Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Tale of Two Fly Rods or An Angler's Odyssey

The following post was first published two summers ago. Recent events brought it to mind, and I thought it deserved another run.

A Tale of Two Fly Rods or An Angler's Odyssey

My father started me fly fishing thirty-one years ago. In fact, I caught my first trout on a fly in July of 1979. I remember the day well: the fish, the water, and my father's incredulous expression. I also remember the rod. It was a fiberglass Garcia; an eight footer painted electric blue. It was just the kind of thing that would appeal to a six year-old child of the seventies.

I remember needing to use both hands to cast, hooking that first trout, and eventually using big-blue to catch more panfish than I could ever hope to count. I fished that beast for a decade before earning enough money to buy a new, high-tech graphite stick. I no longer have either rod, but I wish I still had the Garcia.

Nearly a decade before I hooked that first diminutive brownie, the man who would eventually sire my fishing partner, Ben Jose,  was bouncing around the American west. Born and raised in Idaho, Forrest "Milo" Jose was no stranger to trout or to fly fishing. He fished his native Idaho. He fished Wyoming. He fished Montana when Montana was Argentina, and like me - he did it all with a fiberglass Garcia. To be exact, he did it with a Conolon model 2536-T, 7' 9" fast taper fly rod.

How can I be sure of the rod he used? Well, forty years after Milo was married, moved to New York, and forsook fishing to be a father, his son found Dad's old rod and reel tucked away in a dusty corner of the garage. The reel was a disaster; paint flaked away from the metal, and ancient grease jammed the spring.

The two, staggered sections of the rod had been held together with rubber bands for over three decades, and while I'm not sure it's possible for fiberglass to develop a set, it sure seemed that way. The cork was pitted, and the metal ferrules hopelessly tarnished. The single stripping guide was missing; other guides were corroded and in need of polish or replacement. All the wraps screamed for a fresh coat of varnish.

I suppose the rod was fishable, but Ben was determined for his father to revisit those days in the Rockies, and he wanted Milo to have something better than a "fishable" outfit. Ben used his resources as a foundryman to make the reel whole again (the entire process is detailed here). For my part, I did some research, and corresponded with folks who had their old rods - both fiberglass and bamboo - refinished.

After hours of Googling, emailing, and debate, I settled on a gentleman who came very highly recommended, one whose name is especially known in cane-nut circles. After a short correspondence, the rod was sent along with some very specific instructions: regardless of cost, please replace the missing guide with an agate stripper, rewrap and revarnish the guides (replace as needed), clean up the ferrules and be sure they fit together properly, clean the cork, and ink a very special message along the shaft of the rod.

"Happy Father's Day Dad ... Love, Ben."

Can you think of a better gift for a son to give his father? I've tried, and I cannot.

Ben and I both understood that the Garcia 2536-T was hardly collector's item. We knew that the cost of the work we requested would likely be ten times the value of the rod - if the rod was in pristine, unfished condition, and it wasn't. We didn't care. This was a gift for Milo. This was Ben saying to his father, "I love you Dad, I appreciate all you've done for me ... all you've sacrificed. Thank you." We were very disappointed when the rod found its way back to us just days before Father's Day.

The ferrules were cleaned, but little else was done in accordance with our request. A cheap wire - not agate or mildrum, but wire - stripping guide was mounted with thread that did not nearly match the thread on the other guides. None of the guides were polished or replaced. The cork was not cleaned. Not a speck of new varnish covered any of the wraps. A Post-It Note bearing Ben's message to Milo was stuck to the shaft. Included with the rod was a bill for $40.00. Forty dollars to have a lousy wire guide wrapped. Ben had been willing to pay up to $200.00 to have the work done properly.

As Bennie and I sat at my dining room table, sharing a six-pack and lamenting the mindset that allows someone to do shoddy, haphazard work, I thought to grab my laptop. I visited Ebay, and typed "Garcia fly rod" into the search string. Miraculously - and I couldn't possibly make this up - a 2536-T Fast Taper 7' 9" fly rod in new, unfished condition (with original sock and tube no less) was the first item up for bid. We won the auction - in fact we were the only bidder - and before our payment was ever processed, the very gracious seller overnighted us the rod so that Milo could have it in time for Dad's Day.

And Mr. Jose could not have been more pleased. We all spent the morning on one of our favorite ditches. I played guide, and everyone caught a few fish; nothing huge, but enough to remind Milo of what it felt like to be a twenty-something fly flinger. He smiled, and then Ben smiled.

I thought it a privilege to see a father and his adult son share a moment like that. I'm happy to have played my part, and I hope that someday my own boy might think enough of me to put so much effort into one afternoon on the stream with his old man.

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