My brother and I stood out in the hot shed for the last time, looking at our Dad’s old fishing tackle. Everything was still as he’d left it when he passed away. We had known the day would come when we’d split it up between us, but for 10 years I think we didn’t really want to face that task. We were content just knowing it was there; being able to go out and paw through it, and reminisce about the old days. Now that Mom has gone on to join him, it’s time to clean the place out.
There wasn’t much there of any value, other than sentimental. And, I wasn’t too concerned about it because I already have the one piece of fishing tackle from my Dad that means the most to me anyway. On my 16th birthday, Dad gave me a fly rod that he’d built for me himself. To my knowledge he’d never built a rod before, but there wasn’t much he couldn’t do if he set his mind to it. He used a two-piece golden-yellow fiberglass Fenwick blank, and wrapped the guides in green silk. He later showed me how he had rigged up a contraption on his workbench that allowed him to use his electric drill as a lathe motor, which he then used to custom shape the cork grip! Under the final clearcoat in his engineer’s handwriting, he printed:
To Keith from Dad
August 31st, 1974
By today’s standards, the rod is absurdly heavy and slow, with an action that flexes all the way down into the grip. I didn’t even know that there were different “weights” of fly rods for the first 20 years I owned the rod. I guess what you don’t know won’t hurt you, because I got along just fine using my one rod for everything. Now that I know how to decipher the numbers on the Fenwick blank, I suspect that I may hold some kind of record for total number of 6-inch bluegill caught using an 8 1/2 foot 7 weight rod! Like Ruark said, use enough gun…
But as I stood there with my brother, I realized that there was one piece of tackle that my heart was set on – Dad’s old fly reel. It was a big, green anodized Shakespeare Automatic Model 1837. It had fascinated me for as long as I can remember. As you stripped line off of it, or turned the rim of the spool, a big spring inside would wind up, kind of like a tape measure. Then, you’d press a lever on the side of the reel, and ZZZZING, it would zip all the line back onto the spool. When I was little, Dad must have told me a dozen times to stop playing with it – it wasn’t a toy! Yes, I ZZZZINGed it a few times when he wasn’t around. The reel must weigh a pound. What’s really funny though, is that when I finally brought it back to Michigan and mounted it on the old Fenwick, it balanced the heavy rod perfectly. It was finally home. And I can tell you right now, that there’s not a Payne or Dickerson or Garrison in the world that I’d trade for the fly rod that my Dad made for me.
Each time I would come back down to visit Mom, I would spend some time out in the shed with Dad’s tackle. I’d open the old tackle box and look at the Heddon Crazy Crawler and the worn out River Runt, the well used Shakespeare 1920 Wondereel and his “new” Mitchell 300. At one point he had taken to making his own spinners, and there were still glass jars full of chrome Indiana blades, tiny red beads, and feathered treble hooks. Whenever I looked at these things, I’d try to conjure up an image of him using that particular lure or reel. There are certainly other keepsakes of Dad’s around, but it’s his fishing tackle that can most vividly bring him back to me. Looking back, I can’t believe I didn’t realize at the time just how special it was to be able to fish with him, or even to just look over his shoulder while he puttered at his workbench. In hindsight, I can also see that as he and his bad ticker grew older, he was more enamored with the idea of fishing than the act itself. He had already “been there and done that”. I know he was also very proud that he had made a fisherman out of my brother, and maybe prouder still when together they made one out of me.
I kind of copped out and left 90% of the tackle there that day for my brother to deal with. That’s OK though, because he has a growing crop of grandkids that it will trickle down to. They’re still young, but I’ve already seen them pulling 6-inch bluegill out of the lake by my brother’s house. The next time we all get together, I’m going to make a point of doing a little fishing with them. I may even bring my old fly rod along and let the kids ZZZZING the reel – I think Dad would like that.