Thursday, December 26, 2013

An Ode to Berry

Red breast sunfish hold a special spot in my fly fishing memories...thanks Berry for playing a big role in those memories
I subscribe to the theory that fly fishing is genetic.  While I have no scientific data to support this, I do offer this anecdotal evidence. My birth father was an fly fisherman.  His three sons are also fly fishing fanatics.  In my case, I never got to fish with my birth father, at least not in the physical sense. He died of cancer when I was two years old. While I never fished with him when he was physically on this earth, I take my birth father, "Al" fly fishing with me in the spiritual sense on each of my fly fishing adventures. This is why I believe fly fishing is hereditary...although you can choose to learn it.
About three years after my birth father's death, my mom remarried. My step-father may not have chosen me to be his step-son, but for nearly 46 years he chose to be my dad. His recent death at age 84 had me reminiscing about many great memories, but as a fly fisherman, three standout that I think are worth sharing.
My dad, who went by the nickname "Berry" as a young man, was not an avid fly fisherman but he was an avid sportsman. He loved to hunt and preferred the woods over church to be closer to God. Despite not being an avid fly fisherman he managed to get me to the trout stream every opening day. When my folks retired to the western foothills of North Carolina, my dad expressed an interest in fly fishing. And why not? They lived about 30 minutes from a nice trout stream; my brother Jan and I and our families lived just two hours from them; and Jan owned a fly shop and guide service where I hung out and occasionally helped him run it.
One year we gave dad a nice fly rod outfit for Christmas. It didn't take dad long to cast a nice loop. It seemed like he was a natural. Hell...he seemed like he was a natural at anything he, archery, baseball, pool, table tennis, etc. and fly casting was no different, although his actual fly fishing skills needed honed.
Case in point, I remember fishing with him at the trout stream near where he lived. We fished a pool with rising fish but they were being persnickety.  I finally dialed in on what they were munching and caught a couple. Dad was still fishless when I waded over and gave him the fly I was using. I positioned myself back on the other side of the stream and on the first cast with the fly dad hooked a good trout. As he got the fish close I could tell he wasn't sure what to do, but before I could get over to him with the net he beached the fish, "gently" placed his boot on the trout, and removed the hook. He then "nudged" the trout back to the water with a boot to the anal fin. The fish did swim away, but we had a lesson on releasing fish on the ride home.
Dad was eager to learn and like many of us could hardly wait to try out new gear. One Father's Day we gave him a pair of felt hip waders. We celebrated the day at my house and dad seemed pleased with the hippers. As lunch finished up I could tell that dad wanted to try the new hip boots out on the water. There was a light rain falling and it was unseasonably cool for June.  I got the feeling Mom wanted us to stay put. However dad insisted so we headed down to the Eno River near my house. There, the red breast sunfish were bedded up...if we caught one we must have caught a hundred. A helluva good way to spend a Father's Day.
Perhaps the best fly fishing story was relayed to me by brother Jan. He took dad to a very popular trout stream in western NC. There was easy access and plenty of fish, but also plenty of fishermen.  Generally fly fishermen abide by a proper code of conduct. Etiquette dictates that if a car is parked at a pull out and folks are gearing up, then that hole is theirs to fish.  Well, Jan and dad were parked at a pull out with no fisherman in sight. They began rigging up to fish when two hardware chucking good ole' boys walked right past them, walked down to the hole, and commenced to casting their rooster tails. Jan, not wanting to be confrontational suggested to dad that they drive to the next pull-out. But the old man would have none of that. He said, "I take care of them..."
So dad walked right between the two men stripped out some line and began flailing and flinging that fly in every which direction!  Dad quipped, "This is my first time and I ain't very good at this...y'all better watch out!"
The two men reeled in and quickly headed down they did, dad's cast straightened, his loop tightened, and the fly landed gently on the water. They fished the rest of the day without running into another fisherman.
I am thankful for those memories and all the others dad left with us. I know I will get to fly fish with Berry again on those Heavenly waters...I'm sure Al will join us and he'll have all the best flies tied up and ready to go.

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