For the past few weeks I’ve gone from website to website studying various features of different fly reels. Which was what I was doing about this time a year ago. Eventually I chose a fairly nice looking, mid-priced reel for my virgin fly-in trip into Ontario for a fly fishing-only adventure.
That reel, unfortunately, was a mess. Or, at least the amount of line that involuntarily escaped by my feet while casting created a mess.
Over my many years of fly fishing I’ve basically used Pflueger reels, and was on the verge of ordering another one last year when I mistakenly decided to try something “sexier.” So this past Tuesday morning I bit the bullet and sent in my order for new one. Later that afternoon a surprise package arrived from Apple Valley and it sat unopened on my desk for hours as I combed my mind for any reference of someone I might know there. Finally I opened the small, heavily taped box.
Inside was a fly reel, one already lined with 10 wt. forward-weighted floating fly line, and a note from Edward Hoffman, a retired classical musician from the Baltimore Symphony who has since moved to Minnesota. Ed and I fished together last May in Ontario. Ed was the first person on the trip to ask if I would spend the day in a boat with him, and in fact, he was one of two fishermen two days later who basically saved my life after the boat I was motoring flipped over into the frigid waters.
Once we were back I mailed him a framed print in appreciation, and in October he surprised me by coming out for the Meander, a juried art crawl I’ve been a member of now for four years.
After placing the new reel on my 8 wt. rod, which was “overlining” the rod as he and others have suggested, I walked into the windy prairie to give the system a try. Interestingly, the rod was perfectly lined, and I wrote Ed an email to tell him so, and to thank him for the incredible gift. Moments later he responded by writing, “Bob Clouser gave me that reel many years ago, and his only caveat was that I give it to someone some day. You are that someone. If you don’t need it, just give it away to a deserving person.”
With that, I had to sit down. Clouser is one of masters in the sport of fly fishing, and his Clouser Minnow is a must for any fly box. A gift like this would be like getting a football from Brett Favre. Clouser’s minnow is my primary fly for river walleyes. A different choice of bucktail and hook size has caught pike and both largemouth and smallmouth bass, and a much smaller version tied with yellow and white bucktail has been a great choice for crappies and silver bass through the years.
Which brings me to this. Years ago I purchased a VCR tape featuring Clouser and Lefty Kreh (think Temple Creek fly rods and his own iconic fly, the Deceiver). The box says “1996.” Between then and now, Kreh was the featured fly fishing expert at the Great Waters Show in Bloomington, and was certainly approachable. He loves to talk and share stories. He also lays out a beautiful line, as he demonstrated at the hotel pool later in the afternoon. With incredible deftness and economy of motion, he double-hauled the tip of the fly line some 90 feet through an open door on the second floor where tables were set up for fly tying demonstrations. He was in his late 70s, or early 80s, and this one moment provided confidence that I could continue this passion for as long as I’m able walk.
I’ve not met Clouser. Kreh and the other “super stars” of fly fishing have totally destroyed a myth that this is primarily a sport for elite, self-important, perfectly-dressed jerks. Through the years I’ve been fortunate to hook up and chat with Kelly Galloup (his Zoo Cougar is a smallmouth must), Skip Morris (tyer of the SMP, a very effective bluegill fly), Tim Holschlag (perhaps the premier smallmouth fishing guru and author of books on the sport, and the host of the Ontario trips) and Dave Whitlock (who gave voice for years to warmwater fly fishing). Whitlock and I have talked at fly tying gatherings three or four times, and each subsequent time he has remembered our conversations. At an Eden Prairie fly shop one night he even said, “You trout boys, let me get with you momentarily. After John and I quit talking about bass and catfish fishing.” Talk about privilege!
Holschlag is one of those people who you can ask about the weather, then a half hour later you’re still listening and wondering about the intent of the question. We first met at Bob Mitchell’s fly shop when it was still located in Lake Elmo back in the 1980s. He was giving a seminar that morning on smallmouth bass fishing, an event posted on a small blackboard in the shop. My late wife, Sharon, and I, along with the boys, were on an agenda-free Saturday morning outing, and she was kind enough to allow me to stay for the presentation. I hadn’t fly fished for smallies since leaving Dubuque years before, and it was a sport I simply loved. And, we four were his entire audience that morning. My how times have changed!
So, here we are, years later, doing Holschlag’s trips to Ontario where the smallies are huge and plentiful, and the largemouth prevalent. Pike prowl the shallows, and if you’re patient and lucky, and know the proper technique, muskies can be brought to a fly. And you can meet and fish with some very fine people, like Dan Johnson (a boyhood chum of Holschlag’s and his right-hand man still today) and Edward Hoffman.
In about six weeks Hoffman, Johnson, Holschlag and another eight or so of us fly fishers will gather again in Fort Francis to fly into a small, deep woods resort surrounded by water teeming with hopefully hungry fish. Once again I’ll go with my own hand-made 8 wt. fly rod but with a reel handed down from Bob Clouser through Ed Hoffman. One of the flies I’ll no doubt tie on will be Kelly Galloup’s Zoo Cougar, and when that happens I’ll think of Garrison’s Keillor’s closing line in his last monologue on Prairie Home Companion … “What goes around, comes around.”
(Written in appreciation for the vast appreciation I have for all the fine acquaintances and friendships that have resulted from fly fishing and tying. Besides the previously mentioned, to Rick Nelson, Roger Emile Stouff, Doug Peterson, Norway’s Erlend Langbach, Joe Norton, Dennis Ulrich, my nephews, Matt and Scott White, and so many I cannot remember and should probably list. Pretty good stuff for a guy who was given a fly rod for doing chores as a ten year old for a neighbor dying of lung cancer, and a sport I learned on my own thanks to Sports Afield, Outdoor Life and the old Herter’s catalogs. I may not be very good at it, but little does that matter. For I’ve always had fun.)