Fishing with Antiques

No, the title doesn’t refer to fishing with other geezers like myself. It has more to do with an attempt to slow down the hectic pace of life, and doing so by easing into the river with some old equipment in hand. Old, as in a 1930s rod and reel. Old, as in casting a light-weight F. E. Thomas fly rod that’s attached to a Hardy “Uniqua” reel.

I save this kind of equipment for use on special occasions, although a hot day at the end of June didn’t seem particularly special to me. Weather forecasters suggested we could be headed for a long period of hot and dry weather, meaning that the New York trout fishing season would be facing a major slump. If that was the case, I’d better go fishing one more time, at least, and make it count.

I have more than my share of modern fishing equipment but there’s something reassuring about using the older stuff as well, i.e., glass and bamboo rods and classic reels. The older tools that I employ were mostly purchased second-hand over the years and they amount to what was pretty much standard through the first half of the 1900s. Tradition beckons in this modern day and age. Although I like to be as progressive in my fishing habits as possible, forever seeking new horizons of experience, I also greatly enjoy the history and traditions of the fly fishing sport. A hand-crafted rod or reel from one of the classic builders is a beautiful thing to behold. There’s other angling stuff I could’ve used today, a silk line for example, but my silk lines are cheap and level as opposed to tapered, a nuisance to maintain, so I drew the line with a rod and a reel.

The rod I carried is an 8.5 foot F.E. Thomas “Maine Special.” The Fred Thomas isn’t signed by the builder but has his signature wrap of silk near the cork handle. The rod isn’t one of the maker’s higher grade models (I used to own one of his signed “Bangor” models) but it is in fine condition and an absolute pleasure to cast. Thomas, once an apprentice to the great rod builder H. L. Leonard, struck out on his own in the early 1900s to hand-craft some of the finest bamboo instruments ever. This particular rod, with its intermediate silk windings and a slight over-varnish, handles a 5-weight line with effortless poetry. The old Hardy reel that I attached has a soft, fluttery, metallic click that I find comforting. Whether I’m lawn casting with this outfit or setting up a slow casting rhythm over stream or river,  there’s more fun in it than I should be allowed to have.

I didn’t get to the river till 8 a.m., rather late for a day whose temperature promised to reach the 9o mark. I should’ve gotten there at daybreak. I immediately saw a trout rise for an emerger but decided to begin by casting a Blue-winged Olive dry fly tied by the late Russ Mowry, one of the founding fathers of the Slate Run Sportsmen, a group with whom I’ve been active for years. I’d do it for tradition’s sake, just because I could. I should’ve known there wasn’t much chance that a trout would take a BWO on a warm sunny day like this (the hatch is known for occurring on cloudy mornings earlier in the month), but I was out for the fun of casting.

I didn’t see many more trout on this particular Genesee River outing, but that didn’t stop me from experimenting with various little fly patterns, including that for Blue Quill spinners that were undulating over the surface of one pool. The trout were no longer in the mood. I gave it all to the pleasure of the long cast or the short specified location. Hooking up became a secondary consideration. I thought about the rod and the reel and the way they fit my expectations here. I thought about the wood duck hen and her chicks scuttling away from my very slow approach, about the cedar waxwings and the great-crested flycatcher fluttering from the branches overhead. It felt like a timeless moment, fragile yet resilient, like a mayfly wing.

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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2 Responses to Fishing with Antiques

  1. Dale Houseknecht says:

    Walt where do you find this stuff??

    • Dale, Used to find this stuff by snooping around at auctions, yard sales, and second-hand tackle catalogues, but it’s getting harder and harder to locate good things because of collectors and big money. Still, I keep an eye out when I can.


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