As spring shows its face (albeit slowly) my thoughts start to turn to spring activities. Its just about time to dust off the fly rod and think about hitting the lakes and streams of the great northwest. Its hard to ever think about fishing without thinking of my grandpa. This morning I was chatting with a friend about fly fishing in Montana over email and I was immediately transported through time to my childhood.
Starting at about age 8 my parents used to put me on a Greyhound bus in Las Vegas to go to spend the summer with my grandparents in Anaconda Mt. Funny, parents cringe to even let their kids walk to school alone these days and mine used to hand me a box of sandwiches and tell me to make sure and change buses in Salt Lake City and waved goodbye as I left for a two day journey to Montana. Once at my grandparents house, there was almost immediately a fishing trip planned with Grandpa. It wasn’t that long ago but let me tell you, Montana was not the yuppy get away it is today. We would go fishing to many of the places touted in fly fishing magazines today and never see another soul. Today its like fishing at the mall. I digress. Whether Grandpa took me to a lake or stream, it was a guarantee that we would catch loads of fish. Grandpa must have had the patience of Job to fish with me. I figure by the time I really could fish on my own, I owed Grandpa about $18,589.50 in lost flies. “GRANDPAAAA I GOT ANOTHER SNAGGGGGG!!!’ I would yell. Or cry. He would always stop what he was doing and help me. Some times the help would come in the form of “Well wade out and get it undone”.
No matter where we fished, no matter the method used, Grandpa always kicked my hiney at fishing. He would catch more, catch bigger fish than I. Always. I have a few very clear memories of specific fishing trips. I wonder what it was about these few that have always stuck with me. I remember once we were fishing a tiny tributary of the Big Hole river. It was tiny. You could jump across in some places. There was a spot that had a little water fall. Grandpa told me to get on my belly and sneak to the edge of the top of the water fall and look in the pool. I did and was rewarded with staring into a pool with probably 20+ 24″ trout. It was a sight to behold. I tried to catch one but they didn’t get to be 24″ by letting some snot nosed 10 year old catch them. Another memory is of us fishing the Big Hole river. It was a good day of fishing and we were done by about 2pm. As we were walking back to the car, I was a few hundred yards in front of Grandpa. I walked by what looked like a good fishing hole behind a boulder and stopped to drop in my line. The bank was REALLY steep and was just sand. I couldn’t really stand on the bank so I dropped my line in from the road. My fly was immediately taken by a huge trout. I fought it for just a second or two before hoisting it to the steep sandy bank. Rookie move. The fish came out of the water and was 24″ easily. It came off the fly and flopped around on the steep bank as I am sliding down trying to grab it. Before I could even get close it was safely back in the water. AHHH!!!!!! This whole event took maybe 5 seconds. Grandpa walks up just as I am crawling back up the bank. I scream my story. His reply was “Uh huh…” “NO REALLY IT WAS HUGE!!!!”. Ah the fish that got away. I will never forget it. I will never forget Grandpa messing with me about his disbelief. He got such a kick out of such things.
Grandpa always fished with a bamboo fly rod that he had for as long as I remember. It was weathered and repaired and to me was as perfect an object as a thing ever was. I remember as a kid I got to use whatever was laying around, which most often was a spinning rod with a fly reel attached, but Grandpa always had the bamboo. The last time I ever saw Grandpa fish, was about 10 years ago, we were camping with my parents and grandparents in Montana near Anaconda. Grandpa and I walked to this stream. I sat and watched him cast the bamboo rod. He was probably 90 years old at this time and I could tell that this was probably the last time that this rod would be cast by his hands. I sat and admired these weathered hands work their magic as they had so many times before. It was as if his rod had been crafted for him and him only.
Once back at camp I sat with my mom and told her that there are few things that hold as good a memories for me as did fishing with grandpa. I told my mom that when my grandparents died, there was nothing I really wanted, but having that fly rod would be amazing. My mom said that I should just ask Grandpa if I could have it. I told her I couldn’t do that. Not my style. Later that evening, my mom told me that she had told Grandpa what I had told her earlier and that he said that I could absolutely have the rod when he passed on. I was happy but there was so many more people that deserved it more than I. I was sure that one day it would silently disappear into the hands of a family member more deserving.
Well time passed and my grandparents did both pass away as life makes its cycle. Shortly after his passing my mom was at my Grandparents house to help clean out their possessions and decide what to do with everything. She called me one day and said, “Cary I have some bad news. The fly rod is gone. Someone must have already taken it”. I was disappointed but not surprised. I had little hope of actually getting the rod. I have to admit a little anger at the unknown family member taking the rod, but it was gone and I knew it would happen so that was that.
Its a good thing you can’t see me type this next part for I am unable to tell it without crying. The year after my Grandpa passed away, we were at my parents house for Christmas. We had opened gifts and were sitting there amongst wrapping and things, when my mom said, “Oh wait, Cary I have something else for you, close your eyes”. She walked to her bedroom and as she was coming back said “Are your eyes closed?” I said they were. She walked to me and laid something in my hands and said to open my eyes. I opened them and looked down at my grandpa’s fly rod. I could do nothing for seconds but wipe tears from my eyes. So many memories of such an amazing man sitting there in my hands. No physical object ever given to me was this special. Through cloudy eyes, I asked my mom how she got it. She told me that my aunts Linda and Delores had run across it in my Grandparents house and had remembered seeing it on the list that my Grandparents had made of things that they wanted to go to people. Grandpa despite being in his 90’s had remembered that he had promised me the rod and had put my name on the list as the recipient of it. They put the rod aside for me. Months later they had told my mom and gave it to her to give to me. I sat looking at the rod for a long time. It was weathered and aged from years of use. It was once broken and had been repaired with a method Grandpa often used, epoxy tape wrap. The cork handle is dark from years of sweat and dirty hands. I imagined the thousands of fish that this rod had caught. The family fish dinners around a camp fire produced with this piece wood and metal and cork and a little epoxy. I feel guilty for the fleeting moment of anger towards the earlier disappearance of the rod. Guilty for thinking family took it, when in reality, they took it for me. I will never be able to show enough gratitude to them.
This year as I start the fishing season, I will take a moment to hold The Rod. To feel its smoothness and its age. To breath in the smell of weathered cork and to remember a great man that cared so much for his grand kids. And to think about family that cared enough for me to give me something incredibly special, that I am still not sure I deserve.