Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chapter 3c

I look back on those days as I sit here in the winter with too much down time and I start to get a little re-energized. Maybe I’m getting more antsy than anything. I remember the people I have taken out fly fishing for their first time; but I also remember taking one individual out for his last.

I got the call to guide for a group that Pat Straub had put together in the early fall of my first year. The group consisted of three life-long fishing buddies who were all around the same age--probably in their mid to late seventies or early eighties if I had to guess. One of the gentlemen brought his son along as well, who helped completed the foursome. When we talked about the group initially, Pat had told me that one of the men had a difficult time getting around so he would need walker any time he was out of the boat. We were going to fish with these guys for three days and although he realized it would be a little bit of extra work, he asked if I would take him for the duration of their trip because the other guide was a little limited for room in his boat.

I’ve kind of adopted an attitude where I’m not going to bitch if there are special circumstances because a day on the river is a day on the river. I would rather be working than sitting on my butt and that kind of attitude definitely helped me my first year put the number of days on the water I did.

We met up with the group and I quickly began the task of introducing myself to Dave and Pat. Dave was Pat’s son, about 50 years old. He currently owned a construction business in Hawaii and had done a lot of salt-water fly fishing recently. As a kid he grew up fishing with his dad throughout the West. Pat had fly fished all over the world and had even taken a three day trip down the Snake within the last couple years. By looking at him, one could tell his health was turning south. He stood on wobbly legs and his movement was very slow and deliberate. He wasn’t your typical trout bum--all decked out with latest and great gear and neither was his son. I thought it was pretty funny when Pat busted out a blaze orange hunting hat with big ear-flaps and a chin strap with snaps. But who was I to judge? I was still sporting the Hodgeman’s.

At some point on that first day we pulled over for a bathroom break and Dave gave me the skinny on his dad. A couple years prior, they found out Pat had Parkinson’s. His buddies were in pretty fair health but they all knew the time was near where they wouldn’t be able to take these trips together. In fact, Dave suggested this might be his Dad’s last.

We started the day out the way we do a lot of times on the Mo where you just kind of want to get a couple fish in the boat to remove the skunk and then get on to doing more technical stuff. I figured it would be easiest for Pat to nymph fish some gimme runs and then we could see how things would go.

The thing about Parkinson’s is that if you’re not on drugs, the muscle spasms are pretty much impossible to control and the individual doesn’t really have much for fine motor skills. While on the drugs, it slows everything down so much for the person that their reflex time is so slow they can’t keep up with the takes. Time after time I would call out to Pat to set the hook but we just weren’t getting it done. I wanted this trip to go well for Pat—and Dave for that matter—but I was definitely at a loss.

We took a lunch break across from the Prewitt Creek campgrounds on a slow inside bend of the river. There was a big flat that we could easily get out on and set up a table along the shoreline. As we were eating, we looked out into a seem that formed as the current dumped over a gravel bar into a little pool and saw a few fish gulping on top. They were only about 30 feet out. We watched them for about 10 minutes when Jeff Rawlings, the other guide I was with says, “Hey Pat, why don’t you catch that fish right there?” I’ll be honest, I was a little hesitant to even try given what was happening all morning but Jeff had set the table so now I was going to have to serve lunch.

I re-rigged Pat’s rod for a dry-fly set-up. I picked out a small Bloom’s Caddis and tied it on and then trailed it with an even smaller Sprout Emerger. Then I helped Pat get into position to throw downstream into the fish. He threw a couple casts and was doing pretty well but we just weren’t getting the bug on-top of the fish—but, there was hope. Pat had a very deliberate and steady pace to his casting and although it’s not something I would teach; he was getting pretty damn close.

On about his 10th cast or so, Pat lined the fly up with the fish and put a little reach into his cast, which lined up his fly line with his fly keeping it drifting drag free right over the gulping trout. You could almost hear it pop when the rainbow sucked down the emerger. “Oh! There it is!” I yelled and Pat slowly lifted up his rod.

The thing about dry fly fishing is that sometimes the slower the better. As Pat lifted up the tip of the rod double over and a decent 15 or 16 inch rainbow exploded out of the water. Slowly Pat stripped in the trout and I waded out to net it. “That’s it Pat! You did it! Nicely done,” I said as I truly was excited for him. He was pretty damn proud too and you could tell it was twice as nice to get it done right in front of his buddies.

We left our lunch spot and headed downstream. Pat wouldn’t last long before crashing so he put his rod down almost immediately after lunch and fell asleep in the front of the boat. Dave and I decided we would change things up so he started chucking streamers. Although we did not catch a lot, the action was pretty good as trout after trout came busting out of rocks and logs for Dave’s streamer only to end in an, “Oh! Man!”

We rolled up on another seem that was stacked with fish rising. As we quietly let the boat drift into position I asked Dave if he wanted to take a crack at them. He suggested I asked the old man if he wanted to first so as I let the anchor down, in a half whispering and in a half shouting kind of way, I said, “Hey Pat! You want to take a shot at these guys?”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. Pat lifted his head like a Priest after blessing his congregation before communion and without saying a word or even looking back at us, he slowly reached down and grabbed his rod and since it was already rigged up from the first pod we fished at lunch, he went to work.

It felt like an hour that we were watching Pat release his fly from the hook-keeper near the cork of his rod and then strip about 40 feet of line out about 12 inches at a time. He fed the line out into the water and I leaned forward to support my chin between my hands as my elbows dug into my thighs and I just kept waiting. Pat stayed seated in the front of the boat and when enough line was on the water he slowly raised his rod tip above his head and then with a sort of violent deliverance, he threw his rod tip at the target just up-stream from where the fish were rising. His line rolled over and the fly extend out to lay down on the water with absolute laser precision.

It took him one cast; that’s it and as he put the fly right on the trout’s nose, Pat was rewarded with another subtle slurp and the fly disappeared. Again Pat slowly lifted up his rod tip and sure enough, he was buttoned up on a beautiful 18 or 19 inch rainbow. I was floored.
I jumped out of the boat and netted the fish. We took a picture and let it go and then I pointed out another small pod rising just up-stream from the first few. I said, “Go ahead Pat, take a crack at them,” and again, the slow steady ritual of stripping line out and laying it on the water began.

Again Pat shot an incredible amount of line out for how easy he made it look and again he dropped his fly right in the bucket—another trout sucked it down. Pat set the hook and fought this guy for a minute or so before losing it but then he slowly reeled up his line, replaced the fly on the hook keeper and said, “I’ve molested these fish enough for today,” and he set his rod down and went back to sleep.

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