With “Feather Touch” Wilson’s secret fly pattern now known, we went directly to where we knew he would be, getting in the Sqeamerchuck Tournament being our objective, and blackmail our tool. Harvey Moon’s Bar was where all the local fly fishermen hung out. Harvey Moon, the owner, adorned the walls with fly fishing paraphernalia. He called them antiques. I called them worn out fishing gear. But they gave the place the right atmosphere for heavy-duty fly fishing talk. Dell and I preferred Kelly’s Bar and Grill at the other end of town. Though none of Kelly’s patrons would admit it, on an mental evaluation chart, the usual topics of conversation took a sharp drop traveling from Harvey’s to Kelly’s. The air in Harvey’s is continually filled with stories of this blah-te-blah fly or that blah-te-blah fly, and all the eloquent details that follow, using words and phrases that would short circuit the brain and cause blank stares from the regulars at Kelly’s. As I said, the patrons at Kelly’s aren’t the brightest bunch. That’s why Kelly rarely allows anyone to regularly use words of three syllables or more during any conversation. Even the word, “eloquent” can have you ejected. Harvey’s requires that fly fishermen have the gentlemanly quality of always telling their fishing experiences truthfully. In Kelly’s if you’re caught telling a bald-face truth, that will also have you ejected. Kelly’s policy is no matter how good the fishing trip, it can always be made better. The patrons of Harvey’s are a stuck-up bunch that looks apon strangers who wander in as outsiders, and are ignored. At Kelly’s, any hapless stranger who walks through the door is considered fair game. The locals are on him like flies to a road kill. With a fresh ear to bend, the poor soul is going to hear their fishing stories whether welcomed or not. It goes without saying, Dell and I prefer Kelly’s Bar and Grill. Far less strain on the brain. But “Feather Touch” Wilson was our objective and Harvey Moon’s Bar was where he would be.
When we arrived Harvey’s was in the advanced stages of drunk and disorderly. The first sign was the large puddles of beer covering the floor. The second was the noise volume of the crowd, which was just short of standing next to a jet engine at full throttle. Though the place was packed, with the tournament coming up, we had no problem finding Wilson. Being the president of the fly fishing club, he always had the bar’s seat of honor, the only stool that still had a back support fully attached to it. We pushed through the crowd, ducking mock casts and hook sets from patrons telling their fish stories. Finally we were standing in front of Wilson.
“Well, what brings you two here?”
By the way he was slurring his words it was easy to tell he had reached the drunk stage. And when he took a long swig from a glass of beer with three cigarette butts floating in it, we also knew he had passed that stage. Now I don’t know how a single voice in a roaring crowd can be heard by all. The only answer I have is that all fisherman are subconsciously listening for any tid bit of information. But what I do know is that the place instantly fell silent, all eyes on Dell and myself.
“Wha…What did you say?” Wilson replied between howls of mirth.
“You heard me. Me and Dell want to fish in the tournament.”
“You got to be kidding. The tournament is for members. And you two sure ain’t members.”
Dell folded his arms and gave him a steady stare. “I think you’re afraid we’ll win that tournament, seeing how we know the pattern to your Squeamerchuck Special.”
The room filled with gasps. Wilson’s wife fainted, her mass taking three patrons to the floor with her.
“You’re bluffing,” Wilson retorted, suddenly sober.
I leaned close to him and whispered, “We ain’t, and unless you want us to show your pattern to every person in this town and all outlying areas you better let us in.” And then I added, “Does a bird called the South American Chuckaroo mean anything to you?”
Wilson’s face suddenly paled. After a silent moment he forced a grin that twitched at one corner. He then nervously glanced around at the deathly quiet audience. “Wha…What do ya say, boys. Why not let them in the tournament. We haven’t had a good laugh in a long time.
Dell and I smugly smiled. We were in….
Saturday, the morning of the tournament, Dell and I drove to the Squeamerchuck County Park located on the river. There was already a good-sized crowd huddled into groups in the early morning light. The ladies were busy serving coffee and donuts. All heads turned as we stepped from the truck.
“Well,” Dell said with an arrogant loudness that easily carried to all ears. “looks like a good day to surprise a few trout.” With that said he pulled his fly rod from his custom-made case, a five foot piece of plastic drain pipe capped at each end. “Here’s the big guns. Now where’s the ammunition?”
Now it was my turn. “Right here,” I replied. I then opened the felt-lined mahogany box. Inside were neat rows of Squeamerchuck Specials. The crowd’s oohs and aahs made it worth all the verbal abuse I had taken from my wife the night before. She just didn’t understand the importance of this debut. And I had promised her repeatedly that nothing would happen to her great-great grandmother’s silverware box. The way she was carrying on you would have thought I was taking the silverware too.
When Wilson caught sight of the flies, the look on his face told us we had hit pay dirt. He looked as if his favorite bamboo fly rod had just been slammed in a car door. I pushed out my chest as we strutted through the parting crowd. It was easy to see we had them in the palms of our hands. That was until Dell decided to impress them to even newer heights.
“When we going to get this show on the road?” he declared, whipping out fly line for a few practice casts. By the third pull he had half the crowd pinned to the ground while the other half ran for their lives. By the fifth cast he stampeded a herd of milk cows in the next field, and on the last cast he threw a half-hitch around the neck of Missus Phelps.
I made a desperate attempt at convincing her not to sue for whiplash, telling her that what Dell did was uncontrollable; a spasmodic condition from childhood. She was reluctant to believe me until I reminded her of Dell’s body motions while casting. She then agreed. It had to be a spasmodic attack.
Who fished what hole on the river was decided by the drawing of numbers. That person would have the designated hole to himself for the first hour of the morning, then everyone would rotate. But because that first hour was the best feeding time, what hole was drawn was crucial. The eighth person to draw was myself. “Drift number thirteen,” the official called out.
The crowd gasped, Wilson snickered, and Dell looked at me as if I had a skin disease in the advanced stages. I had drawn the infamous drift known as the “Black Hole.” To many it was the home of a myth, a legend, a fable. There had been stories of a monster trout that lurked beneath its dark currents. No one I ever knew had seen it, but a time or two an out-of-town angler stumbled into town all glassy-eyed, babbling on about hooking something he couldn’t even slow down. One thing was for sure. There had never been another trout taken from that drift. Never. Some said no other trout would dare attempt living in the same location.
“Got any advise?” I asked Dell. I then wearily trudged up the river, doubting that an exorcism would help.
When I had reached the Black Hole I looked into its deep swirls, searching for any signs of life. All I saw was the skeletal remains of a bird, its bones half covered with silt. Must have drowned, I thought while tying on one of my Squeamerchuck Specials. Cast after cast floated through the drift uninterrupted. I looked down the stream to Dell who had drawn the hole just below me. He gave me a quick glance, as if some of my bad luck might rub off on him if he stared in my direction too long. After several more uneventful casts, I took off the Squeamerchuck Special and tied on a grasshopper pattern. The idea came to me rather suddenly; just after one crawled up my leg where I smashed it against my bare knee. Just then a newspaper reporter covering the tournament walked up. If I wasn’t going to catch any trout I could at least dazzle the media with some of my newly learned casting skills. I waited until he was close enough for a good view, then snapped the fly off the water, gave two false casts and let it fly.
“Dang, I didn’t mean to scare you like that,” the man apologized.
“Yeah, the way you jerked around and dumped that fly on the water, I must have scared the life out of you.”
“Yeah, well, when you’re concentrating on your fishing…You fly fish?” I asked as I lifted the fly off the water and casted it out again.
“I’ve been known to cast a fly now and then. You have some reason for hitting the water so hard with your fly and line?”
“Well…aah…there’s a nymph up here. Puts up quite a ruckus on the water before hatching into an adult.”
“I see,” he replied as he diligently wrote down on a pad of paper what I was saying. “That almost looks like a grasshopper pattern you have tied on there.”
“But I thought grasshoppers hatch on dry land.”
“Then you can understand why they would put up such a ruckus when they hatch on the water.”
I could tell by the way the reporter walked away grumbling and scratching his head I had really impressed him. Might even be worth a few lines in his story on the tournament. I then raised the fly for another cast. But before it hit the water a bird swooped down and grabbed it. Instinctively I jerked, hooking its beak and knocking it into the water. Not able to fly it began stroking its wings toward shore. It was then that a dark form appeared from the depths. Like a torpedo it shot up and exploded on the bird and my hook. My line snapped tight and the pole bucked over like being hooked to the south end of a truck going north. From the initial run I figured my chances of landing this freak of nature was just the other side of none. I screamed at Dell, but was by him before he looked up, all line and backing gone from the reel.
“Ain’t you going to help me?” I screamed back at him.
“Just break the dang log off,” he yelled. “We have more flies.”
“It ain’t a log, you moron! It’s the monster trout!”
“Pull up your lines!” I yelled to the fishermen below me. Dell was running as fast as his size nine feet inside his size twelve Salvation Army waders would carry him. The trout raised it huge head and shook. My expert skills kept the three-pound leader from breaking, along with the fly line wrapped around its neck. I leaned back on the rod until its tip was playing a drum solo on my knuckles. Terrified trout were jumping out of the water, along with two beaver, a muskrat, and two swimmers who looked like the movie “Jaws” was still vividly etched on their minds.
When the fish finally stopped in front of the county park, it sulked in the depths of the far side. The crowd grew as the minutes ticked by, pushing and shoving for a better view. The advise coming from all sides was like standing in the middle of Wall Street during a panic sell-off. “The way she’s laying over there,” I said with a nervous smile, “I might have her played out.”
Wilson gave a sarcastic chuckle. “For as long as you’ve had it on, it’s probably taking time out to spawn.”
Before I had a chance to respond with my thoughts concerning his family heritage, the fish suddenly shot upstream. I fought to get through the crowd, but the fish was covering far more distance than I was. The line sang on the water and stretched to half its diameter. It was then that the reel broke away from its seat, sending the reel up the pole. The pole’s line guides popped off in quick succession. With a desperate lunge I grabbed the reel just as it reached the rod tip, along with a hand full of Miss Boilermaker’s dress. Being young and well built, much of the instructions from the men instantly ceased as the reel and a good portion of the dress departed the vicinity of her body. And just as quickly the backing knot tied to the reel broke. I stared at the wake going up-stream while the others stared at Miss Boilermaker.
“It’s gone,” I said with a tired sigh, just before having eighteen pounds of purse and contents slapped up the side of my head. Miss Boilermaker then jumped behind Missus Wilson, hiding her until a blanket could be wrapped around her.
“Now that was something,” Dell said.
“I’ll never hook another one like it,” I replied with slumped shoulders.
“I was talking about Miss Boilermaker.”
Wilson snarled. “If it wouldn’t have been for using my Squeamerchuck Special you would’ve never got that fish to bite in the first place.”
I looked at him and smiled. “I wasn’t using your mangy old fly.”
“What were you using then?’
I scanned the crowd staring at me in silent anticipation. Suddenly I knew how Moses felt after he left Mount Sinai and returned to his followers. And like them, this huddled mass were waiting for me to utter the words of truth that would give them guidance and understanding. I felt a supreme obligation not to disappoint them.
“Well,” I said as the crowd leaned a little closer. “I was using a grasshopper pattern. Not just any old grasshopper pattern. After years of research and observation I developed this fly just for that monster trout, patiently waiting for the right time to use it. And when I laid that fly on the water, why there was no way that fish could resist it…..