Thursday, September 19, 2013

Obligations and Opportunities

Hebrews 12:28-29 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear;  For our God is a consuming fire.

Last fall Murphy’s Law ran amuck in our household: 2 flats on hubby’s truck, a Turkey Buzzard’s collision with my windshield, and a TV which fried then died. Dealing with insurance, car repair and hanging the new TV on the wall bracket tested my endurance beyond measure. I wondered how often we test God’s patience.

By Friday, I was determined to fish regardless of circumstances. But despite a prediction of zero, Bull Shoals Dam actually generated one unit. By mid-morning, work-out and chores completion, I discovered that the water had been shut off. Suddenly I realized my fishing license was outdated and detoured to purchase one.

Finally at about 1:00, I reached my favorite White River spot, The Narrows, to find the small parking lot jammed full. Stubbornly believing my special fishing place would still be available, I quickly parked and began to gear up. A man crossed the lot and as we spoke, I recognized him as my friend Bob Krause, a writer, excellent local tyer and active fisherman. We chatted as I finished preparing. He had been invited to help with a class in Africa, but instead decided to send the teacher some materials including the recipe to his favorite fly, the White River Special.

Before I left, Bob gave me one of his creations. As I reached the water, I quizzed the next group of fishers who were leaving. One young man showed me what he’d used, a fly similar to the Little Randy I’d already attached. “That looks like this Little Randy,” I said.

He laughed, “Well my name’s Randy. So maybe you’ll be lucky.” The walk to the upper end of the island was a long one given the fact I’d worked out and done chores. But the afternoon sunshine glimmered. A light breeze tossed fall leaves across the river and the fish were rising!

I reached my favorite riffle only to find it holding three fly fishers and a guide with a boat pulled up onshore nearby. So I moved to another pool upriver and began to cast the Little Randy. On the second cast while stripping it slowly, I felt a fierce take and began to reel in a strong fish. As I caught a glimpse of him, I realized he was bigger than I’d hoped. He appeared to be a Brown as skinny as a Musky. Suddenly he tired and I easily scooped him into the net. His mouth drooled long strands of green moss and I speculated he’d been lying in one of the large moss patches as my fly drifted past.

The guide stood next to his boat with his back to me watching his clients. I couldn’t resist a quiet “Wahoo” as I rushed to shore with the Brown to get a photo.

I quickly laid him out next to my rod on a grassy knoll and guessed he was 18-20’ long--not the largest Brown I’d ever caught because of his depleted girth, but definitely the longest. His hooked jaw gave him stature. My two digital photos didn’t capture the pronounced jaw line or do him justice; but I couldn’t take the chance to wait for another opportunity when he needed to be back in the water. So I hurriedly waded out, held his tail for a few seconds while I pushed him back and forth. On the second push, he flicked his tail and surged away reassuring me of his quick recovery.

Eventually the fishing slowed on the Little Randy; and I tried a green Anna Kay, a green Wooly and a Partridge and Orange with weak results. By this time the guide and his clients were ready to leave. He looked upriver at me and we both realized he needed to back his boat out near my area. “Come on ahead. You won’t bother me. I know how hard it is to get out where you are,” I said.

“Thanks, ma’am,” he said. And carefully backed out as courteously as he could. By now the only fisher left in the pool had moved past the rock pile bordering the riffle and my heart beat faster as I moved back into my favorite location.

Remembering my latest gift from Bob, I fastened his White River Special and was into fish immediately. For the next hour, I caught feisty small stockers about every third cast. Bob’s fly, worthy of a trip around the globe, had definitely lived up to its reputation on OUR river!

By 4:30, my aching back convinced me to leave. On the way I stopped and talked to a man in a small western fly fishing hat and asked him how he’d done. “Not very well. I think my western flies are too big for this river.”

“Well here’s what I caught my big Brown on today,” I said. “If I had another, I’d give you this one.” I held out the Little Randy for him. Somehow in the exchange, he dropped the fly into a large clump of grass. I stifled my dismay and watched as he squatted down and began to comb through the grass attempting to find it. Finally I said, “Listen, don’t worry about it. The fly shop has plenty. I’ll stop and get more.” I wished him good luck and headed toward the car. I speculated how often God grants us gifts when we live our unworthy lives and ignore his outstretched hands.

I sat down at the edge of my car seat and began to remove boots and waders. Just as I stood to put them in the trunk, the westerner and two buddies crossed the parking lot. He approached me with a half-smile on his face. “You’re not gonna believe this,” he said. “But I pulled that whole clump of grass up and found your fly at the bottom.”

“Well, bless your heart.” I laughed and this time held my flattened palm out to make sure of the fly’s retrieval. Can God’s grace be passed to complete strangers on a riverbank in Arkansas? I’m sure God provides opportunities for us to witness in small ways totally unrecognizable to us.

Despite a week loaded with obstacles, I’d renewed a friendship, received a gift of a new fly, and witnessed countless examples of God’s blessings in my life.

Yes Randy, some might call it my lucky day. God simply calls it grace!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In June the fly fishing community lost an icon. Dean Darling’s contributions to NAFF and Sowbug were stellar. His down-to-earth personality and wry sense of humor blessed everyone he met. Dean’s Little Rules for Life might be summed up this way: Keep your loops tight. Always put your boots on wet. And never wear a belt with your Levi’s.

Make Mine Brown Darling
On December 26, 2005, Dean Darling didn’t think of shopping any after Christmas sales. White River conditions were just right: water low for wading and temps in the 40’s. Dean and his buddy Bob Chapman decided to go fly-fishing. Partly cloudy skies didn’t dampen their enthusiasm. They drove to the upper part of the White River downstream from Bull Shoals Dam where they strapped on waders, vests, and equipment and waded across the gravel bed. Darling’s fly rod was a Sage nine foot five weight piece of fish-catching engineering accompanied with a Hardy reel and 4 X tippet. For most of the morning, catches were light. In fact, only two small Rainbows summarized time spent for the two men. Up until about noon they had few braggin’ rights. Deciding to change his luck, Dean tied on a Ginger Prince Nymph and made what became the cast of a lifetime. The savvy fly fisher observed a fish swirl and turn on the bait. A large spawned-out female German Brown trout accepted the princely challenge, clamped the fly in her mouth and attempted escape to deeper waters. At first, Darling couldn’t tell how big the fish was until she ran upstream. After feeling a couple of powerful surges, the trout-conqueror knew without a doubt he held a trophy at the end of his rod. For ten minutes Dean battled Queen Brown, keeping up the pressure until he could lead her to the shallows and horse her in. By now Bob heard his shouts, ran as fast as waders would allow and assisted Darling with the landing. “It was the biggest fish of my life,” said the wide-eyed fisherman. The German Brown measured thirty-one inches in length with a sixteen-inch girth, and by best estimate weighed sixteen to eighteen pounds. After completing measurements and assuring himself he’d captured quality pictures of the amazing female, Darling freed the fish. When asked what part of the event affected him physically, he responded, “I didn’t realize how big she was until I let her go. When I watched her swim away, that was my heart-pounding moment!" Dean believes in the protection of the fishery and fly club conservation goals. Like most ethical fly fishers everywhere, an additional thrill comes with the knowledge that some other person will receive an opportunity with this fish. Although the two men brought cameras, the best photo came from a resident near the river. Not only did he bring a digital camera to record the event, but his entire family arrived to watch and applaud the efforts of Dean and Chapman in landing and saving the prize. The good neighbor even took the time to E-mail the picture to Darling. The casting duo spent the remainder of the day escorted by only five other small Rainbows at the end of their rods. When Dean complained of their low numbers, Bob impolitely told him, “You got your fish; go sit on the bank!” After a month of tall tales and pictures, Dean’s wife asked how much longer she’d have to listen to these stories. Dean’s reply didn’t make for marital bliss when he told her, “Honey that’s not the bad news. The bad news is I’m gonna take these pictures and make wallpaper from them and decorate, so everywhere you look, you’ll see me and this big fish smiling down on you.” As for next year’s after holiday sales, Dean will probably skip them again. But you can bet your lucky fishing hat he’ll be dreaming of a Brown Christmas and looking for more wall paper paste.

God Bless you Dean Darling. As you fish the heavenly rivers, may you find slow currents, light breezes and a big Brown lurking in every riffle.