This is a true story from the Hardyreels collection I hope you will find it applicable to the spirit of the General Discussion Forum.
The Old Man of the Morning & the Best Day I Ever Had Fishing;
My first rod was a 6'8" solid glass Ike Walton rated for the modern equivalent of a #7 line. The reel was a South Bend 1122 single action and the line was a level floater.
That takes us back into the sixties. It took until the mid seventies for me to replace that rig and then only after a day which I will never forget.
It was a beautiful April morning in North Central Pennsylvania and I was fishing Little Pine Creek just a mile below English Center in Clinton County. The water conditions were perfect and I was out to kill some trout. I never really liked the taste of trout but used to keep them as evidence of my success. Because of this urge to succeed at filling my limit I was always armed with both fly and spin gear. I definitely was not proficient enough with the fly rod to risk being without my spinning gear also.
I had been traipsing down the creek tossing a clear plastic bobber with a big fat cricket hooked to a #4 Eagle Claw Baitholder about three foot from the bobber. I had came to the head of a nice riffle that flowed into a nice long glide pool when I noticed an old man sitting on a log on the left bank as I faced downstream. Now when I say old I'm talking maybe around seventy to seventy five, to me that was really old, now it just seems like a guy maybe fifteen years older than me.
As I approached his perch I called out the universal greeting of my time, "Have any luck". The man stated that he had caught a few early on a Lt. Hendrickson but was waiting for the action to become a bit better. I glanced around and seeing no fish either in a creel or on a stringer at the creek-side I was suspicious of his claims of success. At this point in my life the only fish I would release were those that failed to meet the minimum size limit. But hey, give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe he took the fish back to his car. He also mentioned something about spotting some "Common Yellow Throat Warblers' and Belted King Fishers whatever they were, birds, I knew that, but really didn't know one from another. So there we were, an old man with his beat up Stanley Thermos, binoculars, and probably the first Fenwick Fen Glass 8' 6wt. rod ever sold in Pa. and a twenty two year old kid who knew everything and had more energy than he knew what to do with.
I've always been a talker and this encounter was no exception. Fortunately for me the old man seemed willing to have company and thus to enlighten a younger fellow who was overdue for some humility. So it was that the stage was set for the best day I ever had fishing.
After the initial exchange regarding our results that morning he began to ask questions. He ask where I worked and it turned out that he knew some of the old farts that worked at the same Bethlehem Steel Mill as I did. When the conversation turned back to fishing and more specifically fly fishing I announced that I too was a fly fisherman. I soon went hustling back to my car to retrieve my fly pole so I could further impress this old fellow.
I hurried back to the creek side after grabbing my Ike Walton (complete with bent ferrell} from the trunk of my car. It was my first and at the time the only fly rod I had ever held. A real beauty with a big red South Bend reel, a level line that I got for 50 cents and a nice six foot length of Gladding 6lb leader tied to a big fat square knot at the end of the fly line. Back then I had never even seen a rod tube and so my rod was rather battered up. Upon rejoining the old gent I propped my rod against the log and joined him in sitting there and feeling like a real fisherman for some unknown reason. You see, I had never sat on a log along a creek with an old man before, neither my father nor grandfather were fishermen. By the time this day had rolled around my father had been deceased for quite some time (he died when I was 12) I was a young person trying to learn it on my own.
He looked at my rod and reel and said, “From what you tell me you have a good job, tell me son, what the hell are you doing with that
?” With what, I ask? With that
he said as he gestured toward my rig. Embarrassed I ask what was wrong with my rod? The man seemed to take some time as he thought of his response. Finally he spoke and the exchange went sorta like this, “Do you really like fishing? (Yeah.) You like being out here around the water and amongst the trees and meadows? (Yes.) Well then you need to do yourself a favor, you need to take the time to learn a little bit about what’s out here. You need to learn the names of the different trees and flowers and the birds with which you share this place. Take the time to sit and watch rather than always trying to make something happen. If you do you will see that there is plenty of stuff happening all around you. Get your self a good pair of binoculars and when the fishing is not so good watch those birds. You will learn that when the Swallows are flying high the spinners are up there and when the only thing working is the Kingfisher it’s time to sit down. He then went on to recommend that I visit a friend of his who operated a now long gone tackle shop on Rt. 44 along Big Pine Creek. He said that I should tell the owner that he (Bob) had sent me and that I needed to be set up with a good balanced Trout fishing rod and reel. He said that I would never regret getting rid of my present rod and reel. I thanked him for his advice and sat awhile longer feeling a little out of place. Not scolded but a bit shy in the face of constructive criticism. After an acceptable pause I bid him farewell and good luck and got on with my day.
That was morning. The evening found me still trying to catch my first fish of the day. Pennsylvania can be like that. Some days you can do no wrong and on others you can’t buy a fish. I pulled my car into the parking spot below a place called The Panther Restaurant along Rt. 287 at English Center Pa. and grabbed my spinning rig and hurried off down the path towards Little Pine Creek. This was a known hot spot to me due to the fact that the state used to stock trout in that place. As I neared the waters edge my hopes plunged. There in the tail of the pool was some old woman! Upstream of her was an equally ancient man probably her husband. They were fly fishing. I hadn’t been there more than 20 seconds when the woman hooked a fish. I stared hungrily at the splashing, thrashing fish at the end of her line. Dam, why didn’t I get here sooner before these old farts hogged up the whole pool? She played the fish in and then she did the unthinkable, she let it go! What was it, the man called to her, a little Brown she replied. Within half a minute he had a fish on his fly splashing and jumping. I could stand no more.
At nearly a dead run I headed back to the car to get my fly rod, the moment of truth was soon to be at hand. There were definitely fish here! As fast as I could I assembled the two piece rod and fastened one of those big fat creations of mine to the end of my leader. Quickly I made my way back down the path through the little meadow to the water.
Sure enough they were still there and God, they both had a fish on! I waded in downstream of the woman. Thinking back, I was probably a bit too close but that was a lesson still to be learned. I was now ready to demonstrate to these old farts what an athletic young man having good coordination could do with a fly rod! I began ripping line from the spool and pumping the rod back and forth as I had taught myself to do over my years of failed practice at fly casting. I was pleased that tonight things were going well, I hadn’t cracked the whip yet and on the forward cast could see that my fly was still attached. After a little effort I had enough line in the air and I felt that my competition should be duly impressed, it was time to “lay it out there”. With one final powerful thrust I made my move, poetry in motion, youth, strength, and hope for the future riding on this cast…………………. Oh No, no, splat! What the……….. How could that? The 6 and 2/3 foot Ike Walton had come apart at the joint! My tip section flew about ten feet out then landed in the calm water with a resounding splat! Oh My God! Why, how, and why now?
I could feel the heat rising behind my ears, could feel the ears and my whole face turning red. You know the feeling, like getting called on the carpet for something you’ve done wrong. I reeled, and reeled as fast as I could. I could feel them looking at me. The only thing I could think of was to get out of there and to do it as fast as I could. At least the fly snagged the tip top so that I could crank in my displaced rod tip. Stumbling and splashing I headed for the shore. Thank God I didn’t fall down to further the show and the shame. Sweating and cursing under my breath I made for my car. So went the “Best day I ever had fishing”.
What would make this the best day I ever had fishing? Had I not had the catastrophic failure complete with an audience I may have disregarded the old man of the morning. Now after my evening show his advice was ringing in my ears. On my way home that night I drove 40 miles out of my way to stop at Barto’s Bait and Tackle Shop on Rt. 44. It was after 9:30 at night when I got there but the shop was in a converted one car garage attached to Mr. Barto’s home. I rang his door bell and when he answered I told him about the man who had referred me to him. Of course he knew the old man and was retired himself and doing his little business just to keep busy at something. He lit up his shop and had me come in. He told me that if I would come back the next day or whenever it was convenient for me he would have an 8’ 6wt. Fenwick Glass rod with an Olympic fly reel and a Cortland 333 DT line ready for me along with some tapered leaders and a dozen good flies. He gave me the price so that I could bring the correct amount and sent me on my way home.
I went home and there in my den where I kept all of my sporting paraphernalia I found myself paging through an Outdoor Life magazine. It was there that I found the offer to join the Outdoor Life Book Club. I took advantage of the introductory offer and choose as one of my first books, ‘Fly Fishing by Tom McNally’. This was to be one of many books on fishing but none were to be as valuable as McNally. I spent the remainder of the year studying and practicing the casts that McNally claimed I could master.
I found a quite pool on a nearby water where there was nothing to interfere with my back cast and I practiced, I cast for hours on end day after day. I learned the Shepard’s Hook, (right & left) The Steeple cast, for that time when a roll cast just won’t do or when you just want to show off. I learned to single and double haul and most importantly I didn’t worry about catching fish, I concentrated on learning. Open loops & tight loops, drop casts and bow & arrow casting were all part of the process. Next I graduated to current, line mending and presenting a nymph (in theory at least) I couldn't get enough of it.
When I finally did venture out with intent of catching a Trout it was mid August. I did just what I intended to, I caught trout, three of them and I had planned on catching each of them by observing them prior to casting. I didn’t even think of keeping one of them because I believed that I could catch as many as I wanted given the presence of fish.
So it went, a transition, a sort of re-birth, all because of that one day so long ago. In the years that have passed since my chance meeting with the Old Man of the morning I have fished from the rocky rivers and streams of New Foundland to my present home in Alaska. I have watched more birds and photographed more wildflowers than I can mention and I do remember the names of most. I have experienced things that perhaps my unknown mentor had never dreamed of but not a year goes by that I don’t find someone to tell this story to. It’s worth telling because we all have the chance to be that old man or woman. We may find ourselves in a position to shape the sporting life of a young person when we least expect it. It is my sincere hope to inspire any and all of my readers to seek to learn as much about your passion and the natural world in which you pursue it as is possible. I’m still learning and I always stop to chat with any old anglers I find sitting by a river.
Some Day we will all be the Old Man sitting on the log. If we are true to our purpose we too may be remembered as I have remembered The Old Man of the Morning & My Best Day Fishing to you.
Thank You Bob, he told me I could call him Bob when I addressed him as sir.
By Hardyreels; Ard