Fly Fishing-Rising To The Challenge

A couple of years ago I was invited on a fishing trip. Not just any old run-of-the-mill fishing trip. This was a trip to a remote lake in Canada. And of all people to invite me, it was the world known fly fisherman, Frank Blitzki. Well, maybe not world known, but at least a name recognized among hackle packers in a three county radius of my town. Little did I know how insensitive this man could be.

He was looking for someone who could write an article about the fishing lodge in which he was part owner. As the newspaper ad worded it, “someone who is an experienced fly fisherman and eloquent with the written word.” Though I admit now I may have stretched my qualifications some, his enticing words, “free week of lodging and fishing for the chosen candidate.” was more than I could resist.

Though no expert, I theorized I had thrown a fly a time or two, though usually adorned with a night crawler. And I figured I could be as eloquent with the written word as the next guy. After all, I was a published writer. And I even remember once using the word “eloquent” down at Kelly’s Bar and Grill, our local hang out for fishermen and hunters. The moment the word slipped from my lips the room immediately fell dead silent. Pleading it was a slip of the tongue and would never happen again, the owner reluctantly allowed me to stay. There are two rules in Kelly’s. No one tells a bald-faced truth when it comes to fishing and hunting, and no one ever speaks in a manner that may give Kelly’ Bar and Grill a bad reputation. And with many of Kelly’s patrons not having an I.Q. much higher than the single digit figure, most words of three syllables or more are not tolerated.

After five seconds of diligent thought I decided to submit my resume. Two weeks later the answer came….

My wife, Maxine, bolted into the room the moment I began bounding around in circles yelling, “Yes!! Yes!!”

“Well, it took longer than I thought,” she dryly remarked, “but you’ve finally went off the deep end.”

I gave her my look of smugness. “No I haven’t miss no-it-all. I’ve just been given a free fishing trip to Canada.” I then thrust the letter at her.

Maxine silently read it, then gave me a tired stare. “It says here, fly fishing trip. What do you know about fly-fishing?”

“What’s there to know?” I said with a casual shrug. “You just jerk the rod back and forth a few times and let it fly. Now all I got to do is figure out if I still have a fly rod laying around somewhere.”

“And when was the last time you wrote a serious outdoor article,” she persisted. “I don’t think you’re even capable of writing the truth anymore. I mean, your so-called stories of your life in the outdoors have stretched the truth so far they no longer resemble what really happened.”

“As usual, you underestimate my ability to rise to whatever challenge confronts me.”

Maxine patted my cheek. “Of course I don’t underestimate you dear,” her words gushing over with patronization. “I didn’t mean to say that. I personally know you’re capable of anything. I just hope this, what’s his name, Blitzki, isn’t disappointed in your ability to rise to the challenge.”

“Grrrr,” I replied…..

I met Frank Blitzki at the airport. He was a big man with a thundering southern drawl. “Nice to meet yaal,” he boomed as my hand disappeared in his. “Where’s your fly rod? All I see is that spinning outfit.”

“Oh silly me,” I said, giving my forehead a slap. “I went and grabbed this stupid spinning rod and reel instead of my genuine thousand dollar Fenwick fly rod. And all my genuine hand tied flies were lying right beside it. And I was so looking forward to trying one of my eloquently tied number twenty-two Blue Dubbs.”

“You mean, Blue Dunns.”

“Blue what? Oh yeah, I meant Blue Dunns. Well anyway, I’ll just have to make do…They do sell night crawlers up there, don’t they?”

“Nonsense,” he responded with a slap to my back that almost knocked me off my feet. “They may not be as fine as your Fenwick, but I have some extra fly rods at the lodge.”

“Great,” I gasped in between attempts to refill my lungs. “What, gasp, airline are we flying, gasp?”

“Airline!” he shot back with a look of surprise. “Why we’re taking that little number right over there. Ain’t she a beauty? I just bought her.”

“The dumpster?” I replied, looking in the direction of his pointing finger.

“No, the plane kinda hid behind it. And don’t fret. I’ve been flying solo for almost a year now.”

“Great,” I weakly replied.

“I figured if I was gonna be flying back and forth to my lodge all the time, with us diving in and out of canyons and mountains in all kinds of nasty type weather, I just as soon be at the controls. That way if we crash I have no one to blame but myself.” He then gave a hearty laugh that turned half the heads in the airport terminal.

“Great,” I gulped.

Once we squeezed ourselves and all the gear into the plane there was almost enough room to blink one’s eyes, as long as done one eye at a time, something I didn’t have to worry about. I didn’t blink during the entire flight. The take off went surprisingly smooth. Of course this may have been aided by my death grip on the dash-board while at the same time repeatedly chanting, “Come on, baby, come on.”

For some fiendish reason Frank found my hints of nervousness a source of endless humor. For that reason I attempted to hide my fear behind indiscriminate facial tics and prayers as they came to mind.

“Aaa, Rick, you can let loose of my leg,” Frank said with a wince. “We’re at cruising altitude now, and you”ve kind of cut off the circulation. Thank you. I take it you don’t care for flying.”

“No, no,” I replied, a slight quiver in my voice, “I’m just used to a little more airplane built around me.”

Once more I gave Frank a wonderful reason to laugh.

After a flight of what only seemed to be a mere twelve or fourteen years we entered the wilderness of Canada. Frank dove the plane down amid the mountains so I could get a better look at the wilderness, ignoring my suggestive comment, “Hey, once you’ve seen one wilderness, you’ve seen them all.” It was then that time slowed to an eternity.

“Aaah, Rick?”

“Yeah?”

“The leg?”

“Oh, sorry.”

We would dive into one canyon and then pull into a steep climb over an approaching mountain, only to repeat the process several times over. After just a couple of years more than a life time we arrived at the small landing strip paralleling the lake.

Once out of the plane I attempted to hide my relief of being on the ground as best as was possible.

Frank gave a wide smile that almost spilled over with enjoyment. ” I ain’t never seen a man kissing the ground before.”

I looked up long enough to nod and grin.

“But,” he continued, ” I suggest you wipe the ring of dirt from your lips. And I also advise you leave that spinning outfit in the plane. This lake is a fly fishing only lake. Now let’s go drink a few beers with the guys.”

“Great,” I whispered under my breath.

Once in the lodge we found the other clients in the advanced stages of drunk and disorderly. They consisted of Dick, a car salesman from Michigan who I know could fish the lake dry if talking the fish into the boat were possible. A little over-bearing. The next was Ralph, a cattle rancher from South Dakota. The last was a Native American fishing guide by the name of Little Beaver, who didn’t say much, but was always grinning through teeth noticeably lacking their original count. The snagged grin grew with each successive beer.

A few hours later I staggered off to bed, either tired from the harrowing flight, or tired of listening to the endless stories of catching this and that on a number eighteen Midge blah-ti-blah tied to a three pound blah-ti-blah leader, using a bamboo blah-ti-blah fly rod. Second thought, there is no doubt it was the stories that bored me off to slumber.

It can be difficult getting out of bed at the crack of dawn when one has spent the night before attempting to match the rest of the gang beer for beer, not to mention the endless torture of stories flowing steadily in one ear and out the other while concentrating on none hanging up somewhere in between. And I know I would have felt considerably better if I would have been allowed to sleep until the crack of dawn.

“Wha…What?”

“Come on, boy,” Franks’s voice boomed through my head. “The fish ain’t going to wait all day.”

I looked at the clock through squinted and blood-shot eyes. “It’s two o’clock in the mourning.”

“By the time we finish coffee and breakfast, it’ll dang near be daylight,” he replied. “Besides, I have something to show you.”

My only satisfaction sitting down to the table was seeing that Dick and Ralph looked worse than I did. And that was saying a lot. Little Beaver….well he wasn’t a poster model to begin with. But after coffee and breakfast I felt much better.

I looked up from my coffee when I heard Frank call my name. There cradled in his hands was an opened mahogany box lined with green felt. Laying delicately in its middle was a fly rod. “Because of your description of the fly rod you left at home, I could tell you’d never be happy with just any old fly rod. So I’m going to let you use one of my most cherished fly rods. I mean this thing is priceless. And there’s some of my hand tied flies to go with it.”

The small audience smiled warmly and applauded. Little Beaver gave a snagged grin as he wiped away a tear, leaving a white streak where grime had been. Between stammers I attempted to tell Frank I’d be okay with one of his other rods, but he would have nothing to do with it. “Now, Rick, I’m sending you out with Little Beaver. And I’ll take Ralph and Dick with me. Then we’ll switch off tomorrow morning.”

Little Beaver gave me another snagged grin. “We catch much fish.”

Once out in the lake Little Beaver pointed to trout rising to the surface a few yards away.

“Okay,” I whispered to myself, trying to remember the one and only article I had read on how to cast fly line. “Bring the rod to eleven o’clock, then to two o’clock….or was it eight thirty to a quarter after six?”

Little Beaver’s eyes widened in horror as he dropped to the seat, clinging to both sides of the boat to keep from falling out, while at the same time dodging fly and fly line flailing around him.

“Aaaah, missed that one,” I said with a dejected sigh as Little Beaver and I untangled ourselves from my fly line. “Hey Beav, do you suppose you could watch your quick movements in the boat. With you jerking around this way and that, you’re kinda throwing off my timing. Anyway, find me another fish, Beav.”

“Me jerk!” Little Beaver exclaimed, his face filled with disbelief.  “Why you jerk around like that?”

“It’s a new technique I learned down in the states. It’s revolutionizing fly fishing down there.”

“Never heard of such thing,” Little Beaver gasped. “Just give Little Beaver chance to sit down and get out of way before you do it again.”

“No problem. Now why don’t you move the boat over that way a little and I’ll sorta drag the fly behind the boat.”

In the time it took to move the boat to the area I had pointed out I caught two fine trout while trolling. Then once we were there I gave the area a disgruntled  look. “Doesn’t look right to me,” I announced, scanning the water as if I were deeply analyzing the situation. “Let’s try over there.”

“What you mean?”  Little Beaver replied with widened eyes as he jerked his head around. “Fish jumping all around us.”

“Well, okay,” I said, getting to my feet and lifting the fly rod.

“Wait!” an almost frantic scream to his voice. “Me sit down and hold on first.”

After  just a couple casts Little Beaver suddenly changed his mind, demanding that I troll the fly behind the boat, no longer requiring casting, an undecisive attitude that showed a total lack of professionalism. “Say, Beav, while you’re contemplating your lack of professionalism would you be a little careful removing that fly from your nose. Frank would probably appreciate getting it back in one piece.”

Little Beaver was no longer grinning.

Lugging a fine limit of trout back to the lodge I met Frank. “What’s gotten into Little Beaver? He’s smeared charcoal all over his face, and is doing some kind of native death chant. And he’s all glassy-eyed and won’t say a word to me.”

I gave a slow shake of the head. “Well, Frank, he was a little short-tempered today. I think the stress of the job may be getting to him. But try to be easy on him.
We all have our days. And seeing how I caught a nice batch of trout I won’t say a word about it in the article I write.”

“I appreciate it. Hey, those are some dandies you caught. What pattern of fly did you use?”

“Aaaaa…take a guess.”

Frank’s eyes lit up like an excited child. “Don’t tell me it was the Brown blah-ti-blah Spring Hatch.”

I pointed a finger at him. “Oh Frank, there is no fooling you.”

“Dang!” he responded with a snap of his fingers. “I was going to try that fly, and I changed my mind!”

“Well,” I replied with a deep sigh, “sometimes you match the hatch and sometimes you don’t. Of course again, there’s no substitute for presenting the fly just the way the trout want it.”

“Man!” Frank gasped in amazement. ” I thought I knew a lot about fly fishing! But I bet I learn a thing or two from you tomorrow……”

“What are you doing home?”  Maxine asked as I walk in the door. “I thought you were going to be gone a week.”

“Well,” I answered as I put my suit case down, “Frank decided  he didn’t need my services after all. Even had a jeep take me to the nearest airport, not wishing me to suffer any more nerve damage riding in that puddle jumping airplane of his, which didn’t hurt my feelings.”

Maxine’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Okay, what happened.”

I gave a shrug, avoiding her eyes. “Nothing worth mentioning. Oh, there may have been a couple of incidences, but nothing I figured was worth getting upset about.”

Maxine  crossed her arms and gave me her patented “I knew it” look. “What did you do that could possibly get you kicked out of a fishing lodge?”

“Kicked out are awfully strong words, dear. Asked to leave would be a better way of putting it. I mean it wasn’t all my fault. After all, when you have two people in a fourteen foot boat with fly line flying all around, it shouldn’t be surprising that one can embed a fly in the other person in the boat–”

“You embedded a hook in another person?”

“Well, actually  two,” I sheepishly replied. “First my guide….and then Frank Blitzki. And all I was trying to do was  get the fly out of Frank’s ear. But would he sit still? Nooooo. And with him jumping around and screaming and yelling and bleeding all over, I knew that sooner or later both his and the fly rod he loaned me would get stepped on and broken. And when he fell out of the boat I thought he was going to drown. And seeing no reason why both of us should get wet, and the fly was still snagged in his ear, I figured why not drag him back to the boat by pulling on the fly line? So basically I saved his life. Now you tell me. Don’t you think the man could have shown at least a little gratitude? And, of course, with his falling in, not to mention his screams and curses echoing from one end of the lake to the other, the fish naturally quit biting. But did he apologize? I mean, how insensitive can a man get?”

Maxine patted me on the cheek. “Honey, no one appreciates you, do they?” her voice once more gushing with patronization. “And with you trying so hard to rise to the challenge.”

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6 thoughts on “Fly Fishing-Rising To The Challenge

  1. Pingback: The Wrong Birthday Present | richardmax22

  2. Your words are deeply appreciated. Rising To The Challenge was an article published in The Fly Fisherman magazine many years ago, and has always been one of my favorites. I posted it when I first began my blog and had no followings, and it was lost behind my other posts without being read..Because a few others had the same fate, from time to time I may bring them back to the front.

  3. Pingback: A Personal Editorial From The Past | richardmax22

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