If you go back, way back…to when I was just a young man of 14, you would have found me and my father, a bucket of minnows, some old Chuck Taylor’s and Indian Creek. I have been fishing this small, yet mighty creek for…well 42 years now! This exact section was where I first caught a smallie as I followed dad from rock to rock and flipped minnows into pools.
Time has moved forward and lots of things have changed; yet this flowing piece of water remains and the smallmouth there are still as smart and aggressive as they were some 40 years past. I have fished it so many times that I know each little turn, rock and pool very well. I have loads of memories of my father ahead of me; as a young man he was leading…and in the latter years he would sit at one spot and watch me fish. Those are times I will never get back and yet times I will never lose.
About a month ago I received an email from a Louisville native named Ryan Gass. Ryan was just wetting his feet in fly fishing and as many folks do each year was reaching out for some info to help in getting started. What Ryan did however, was above and beyond anyone else…as he asked to drive north 2-3 hours and meet with me. We agreed on a time and a place and as they say, the rest is history.
Seldom do I like a person from the first second…I am at times a hard person to please. Ryan was the exception; just like my friend, Frank, from many years past and another fly-guy, young Thomas Bouldin of earlier this summer. I liked Ryan and most I liked how polite and attentive he was. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need an audience, but I do feel like there are times when you need to ask a question and then actually wait for an answer?
Ryan and I started talking about a slurry of topics and it was evident that he, like me, had grown up in the country…not the USA as a country…but the country whereby you actually learn to do things yourself and when the fence needs mending, you grab the gear and get it done. Truth is we talked of random items for over an hour before the topic turned to fly fishing and all of its many nuances.
I knew that Ryan was indeed serious about learning the sport; if you will drive 3 hours to talk to someone, which is usually a good clue. I told him that often I get (sometime one or two a day) an email from someone, somewhere, that wants the magic bullet. They want me to give them the fly and leader set up so that they can catch fish that moment. So here is the revelation; that simply can’t be done. I don’t know how you fish, what the water conditions are, what the weather is like…and the pieces of the puzzle go on and on. Now, I will do my best…but learning a craft that has taken me 40+ years to get a handle on, it takes time, a lot of time.
The next part I liked is that Ryan was organized and had actually written his thoughts and questions down; this indeed saved some time and allowed us to focus our conversation. Ryan asked questions about structure and set up; by sitting in front of me we could really discuss the difference in sink tip, floating and full sink line. You see, that is a hard thing to accurately do via an email. Long story short…we talked for two hours and then I had invited Ryan to fish a spot with me on his way back south. A half hour or 45 minutes later and we were stringing fly gear and off to chuck a streamer for a couple of hours together.
I had told Ryan that I hadn’t yet been to this spot this year and wasn’t completely sure what to expect; as I pulled in I could see that the water was clear and nothing had change, the stream was just as it looked some 40 years ago when dad and I first approached it. I took a few minutes to tie a couple of flies for Ryan and then explained my version of how we would best find and catch the smallmouth on this stream…and then we stopped talking and started catching.
Ryan hadn’t made ten casts when he caught the first smallmouth of the day; it was a beauty and while only about ten inches, it was indeed our native son and we were glad to have removed the skunk from the stream. Hole by hole and riffle by riffle we slowly ambled downstream as we caught smallmouth, rock bass, sunfish and even one largemouth bass. Just like I have said many times about judging a person’s character on the golf course, the same can be said for fly fishing. You quickly find out what kind of person you are dealing with while on a stream and Ryan was exceptional. He took the time to notice the little things in nature and appreciated the fish, that for a moment, we would be communing with.
The highlight of the day for me came as we neared the end of a long pool that over the years has given me many good memories, but none more than the very last time dad fished with me…he had worked along the stream ahead of me and had taken his portable golf chair out and was sitting watching as I neared. I can still vividly remember making a long casts to the back of the eddy where dad was parked; I had a black popper and as the fly sat there, motionless…a 15 inch smallmouth burst forth from the water and gobbled up my fly. Dad had the best seat in the house; after landing the fish we stopped and talked a bit and I could see, on his face, how happy he was to be a part of this fishing expedition. Oddly, Ryan was just to my left as we neared this magical spot…I had tied on a crayfish pattern of mine and was bouncing the fly back across the same pool when I felt the tug. After lifting my 3 weight rod I knew that I had hooked into a true trophy; indeed a few minutes later I filmed a chunky 18 inch smallmouth. Ryan and I talked for a bit and as I walked towards the next riffle I had one of the many moments I have had since dad passed; it didn’t last too long because I know that his legacy lives on in me and in my sons. That is what fly fishing is all about!