A good local fly-fishing shop deserves as much nurturing and protection as an endangered flower. Threatened by internet competition, giant chain stores, and a shortage of fly fishermen, these shops hover a short step above extinction.
So, when a shop opened nearby, I immediately went to pay homage, and as is my habit in fly shops, pay with credit.
Upon my entering, a black Lab sauntered up, nuzzled my hand, and put on his happy customer grin. Labs have four legs up on Walmart greeters.
The proprietor rose from a fly-tying bench in the back and came forward in case I needed rescuing, then he introduced himself.
“Howdy,” he said, “I’m Spyder.”
A Spyder in a fly shop. I bit my tongue to keep something stupid from coming out like, “How do you keep from eating all the inventory?” or “Spyder, which fly is your favorite?” or better yet, “I bet you’re a big fan of barbless hooks.”
Instead, I reverted to a safer question, “Catching any?” and we were off on the usual conversation when two fly fishermen meet. After a few tales exploring who had caught what and on what, we began backtracking.
Trout fishermen keep tabs on rivers the way southerners keep track of relatives. Once you find one in common, you’re kin. Being both a trout fisherman and southerner, I suspected we might just end up being double cousins.
As it turned out, Spyder had lived out west and moved to the south. I’d lived in the south and moved for a while out west. I fished mostly in Colorado; he fished mostly in Wyoming and Montana. Our weekend escapades seemed to have taken us onto each other’s waters. Our paths intertwined in space but not time, often fishing the same streams, but being off by as little as a season.
The more we talked, however, the more it seemed certain we’d eventually find common ground, most likely on the bank of a river.
While we talked, I loitered in the fly-tying section, sifting through the hooks and hackles for ingredients to a midge pattern Spyder had mentioned. I settled on Big Eye hooks, my own eyes not being what they used to be, and a pack of grizzly hackles. I then showed considerable restraint by forcing myself to the checkout counter without a single pass through the rod department.
The Lab had by now retired to a vantage point with a cool floor and a good view of the front door, apparently having little faith that Spyder and I would ever make a connection. Either that, or he already knew.
Finally, I asked Spyder what he’d done for a living before running his fly shop.
Law enforcement,” said Spyder. “I worked with drug dogs.”
“That’s funny,” I replied. “I once gave a Lab pup to a trainer who specialized in drug dogs. The pup ended up having a full career with law enforcement here in Greenville County. Once, I even saw him on the evening news making a bust.”
“What was his name?” asked Spyder.
“Chip,” I said casually.
“I knew Chip!” exclaimed Spyder, with the same tone my grandmother used when fitting in the last piece of a four-day jigsaw puzzle.
Somehow, though, it seemed appropriate here in South Carolina to meet a man who had known my dog. It might be hard to prove, but I’ll bet our dogs were double cousins.
“Southern Relations” is an excerpt from Jim’s award-winning book, A Creek Trickles Through It. You can find his books on Amazon or purchase autographed copies at www.acreektricklesthroughit.com.