Did you ever own that perfect pair of leather boots that actually fit the first time you tried them on? They didn’t hurt when broke in, they were waterproof, and somewhat warm, but not overly hot on those long mountain hikes. These boots made each step comfortable and didn’t tear up after a yearlong sloshing in puddles, and they climbed over rocks well…they were just a joy to slide your foot in. Wearing them signified an adventure was beginning to unfold. With all the boots and shoes a person might own, there is always one pair that, no matter how worn and ratty they might look, you can’t get yourself to throw them out.
There’s not much difference between an old pair of comfortable boots and a fly rod. Each rod serves a particular purpose in different situations. A person can’t have too many fly rods. There may be a rod for low summertime streams, small brookie streams, tail races, panfish, bass bugs, streamer fishing, and saltwater. I have tried to explain this concept to my wife, and I think it finally hit home when I compared my fly rods to her shoe closet.
With a closet full of fly rods from which to choose, I always gravitate back to one in particular. During the winter, I may inventory all my rods, take them out of the case, put them together, and wiggle the tip beneath the “man room” ceiling fan. Swinging the rod rapidly back and forth doesn’t tell me a lot about the action, but it does remind me how it feels with cork in hand. With each different rod, I reminisce about the fishing trips taken, the fish caught, and the laughs all my friends and I shared on the outings. Then I stow the memories and the rod back into the aluminum tube and pick up another, and smile.
Like that old worn pair of boots, I feel the same about a specific fly rod. There is one 9’ 5-weight rod that I consistently grab when it’s time to chase trout. I don’t understand the emotional attachment to this inanimate object, but there is one. As I recall, I paid full price for it in the fly shop many years ago. But I’ve never regretted the investment. The casting stroke seems magical and methodical with it in hand. And the way it plays fish, bending between the 4th and 5th line guides helps to feel each fish vibration, pull, and surge. I think about fishing some of the other rods and sometimes do, but in the back of my mind, my subconscious is telling me I should have grabbed the “other one.” And that’s ok.
This rod has traveled the country for well over a decade and hooked fish in numerous states. Evidence of our adventures can be seen on the rod tube, almost destroyed from being thrown in the back of pickups, rolled around on floorboards, stepped on, shoved into airplane storage bins, and various other abuses. But that’s the tube’s purpose; to serve and protect.
When I bought the fly rod, it was considered a “fast action” rod, and if someone different cast it now, they would probably consider it a medium action rod. I don’t get caught up in all that hype anymore. It fits me and my casting style. I sometimes wonder if the rod just actually fit my casting style or if I changed my style to fit the rod. Either way, it works.
After all the years and all the trips, disaster finally struck. I broke THE rod. I have always been careful about an errant cast causing my fly to connect with bushes, mountain laurels, tree limbs, and grass. When wade fishing, I may fish for a long period of time before the inevitable happens. My fly gets hung up. And hung up again and again until the “hung up” spell was either broken, or my tippet snapped.
It wasn’t a snag that caused its temporary demise, but a miscalculation of my wading boot meant to land firmly and solid on a rock below the water’s surface. Somehow a tree root grew quickly out of nowhere and managed to ensnarl the boot, thus causing me to make a really big splash. I gasped and floundered as the cold water seeped inside my waders.
February water temps in the Blue Ridge Mountains can get somewhat chilly. During this quick rush of water, I slapped and kicked all the limbs and branches around me looking for solid ground as I floated through the pool I had wanted to fish. I managed to survive, but my rod, unfortunately, didn’t.
I hiked back to the truck to change clothes, grabbed a spare rod from the truck, and proceeded back down to the river to fish. No submerged fall was going to totally wreck the day I had planned. With each fish caught thereafter, which *weren’t many, I thought more about my broken rod and our journeys together. The laughs, the adventures with friends, the stories, and the people we’ve met along the way. Looking down the broken blank were battle scars; small notches where tiny split shot nicked the once smooth finish.
I talked with the manufacturer, who agreed to examine the rod and even offered to replace it with a newer model. I thought about accepting the offer. A new sleek, shiny blank with a faster action than my old one…but I couldn’t replace it. Hopeful of the results, I sent my broken rod back for inspection.
Sitting by the fire on this New Year’s Day, I checked my computer and received an email that the old rod was fitted and fixed and will be shipped the first week of January. I was lucky. I was ecstatic. What a great way to start the new year.
My memory drifts back, and I think about the rod, where I have been, my friends all these years who are still here, ready for another adventure, and those who are now up on a heavenly stream, catching fish every cast, no matter how ugly the fly or sloppy their cast. I still wish they could have been repaired and returned like my old rod, ready to go again.