Okay, I admit it. There may have been an occasion or two that I pretended I knew something about fly fishing, when, in fact, a little more education on the sport may have been called for. This acceptance of responsibilty was based on a minor incidence of being unceremoniously ejected from a fishing lodge up in Canada, and a couple threats of lawsuits over medical costs for having fly hooks extracted from those who were in the same boat with me while there. But the reason I decided to actually learn the sport was the day Dell Witts and I were banned from membership in our local Squeamerchuck Fly Fishing Club. The president, “Feather Touch” Wilson made the decision when Dell and I were caught fishing the Squeamerchuck River with number ten Royal Coachman flies adorned with number six-inch night crawlers. Even though fly fishing never ranked high on our methods of fishing, Dell and I belonged to every fishing club in the county, whether it be bass, walleye, pike, you name it. So being band from just one club was a humiliation we could not ignore and had to be overcome.
With fly rod in hands, I met Dell at the privacy of the pond in my back yard to practice. Dell admitted he needed as much polishing in the art as I did, and had the same determined look. With beads of sweat dribbling down our faces, hour after hour we practiced. I do admit it did not start out well. I tried to explain to my wife, Maxine, that I didn’t realize our cat was behind me. But after a couple hard runs that had my reel’s drag screaming, the fly did come out of the cat on its own. And I was sure the patch of hair now missing would eventually grow back. And once my wife showed the police officers she had no cuts or bruises on her person, and that the screams came from the cat, they disregarded the neighbor’s call that I was beating my wife in the back yard with a long whip. And before learning to stay out of range, we did inbed a fly or two in each other, but, luckily, it was only clothing. After a week or so of practice we finally felt we were ready. But in the mean time I read in the newspaper that the local community college was teaching a night course on tying flies. I knew that learning to tie our own flies would be the icing on the cake to get us back in the Squeamerchuck Fly Fishing Club. Because of the price of store-bought flies, Dell and I had attempted tying our own, but we weren’t very good at it. They only caught trout that had the same frame of mind as the widow, Missus Clorus, down the road; not to particular what she got as long as it remotely resembled the right species. Of course I wasn’t going to sign up for this class alone. So that’s when I contacted Dell. He reluctantly agreed to accompany me when the college had their all-school sign-up night. When I announced my intentions to my wife, she simply shook her head, rolled her eyes and gave me her enthusiastic groan of approval. Behind every determined man there is his wife. In the case of my wife, the distance behind can sometimes be measured in light years….
Dell and I stood in a line, a line that was moving about the same pace as grass grows. Looking at the other students patiently waiting, Dell and I looked just a little younger than dirt. All young college students. Finally we were almost to the front of the line.
“What is your major?” the woman tiredly asked from behind the desk, looking about our age, and very haggard. She diligently wrote down the reply.
“Advanced Business,” the young man replied, “with a minor in sociology.”
The next in line answered, “Economics, with a minor in education.”
“Thank you. Next?”
“Aaah, fly tying one….and I don’t think there is a minor…Or maybe that is the minor and there is no major.” I gave a nervous smile.
The smile instantly vanished as I snapped to attention when the woman slammed her pencil down on the table and gave me a cold stare that could melt an iceberg. “I…have…been here…six hours, and I don’t have time for jokes, and especially coming from an old fart like you!” her voice raising from a low rumble to a crazed scream.
“No, lady,” I pleaded, quickly raising my arms, thinking she was about to lunge over the table and make a grab for my Adam’s apple. “we really are taking a fly tying class!”
She reluctantly eased back into her chair and slid her finger down the list of classes. “Oh,” she finally replied, smoothing down what hair had not fallen out. “There really is a….fly tying class…sorry.”
A young lady behind us whose hair looked as though it had just been caught in a food blender, and had a color a couple of shade brighter than a pumpkin, snapped her chewing gum. “Tying up flies? Sounds kind of kinky to me.”
Dell gave me a tired shake of the head, revealing his obvious wish that he was anywhere but here….
Two months and eight night classes later we graduated. Our teacher, in my eyes, was a rather pompous individual, reluctantly giving us our diplomas, but not before adding that Dell and my best works looked more like cockleburs than hand-tied flies. Like I said, rather pompous. But we let the uncalled for remarks pass. The bottom line was we had graduated college cum lodae…or cum ladan….or whatever it’s called when one graduates college. Dell and I were now ready to confront “Feather Touch” Wilson and the Squeamerchuck Fly Fishing Club. After proudly presenting our newly earned credentials to the membership, the ultimate vote of members was tied, with Wilson being the deciding vote. Needless to say, we were rejected.
Adding to the dilemma was the upcoming Squeamerchuck Fly Fishing Tournament Dell and I so wanted to enter. All the members, along with their wives and volunteers would be there. And here was Dell and I not allowed to fish it. We attempted to console ourselves with the fact that Wilson would probably win it anyway. He had won every year since its conception, using what he called his “Squeamerchuck Special.” So secretive was he about the ingredients to the pattern of fly he tied, that not only did none of his fellow members know it, he wouldn’t even show it to his wife. After tying a few of the secret flies, I was told, he would put them in his personal vault, then sweep up the trimmings and immediately burn them. And what this fly represented in the natural world, no one knew. There are several species of insects that hatch on the Squeamerchuck, and, like everyone else, Dell and I would have given our homes and maybe even our favorite fishing gear to know which one it was.
Then one day it came to Dell. Well, actually, Dell went to it. After doing a ten second rendition of the Watusi on slippery river rock he fell in. When he came up, right there clinging to his nose was the most ungodly looking nymph I had ever seen. Every bit an inch long, it looked like something that had been smashed between two pieces of clay millions of years ago; a fossil. We instinctively knew that was Wilson’s pattern for his Squeamerchuck Special.
We left it on his nose all the way to my home, thinking we might disfigure it by taking it off and carrying it. And it was with a certain amount of pain that we made it to my fly tying room. I had to use my body to block several blows from my wife’s broom. She didn’t know what was on Dell’s nose either, but was going to make certain it didn’t reproduce in her house.
I gently took it off its perch and sat it beside my fly tying vice. I hadn’t been so excited since Dell and I thought we invented a fly pattern that would revolutionize the fly fishing world; the day we tied a Royal Coachman and artificial night crawler combination.
“What do you think?”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Dell replied with a gulp once his eyes straightened from the cross-eyed position. “One thing is for sure, we don’t have any fly tying material to match that.”
Though Dell was never known for being too smart, he was right. The biggest share of our material consisted of a couple bags of grey and brown hackles from Dell’s roosters. Dell loved his roosters and couldn’t bring himself to end the life of any of them. So he just barrowed their feathers. Now they all looked like a two-legged poodles. We also had feathers from a Mallard Duck I shot by accident while attempting to shoot another Mallard Duck, some deer, raccoon and squirrel hair from fresh road kills, and a couple not-so-fresh, and a little calico from Dell’s house cat, which we have never seen more than fleeting glances of since the initial plucking.
“Maybe it’d be in your catalog,” Dell suggested.
I opened up my fly tying material catalog and only turned a few pages when Dell yelled, “There it is!” sending a fine spray of saliva in the direction of his pointing finger.
“South American Chuckaroo,” I said. “What the heck is that?”
“Makes no difference. Look what it says below. Has been put on the endangered species list, and is no longer available. Well, there goes our chances of matching that critter.”
“There has to be an answer!” I exclaimed. “Hey, doesn’t that watch dog down at Greasy’s Auto Wrecking have hair that color? We could–”
“It’s too short,” Dell interrupted, “and so is life to be messing with that killer.”
Dell was beginning to frighten me. He had come up with two right answers in a row. But we had to do something. If we could match the nymph, then weasel our way into the tournament, there was a chance we could win it. Then the members of the fly fishing club would have no choice but allow us back in the club. The answer we needed came the following night when Dell saw an ad in the newspaper….
“Some guy is selling a whole warehouse full of fly tying gear!” Dell screamed into the phone. “Let’s get over there before he sells it all out!”
I didn’t actually hear the end of what he said, but my wife did as the phone swung from the receiver….
Thirty miles an hour over the speed limit was far too fast to be driving Dell’s twenty-year-old Ford, with the breaks and loose steering being what they were. But I would have felt a whole lot safer if we would have been traveling that slow. “You let me do the talking,” I advised as I frantically grabbed for anything to hold on to as he did a four-wheel slide past a convenience store. I was hoping I could hide my terror by giving orders, seeing how the turn was made in the store’s parking lot.
“This is a short cut I know.” Dell yelled over the roar of the engine and squealing tires.
Because the town was the place of Dell’s employment, I didn’t question his directions. After sending another group of people running for their lives in front of the same convenient store parking lot, we came out where we had entered. “How was I to know they blocked the alley with a building,” Dell yelled defensively.
I would have accepted his excuse if it had not been that the building blocking the alley was Dell’s place of employment. But we made it to the destination in the nick of time; in the nick of time to be the first and only people there. About half way through the man’s invitation to look over the goods, Dell and I were pawing through the boxes. There was every kind of feather a fly fisherman could ever ask for, including some from birds long-since extinct, or at least never flew in our part of the country. And then we both saw them; two full bags of South American Chuckaroo. After negotiating a back-breaking price, we took our goods home and began tying Squeamerchuck Specials. We figured thirty flies or so would get us through a day’s fishing, seeing how we were noted for embedding them in anything within a sixty foot radius, whether it be up, down, front, back or either side. The next step would be to get in the Squeamerchuck Tournament. To do that we had to find “Feather Touch” Wilson, and we knew where he would be……
TO BE CONTINUED–The Squeamerchuck Special-The Tournament