Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Old Ones

No one talks to the old guys anymore, who in many instances have pioneered our sport. That is unless his name is Lefty. These pioneering guys know things about a time and place in fly fishing that most of us will never come to appreciate. They have been through eras where the advancement in fly fishing equipment will be like none other. They have fished waters that in their time have been fished seldom if at all, and the arduous travel necessary to reach some of these places alone is worth the conversation.

As I’m getting up there in age, there’s much that isn’t the way it use to be. An expression among this group that is frequently uttered and one that is more relative now then it use to be. For example just look at the way we fish today. For gods sake we put balloons on the end of our line where most of this group wouldn’t even think of using such a crutch. I thought that’s why anglers began fishing with a fly in the first place. To get away from all that stuff that made conventional fishing so cumbersome.

Looking back into my brief history of fly fishing, I’ve been fortunate to run into one or two of these sage old veterans. I can’t say I’ve spent my time wisely with them, but friendships were kindred and memorable days on the water were spent.

I remember one of my early ventures to the Strawberry River brushing briefly with an older gentleman. Back then the Strawberry River below the dam was a labyrinth of beaver ponds, clear as any spring creek and loaded with very large and selective Cutthroat. After the Division removed these dams from the upper portions of this river it’s never been the same.

While fishing this tremendous fishery, I ran across this guy name Whitey. Obviously the connection with his name was related to the color of his hair. I remember him introducing himself. While I had been busy trying to trick a trout or two on my intricate hand tied imitations, he was using patterns that were indicative of his era: Millers, Mormon Girls, Hare’s Ear, Cow Dungs and such. They’ve always worked and he offered me some. Being ignorant as I was, I refused his offer believing that his outdated flies wouldn’t fool any of these educated trout. Of course he proved me wrong. That was the one and only time I saw this fine gentleman who had obviously fly fished far more years than I had.

Another choice encounter happened several days before I opened the shop, back in 1986. He was my first customer, Art Dittman. Art didn’t know the word mediocre. I remember at Art’s funeral all his buddies paying their last respects and expounding on his vast array of achievements and virtues. Art won just about every state tournament there was to win. In his last years, he was still working on perfecting his fly fishing skills. He was also taking a few young bucks at the pool table. When he was younger his parents would drop him off in Kamas and pick him up in Duchesne some weeks later after fishing his way across the South Slope.

On most days, you’d find Art curled up in one of our chairs reading the latest fly fishing publication. After all the years he’d spent chasing trout with a fly rod, he was still interested in hearing what other anglers had to say and learning the latest fishing or tying techniques. Most people barely paid this incredible gentleman any mind. For those who did, they got an incredible dialect on; taking trains to Yellowstone Country, trekking across the South Slope solo, insight into virtually every famous water in the west, and if you were one of the lucky ones, a personal casting instruction from the master. I miss Art. His unique laugh was a part of the shop for many a years.

Then there was Cal Riggs with his crusty laugh. The Henry’s Fork was our common denominator. Until then I found Cal to be one cantankerous old man who didn’t give anyone the time of day. Cal use to guide out of Godfrey’s shop, The North Fork Anglers, back when I first began my travels to this part of the world. By the time I met him, he had good reason for being gruff. Cancer combined with a life of hard living will do that to you.

He had a great story from those early days at Godfrey’s. The guides that lived in the shops back room took turns doing dinner. On one of Cal’s nights he decided to make a nice large serving of spaghetti. A nice bag of basil leaves just happened to be available to season his Italian dish, however he would learn later that his bag of basil leaves were actually a bag of pot. He’d tell this story and get the best chuckle out of it. Although he told it with some frequency I never tired of the story or his ensuing laugh.

I’ll never know of Cal’s cooking abilities, but I’m fortunate to have experienced his abilities with a fly rod. By the time we met he was failing in health and struggling to make it day to day. Even with all his ills I learned that he could still fish with the best of them. We have a photo of Cal framed with his favorite fly in the back of the shop. Although Cal wasn’t the warmest human being in the world, once you broke the code he was as genuine and knowledgeable as one can be. How could you not be. After all he was fortunate to guide and fish with some of the most talented anglers in all of fly fishing: Reid Bonson, Will Godfrey, Mike Lawson, Gary Engelbretson, Terry Ring, Carl Richards and Doug Swisher, along with a few other prominent figures. I use to love getting the opportunity to sit around and listen to his stories about the early days on the Ranch, back when Lawson and Godfrey’s were the only two players in town. I only wish I’d gotten the opportunity to share a day with him on the Henry’s Fork. That would have been special.

A number of years back I got several opportunities to fish with two gracious gentleman, Jules Dreyfous and Henry Dinwoody. I took them on the Green one day and remember several young ignorant fly fishers mocking the rods they had brought to use for the day. These two young arrogant anglers thought these two old chaps to be a couple of stuck up fly fishing snobs. I should have looked to see what they were fishing, but was too agitated to pay them much mind.

Jules was fishing one of his Edwards cane rods. It was beautifully worn from years of fishing. I can’t remember what Mr. Dinwoody was fishing. It may have been a Pezon Michelle, for I remember that name coming up during our morning of preparation. I would have given my eyeteeth to fish rods of such character and quality. Although I have fishing some with bamboo, which I truly enjoyed, it’s only happened on a few memorable occasions. To both of these men, their beautifully crafted rods of bamboo where nothing special, it’s just what they fished, much as I fish my old 1978 Winston.

On this trip, Jules hooked a Rainbow that I can vividly remember to this day. He took it on an old Royal Coachman. It jumped 13 times before we landed this large trout. He was joyous in laughter through each and every jump. That old bamboo rod of his worked just fine and in actuality made more poignant the special qualities of that moment. Those two arrogant no nothings at the put will never know what they missed nor likely experience the pleasure of fishing with such elegant rods or gracious gentleman.

That night, upon their insistence I’d stayed in a hotel room. Those who know me, know that I much prefer an open ceiling of stars to the confines of brick and mortar. I had to do a few things before I turned in, and both these gentleman were sacked out when I returned to my room. To my surprise they had turned my bed down and left me a bedtime toddie on the nightstand. That’s class.

All these guys had unique and venturous lives, each very different yet equally fascinating. As I grow older, I realize what a gift it was to have crossed their paths and have shared, however briefly, in their travels during an era that harbors much of our modern fly fishing roots. Today many of our elder sportsman have been driven from the sport by the new prevailing young guns whose aggressive streamside nature has eliminated what they have found to be pleasurable in our sport. This is unfortunate, for in their loss and waning interest we lose much that makes this sport special.

No comments: