on its back the man pulled the hook.

“Hold him here in the water. He’ll wake up if you rock him back and forth.”

The boy held the fish for just a few seconds still shaking from the excitement. With a feeble tail flip and then a stronger one the trout escaped the boy’s hands and paused in the shallow water before disappearing into the deeper water.

 

The fly the man had given the boy was sitting on the cabin dresser proudly on display as the boy pulled the blanket up snug around his neck. His legs ached from the day and the evening dinner sat contently in his stomach.

“Quite a day.”

It was the first thing father had said in quite awhile.

“Are we going again tomorrow” the boy said quietly as he struggled to stay awake.

“I think we will—I only wish your grandfather was here to fish with you.”

The boy smiled softly to himself as he drifted off to the river bend in his mind.

 

Comments

  1. 28 June 2006 nathan Larson

    Interesting site. Thanks for putting this together…off to read the archives.

    nl

    NL Wilson WoolyBlogger®

  2. 28 June 2006 Carol

    This was a delightful story to read…and it still has me smiling as I think about it, your website and even the first time I held little “Dan Jr” so many years ago. I thoroughly enjoy your site and stories! Thank You!

    From a Proud Aunt

 
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