Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

Having been born in town, my father wasn’t thought by most to be a hunter, although he’d spent some of his formative years on a southern Indiana depression-era farm, and one must guess he’d put more than one rabbit or duck into the family pot in those days.

I was about 7 years old. “This one was mine,” he said to me, stroking his hand down the barrel of the diminutive “Little Scout” rifle and loading a ridiculously inexpensive .22 short round into it. I knew there was another rifle sitting in the closet, a small-bore Savage, but my Dad wasn’t sure where that had come from down through the years — perhaps one of his uncles. Despite plenty of experience with the .30-06 Springfield-chambered M1 and the kind of heroic courage every man in his WWII generation had delivered, over all other hardware he clearly felt a special nostalgia when it came to the unassuming Little Scout.”

Now, so many years later, I stand stream-side deciding which way I’ll set up my leader and tippet, hoping to fool a few trout. Droppers? Ganged nymphs? Prospecting techniques?  There are so many ways to do it.  I can drop a nymph behind a nymph behind a nymph, and triple my odds. But…isn’t that just shot-gunning things? Isn’t it just kicking the ‘decision can’ down the road? And I’ll have to suffer the tangles that such a rig will bring on.

But if I do it I can ensure that one of those flies fishes high, one at mid-depths, and one bounces along the bottom…help figure out where they’re lurking. But then…despite the tangle-prone thing, it‘ll set up a scenario of doubt in my mind later in the day…regarding which fly should have been tied point vs. which mid vs. which high. I’ll end up switching them all around the moment I get a little impatient for some action, wasting tippet material and fishing time.

A squirrel runs up a tree on the far side of the riffle, and re-triggers the memory that momentarily replaces practical dilemmas running through my head….

“The bullet goes in here, and then you cock it like this…” my Dad had said, showing my young self which end was the projectile end and which held the powder. He pointed out the simple hammer, and the “bolt” that was no more than a pin to pull down a little breech cover…and he let me carry the rifle, and six or eight .22 short shells in my left hand, as we walked through the black-walnut-choked woods around which the fields of our Ohio farm were wrapped. Since I was so young, the lightweight Little Scout was the perfect tool for my first intro to living off the land. Still it seemed huge and magnificent to me at the time.”

Back to the present…thinking of my fly fishing leader here, I can also set up a bounce rig. Of course that’ll require re-rigging if I want to change the depth I’m fishing…not as easy as just timing the sink rate of a weighted fly.

Or I can mix not only depths but fly types too; I can drop a nymph off a dry…go with that, yeah…then those rises under that tree across from me become targets as well. But…it sure looks like they’re taking something off the top so invisible I can’t see it at all. If I have to change out one dry fly for another, it’ll require removal of both flies…and I’ll also have to experiment with different dropper depths — again a time-waster and doubt-tempter in the making. Anyway those surface feeders could be small fry…I have a quiet feeling a dry fly will become more trouble than it’s worth.

Should I at least go ahead and set up the second rod, though? Put a sinking line on it…and a bugger? Then I’ll have a dry setup and another one for deeper. But that’s 15 minutes more of set-up time…and the sun is already peeking through in places.

Decisions, decisions…so easy to over-fascinate on all the options, all the gear….

Something falls from a tree behind me, heavy enough to make a dull thud. Might have been one of those few remaining walnuts that have managed to hang on this late in the year.  Did a squirrel dislodge it? I listen for sounds of scampering down a trunk as I make my final leader rig decisions. All things considered, without quite knowing why, I opt for a single rod, and a simple one-fly rig.  And then I step into the water — I always step in before choosing a fly, so that my movement disturbances will die down and the quiet time of deciding and tying hook eye to tippet will work in my favor.

I hear the squirrel coming down the tree thirty feet behind me. Again the sound recalls the beautiful bushy fox squirrel spied simultaneously by my father and the dog, way back then….

My Dad had simply said, “There’s one; watch out now, and be quiet.”  He’d slipped the rifle from my hand and started to raise it to his shoulder.

 “Daddy, do you want these bullets?” I’d asked, probably too loud, holding out my hand. 

 “No, I already have one in it,” he’d reminded me.

 “Don’t you need more?  What if you miss?”

 He’d given me a loving look of intention–of commitment.  “If you’re careful, you know, one is all you need, son,” he’d said. 

 

I come back once again to the present, and tie on a fly I’m convinced from experience might be looked upon with interest by the rainbows in this stream. I commit to using the one fly, and to fishing it well; I’ll stand by that. I take an extra few moments watching the water’s surface, the play of a breath of air across the glassy liquid, the likely oval shape of the deepest part of this little run, the precise line that separates downstream from gentle eddy backwater…and a point where the sun is beginning to dance upon a portion of water it has not touched since the day before. I let quiet and calm reign on the water, and upon myself, for another few moments while I watch.

For one remaining instant the older memory stays in my mind:

My father had looked up along the straight trunk of that big old hollow tree.  He’d waited for the right moment, and it took its time coming.  When it did, he took careful aim, steadied, controlled his breathing, and I heard a ‘bang’ that sounded like a toy cap gun…and a bushy orange-furred critter fell to the base of the tree, right in front of the dog, who being a family member in good standing instinctively knew that while it was a very interesting gift from above, it also did not belong to him.

 We’d gathered up the hapless squirrel, destined to live longer in our memories than any of its fellow squirrels of the day, and walked softly and casually back to the house, where we would clean, cook and eat it around the family dinner table, thanking the Lord for the gift of a meal, like farm families used to do. I’d watched my Dad remove the tail and pour salt in where the tailbone had been, with the dog riveted on the process and exhibiting a tenacious interest no elementary school child had ever mustered in any class…

…and I still have that tail as a memento today. No fly tying scissors will ever be applied to it as long as I live.

Now, on the water, I decide to put my first cast and my single fly exactly where I need it to be — exactly where its drift will take it through the head of the channel and keep the line lying straight. I have to forward cast into my back-cast space and then complete the presentation over the back of my hand…and I take my time, steady my posture, control my breathing. When everything is perfect in the air, I lay the single fly into the water.

And as I begin to watch the line, I finish the old memory, recalling…

…how a little boy had looked at his Dad as they’d walked back to the house so long ago, how he’d marveled at his father’s keen hunting prowess and simple patience-born success…with a little one-shot rifle.

Fly fishing is as much a meditation on Life as it is anything else, and I recognize with a smile the lessons from the past that have guided my choices this morning…how I’d settled on a single rod, a single hole to fish, a single fly, and the importance of a single presentation…how avoidance of complexity has translated to avoidance of both distraction and excuse…how decision and stealth, commitment and intention, have come together to lay out my first and singularly most important cast. And I realize how the simplicity of the equipment my father had had to work with so long ago had ultimately forged in him a decisive self-reliant strength, and had made him, across the years of his life, a better man at whatever he’d set out to do.

Maybe it will make me a better fisherman.

2 Comments

  1. Hey Mike,
    Thanks for sharing the memory! Sounds like it was a special time for you.
    All the best, Joe

    1. Hi Joe, thanks for wading through it. Naturally our memories are special to each of us, equally. But it occurred to me this one might be worth sharing here, because it revealed how it had paralleled the morning’s angling and had helped shape my approach to fly fishing. And it also illustrated to me how fly fishing serves as a kind of meditation on Life…our choices, how we became who we are, etc. It’s that “free association” part of standing out there in the stream that gives it meaning; in our fixations on fly patterns and rigs and fish size, we don’t tend to talk so much about that, but it’s still one of the biggest reasons we’re out there, and bottom line most of us can’t get enough of it. I wanted to pay that part of the sport a little well-deserved homage.

      – Mike

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