For unto us a child is born ... His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
In early November I rejoiced over a warm Sunday and some wadable water at Wildcat Shoals. When I arrived, I noticed my friend Ron McQuay’s truck parked near the boat ramp, with its distinguishable logo Ron’s Fly Fishing 101 Lessons for Beginners on the camper shell. However I saw no sign of Ron and walked upriver to my favorite spot. As I passed by the first good water near the boat ramp, I noticed a fly fisher; and his graceful roll cast caught my attention. I didn’t bother him; and began fishing, enjoying the soft winter sunshine on my face and a few small trout that found my fly appealing.
Later, I overheard a conversation between him and a guide who asked for help jump starting his truck after failing to turn off his lights earlier that foggy morning. The fisherman willingly stopped fishing and they soon had the guide’s truck started. The afternoon passed too soon and the sun’s crawl over the horizon told me it was time to go.
As I passed the same fisher near the boat ramp, he was bent over, appeared to be searching for something, and seemed agitated. “Did you do any good?” I asked.
“I’ve caught a 23” brown and I can’t find my phone,” he said. “Gotta get him back in the water. Phone might be in the truck.” He pointed to Ron’s pickup.
“Want me to bring it to you?” I asked. His positive answer made me rush to the open window of the pickup, where I spied the phone and brought it back.
“Darn it, not sure if I even remember how to work the thing,” he said.
“Well how about I take a picture on my phone and send it to Ron? We need to get the fish back in the water.”
“Oh I sure would appreciate it,” he said. Within a few seconds I’d taken 2 shots and he waded out, revived the fish and let the behemoth go. We both breathed a sigh of relief.
“Man I’m so jealous,” I said. “What a great fish!” As we talked, I learned he was Ron’s son, Jerry.
Over the course of the next several weeks, I would often see him attempting to catch another giant brown. I would speak and head upriver to try my own luck. During the rest of November, I caught mostly small fish, a few dinks, a stocker or two, but nothing of any size. I was happy to be out, however, after a long summer hiatus. Then the Sunday before Thanksgiving, everything changed. I again noticed Ron’s trunk but no Ron. I saw a lone fisher near the boat ramp but didn’t recognize him.
Relatively low water kept the nearby home’s yard grass from trapping my boot cleats and gave me hope of a better catch. Bright sunshine turned the water to glistening highlights as I threw out a size 16 olive woolly. Within a few seconds, I caught a decent stocker, followed by a tiny rainbow no more than about 6 inches.
I moved further downstream, found a small bit of moving water diagonal to the grass beds and thunder struck in the form of a stout fish. For the first time in months I had a worthy adversary on my line. He made several surges and caused my drag to issue a most satisfying hum. When I dipped him into the net, I was proud of his spirit and character. My choice of water was apparently a wise one, because I soon had another feisty fellow giving me a tussle. My drag sang for the second time and he actually swam toward the shoreline almost getting behind me. I gently guided him back out front and after several more dives, he finally surfaced just in time for me to swoop him into the net. A righteous 16 inches with a sizable girth and enough heft to bring a grin to my face, he was the best rainbow I’d caught in at least a year. I fished another 20 minutes or so but couldn’t duplicate my success. The day started to wane, but I decided to try a girdle bug and a midge dropper. Getting the rig gathered up and attached to my tippet has always been a bit daunting to me but I managed it. Somehow my multi-tasking wasn’t up to par, however, because in holding on to all the pieces, I dropped my bag of strike indicators and before I could react, it sailed downriver.
I yelled down to the nearest fisher, “My strike indicator bag is coming right toward you. Help me please!”
He nodded, turned, gave me a thumbs up and waded just enough toward shore to intercept it. I exited the water and met him near his part of the shoreline. Then I thought I recognized him. (Different hat same guy). “Jerry, is that you?”
“Sure is,” he said and handed me the bag.
“Thanks so much. That’s about $20 worth, right there. One good turn … right?” We both laughed.
I went back upriver but didn’t get a single take on my dropper rig and decided to call it a day. As I passed, I yelled, “Well I’ll leave the rest of them to you, Jerry."
After I walked up the hill and returned to my car, I thought about the joy of this day. Outsiders who don’t understand fly fishers say we’re arrogant, pride ourselves on expensive gear, are unfriendly, unwilling to share, etc. But I say, we’re a compassionate helpful group who take time to give advice, share flies, and assist wherever needed. I’ve found this to be true whether on the Norfork or the White. I’ve lost count of the people who’ve shared kindnesses too numerous to count.
As we enjoy this season of Advent, it’s an appropriate time to celebrate the ideas of sharing, giving and compassion. For the stars still shine silently over Bethlehem. The manger’s message yet prevails: Peace and Good Will still abound on the earth.