For many years I’ve recited a little mantra whenever I’m ready to depart for a fly-fishing jaunt, or when I’m finishing a session on the stream. After shedding all equipment and placing it into the car, I check the heap and give the silent chant: rod and reel, and vest and boots and hat, and (sometimes) net. The check-list has been implemented, and all is here. I’m ready to roll out gently into that good night.
I remember one September evening, though, when I forgot my recitation after fishing on the river. I drove away with less equipment than I’d gone there with. My reason for forgetting doesn’t really matter now (okay, I’m not getting any younger!), but 10 minutes into the darkened drive home, I felt that something was amiss. I stopped the car and checked the trunk. A favorite rod and reel that had rested on the vehicle’s roof were gone!
Returning to the river I replayed several worst-case scenarios in my head and kept my eyes glued to the changing edges of the headlights’ glare. When I finally saw the tackle I pulled sharply to the shoulder of the highway then reversed the car until I saw it all too clearly in the light…
Two of the expensive rod’s four sections had been crushed by a passing vehicle. The fly reel could have been mistaken for debris found in a war zone. The pain from that mistake eventually disappeared. Although I’ve broken many more fly rods since that early autumn day, none of the accidents were due to placing my equipment on a roof.
It’s been said that a favorite rod is no less than “an extension of the angler.” When I think back to that 3-weight instrument shredded on the pavement, I consider the possibility that I’d asked too much of it, implored its use for too many hours, waving it endlessly over pools and riffles. I consider the possibility that the rod had become a part of whom I was as an angler. I consider that because, when seeing it lying on the roadside like a flattened woodchuck, I felt deflated.
Okay, the loss of a rod is worth keeping in perspective. The event is less than catastrophic, and isn’t worth shedding more than a few tears, assuming you didn’t have your whole life invested in its purchase. The event isn’t like losing a valued friend or loved relation, or like losing a terrific job. The rod is probably replaceable, although a new stick will not have the old one’s signs of “honorable use,” or the memories associated with every scar and bit of grime along its length. And if you’re lucky, you might even have a quiver full of other rods holding up a corner in your house.
But damnit, every loss hurts a little bit. The other day I was casting at my sister’s bass pond when I hung the fly behind me on another one of those wretched stalks of timothy. I know better than to do this, especially with an old “beater” of a cane rod like the Montague Rapidan, but I tugged at the fly once or twice too often. It doesn’t pay to have a lazy ass while casting at a pond.
A “Rapidan” isn’t known for having great ferrule connections on the wood, although the metal is a nickel-silver combination, I believe. It’s easy to forget that an old production rod is like the geezer who goes fishing in early springtime and discovers that his bones are less supple than in years before.
A broken rod, too cheap originally to bother getting fixed, becomes a hanger for the wall, a garden fixture, or another piece of garbage for the landfill. And yet, with luck, there’s something of a broken rod that stays with you and stirs good memory– of fishing time with friends and family, of irreplaceable experiences in solitude and wild nature. Such memories keep me visiting the streams and rivers.
When I’m casting to wary fish I’m usually focused on the possible catch. When I’m ready to leave for home, the memories and recollections of fishing time may greet me at the car. Then I shed my gear and toss it piece-meal to the back seat or the trunk. Now comes the moment to remember… and not forget … rod and reel, and vest and boots…