Anything Fly Fishing

Creel

3 Mins read

I’ve still got his old wicker creel. It’s a companion piece to his well-used L.L. Bean bamboo fly rod, along with the scarred Medalist reel. The three were the only fishing gear he owned. He kept an extra leader in an ordinary envelope in a pocket of his shirt and his flies in a small tin box. I’ve had them all since the house was cleaned out. The creel is battered, and the lid came off some years back. I fastened it back on but it’s not the same. The creel is just a wall hanger now, a reminder of the man who first put a flyrod in my hands.

If that old creel could talk, if when the lid was lifted, I imagine the first sound I’d hear would be the rush of his favorite trout stream – the South Fork of the American River. He had fished the length of it from the confluence with the North Fork, clear up to the heights of the Sierras below its source in Desolation Valley.

From the mid-1930’s until his legs gave out a couple of years before he died, he’d park his car along the side of the old Highway 50 and drop into the canyon, his creel over his shoulder, his flyrod in hand. He always rigged up at the car, too eager to fish to waste time streamside, he wanted to be ready to go when he hit the river.

He wasn’t a fan of waders and preferred to fish wet, working his way among the rocks and riffles in an old pair of Levi’s and laced logger boots. From mid-morning when the sunlight touched the water until noon the man was lost in his contentment – fishing, catching and releasing rainbow trout. He only kept those over twelve inches and threw back the ‘minnows,’ as he called them.

Midday he’d make a small campfire and brew himself hot tea from the tiny kettle and cup that fit inside it. The tea kit, like the L.L.Bean flyrod were gifts from his father-in-law who carried the tea kit with him in World War One. To this day the faint perfume of woodsmoke still lingers.

He also took a sandwich wrapped in waxed paper with him, usually bologna, plus an apple and a few peanuts or almonds still in their shells. The shells went in the fire under the tea while some of the nuts he’d put on a rock for the chipmunks and Stellar’s Jays to squabble over.

By the time he took his lunch break there were always several nice trout nestled in a bed of ferns at the bottom of his creel.

After lunch he’d douse the small fire, sling the creel over his shoulder and fish the rest of the afternoon until the light left the canyon leaving just enough illumination to clamber out of the canyon and hike back to his car. There he’d breakdown his flyrod and tuck it and the creel into the trunk of his car for the long drive back home, his mind still on the water and the moments when a rising trout grabbed the gray hackled fly with its yellow body and red tail that was his favorite.

I think of all of this whenever I gaze at that worn, wicker creel, his summer days fishing, the beautiful rainbows he caught.

As old as it is, the interior of the creel remains speckled with trout scales that glitter like seed pearls in the right light. And if I listen closely, I can hear the American River in there.

And every season when I go fishing and sit at day’s end by a small campfire and close my eyes, I can see the canyon and the blue river at the bottom of it, and the solitary angler casting a tight loop from his bamboo rod, a wicker creel over his shoulder. And I silently say to myself, Thank you Dad.

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