Tale End: Old Fly Rods - The Fisherman

Tale End: Old Fly Rods

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I know the new saltwater fishing season is near when I begin tinkering with my gear, and laboring over which of my 8- or 9-weight fly rods will be chosen for the honor of catching the year’s first striped bass. That process usually takes me on a trip down fly rod memory lane.

I have retired so many long rods over the decades, and I often wonder how those great oldies feel about being decommissioned; in essence, cast aside, perhaps never to catch another fish. The old glass Heddons, Fenwicks and Shakespeares, the classic bamboo rods, and those first generation Lamiglas, Sage and Orvis graphites all have their well-earned battle scars and plenty of notches on their butts.

I learned the craft of fly-fishing with those rods and came of age with them as a fly angler many full moons ago. I do owe them each a huge debt of gratitude for their service and their loyalty. They all became friends as I honed my angling skills.  But since their glory years I have replaced them all, adding other more updated and technically superior versions to an already overstocked inventory of contemporary rods.

Yet, I cannot help but think that like an old athlete each of those old rods might enjoy one more shot at greatness. It has gotten so that when I open the door to the rod closet, I can sense those classic wands silently hoping that I will liberate them from the darkness and allow them to flex away the kinks of inactivity, and perhaps even fight another admirable adversary. And sometimes I can almost hear them chatter: “Pick me. Please, pick me. Give me one more shot.”

The bamboo rods know better.  They understand their limitations in saltwater. They remain quiet and only stir when they hear mention of rainbow, brown or brook trout.  I cannot blame them. When you have cast flies for most of a life you will forever want just one more cast and just one more rise.  I must admit that as of late I have taken those rods out from their cases, seated familiar vintage reels and pulled some fly line through the snake guides.  I then brought the rods somewhat back to life, making a series of casts on the front lawn.  If fly rods can smile, those wands did.  They were happy having their glass and primitive carbon fibers stretched and bent once again, loading like the old days, laying out lines as they did many times before. It felt good for me too, to cast with those familiar angling partners.  In those moments they brought me back to many enjoyable times and places, and many memorable fish.  But I could sense the rods wanted more.

I am a much better caster today than I was back when many of those fly rods were first acquired. Practice and time on the water make a world of difference. Most of those sticks were put aside many years ago because I thought that if I bought the latest and best models my casts would improve exponentially. I was wrong. The rods back then were better than I was. I sometimes blamed them for my inadequacies, thinking that a new fly rod would cure all ills, but I was wrong on that count too. Now I am simply better able to maximize their full potential, and to some extent mine.  Those old rods taught me many valuable lessons.

There is one rod that seems to protest the loudest; or at least I imagine it does.  It is my first fiberglass bass bugging rod, a Shakespeare Presidential Wonderod.  That magical wand had once cast sizable flies in a bunch of ponds in upper New York State, and in so doing enabled me to catch my share of sizeable largemouth bass. The Wonderod is the equivalent of a modern day eight-weight fly rod and is best described as having a mid-to-full flex, with an action that would put most of today’s fast tip-flex casters to sleep.  But I can just feel it working a nice foam popper or one of my favorite sand eel flies for an early season striper.

Maybe, just maybe, I will honor that rod one more time this season and carry it to water’s edge.  I can hear it now, “Gimmee another shot, pal.  I will not let you down. I’ll get the job done.  It’ll be like old times.”  I am sure it will, and I hope that someday someone does the same for me, for I know that I too will always want just one more shot, one more cast and one more fish before the big clock in the sky winds down.

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