A Lifetime Infatuation

Michael_Vorhis 2Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, Author & Fly Fisherman, FreeFlight Publishing

There is a faded but curious family photo showing a three-year-old boy sitting on the rounded front fender of an axle-bound ’48-ish pickup truck. His little hands cradle a long stick from which hangs a piece of kite string down to the dusty back yard gravel. The little red wagon on which his siblings play rolls around behind him, but he is oblivious to their giggles, waiting with string touching the dry earth of the hilltop. He is fishing.
That was me. None of us really know why the sport of eternal optimism and eternal suspense took root so early in my heart. Was it a story told by my grandpa? I have to say I dragged a family of eight into the fascination, and to greater or lesser degrees we all remain a little transfixed to this day. That stick was the first fly rod I ever made, and despite the advent of thermo-resins and the beautiful wand I later hand-crafted and use today, the count of fly rods I’ve created has risen only a little in all the years since that proud scepter. I remember the satisfaction of sitting there on that fender, but don’t recall whether I caught anything.
Ohio offered creek bullheads and bluegills, and magazine photos offered Ohio bass. So I began as a dreamer and a bait-soaker, and moved to whittling wooden plugs from sticks found in the woods (and hand-making treble hooks out of thread and rusty tackle picked up among the rocks near lakes we’d sometimes visit). Tackle boxes congealed from plywood and nails; a little fully illustrated book came out of a 12-year-old’s pen (“The Basics of Fishing: An Insight to Freshwater Angling in North America, by Mike Vorhis”), which mostly plagiarized whatever I’d gleaned from “Outdoor Life” and the “Bass Fisherman’s Bible” that lived on the elementary school library shelf. Dough ball recipes became the rage once we discovered how big a carp can get, and that some of those monsters come up the creeks in springtime floods.
A chance glimpse of a beautiful feathered bass popper (which I think was arranged by angels) turned me from the dark side toward the noble path…and suddenly every hawk quill and piece of curly nose-tickler that fell out of a family pillow became a fishing fly. My tying was horrible! But each silly morsel I created caught a noble game fish in my dreams. My mother would save the pillow fallout and now and then a blueish jaybird feather for me.
In my late teens I went off to the military and acquired my first store-bought 7-section fly rod. Still was sketching black bass on every scrap of paper I encountered, until the great Ray Bergman flicked on a wondrous floodlight from the heavens, and the Obsession of the Gods took hold. Tying materials changed overnight, and plans formed for adventures in the Great American West. Annual high mountain backpacking trips began to land me at remote alpine lakes. Trout! Fly rod and camera were two things I never left behind, no matter how much they weighed; I’d sooner have hiked in without food.
I confess I lost track of fly fishing for almost twenty years there…but in my own defense I spent that time in line-of-sight view of trout, kayaking free-flowing rivers and flying hang gliders cross-country over truly wild terrain. Both are brilliant ways of being part of a flow, part of the high mountain world. In my mind those fascinations and fly fishing are one and the same–the flow, the high mountain paradise and all it holds, has always been my master.
The inevitable evolution that made me a husband and father kinda took broad daylight hours out of my hands, but I can still get up pre-dawn every few weeks and put in a hundred casts on a pretty little trout river, and tie up wild ideas (some of which actually work like crazy) a bit in between…and I can relive everything I’ve seen and done up to now on the pages of the thriller and suspense fiction I write. I try to remain true to the experience delivered by the real thing–to place a reader there, working a thermal in the crisp air a thousand feet above a rocky alpine snow field…or there on the stream, laying a little Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear into the clear, aerated water behind a rock.
For me it’s being there, and understanding it a little bit, perhaps learning a little more each time, and…just being part of it. I don’t profess to be an expert trout behaviorist, nor to have steady tying hands, nor to be able to cast so that the line writes my name on the water. But it’s been with me for more than half a century now…I’m a confessed romantic, always predestined to fall in love with this fantasy, and I’ll always share the feeling it sires.
Note from J. Stockard:  We are pleased to announce that Michael Vorhis has agreed to become a regular blogger. Michael is an avid fly fisher, active outdoorsman and author. You can find his books @ FreeFlight Publishing. An inveterate traveler, he now resides in Northern California. We welcome Michael and look forward to his contributions.

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