My parents spent the happiest days of their 64-year marriage fly fishing. Mom was even more passionate about the sport than Dad. Every chance they got, they’d round up her brother, load the car with gear and head out for Utah’s beautiful mountain lakes and streams.
When I was about twelve my dad bought me a license and taught me how to cast. It never quite took. I loved tramping around in the mountains and the challenge of landing the fly in just the right spot. But when it came to a choice between clubbing the poor fish to death or watching it lie there and gasp, I lost heart. I no longer fish. But I have some great memories.
Those memories came back to me this past month when I finished my novella for Harlequin’s 2012 Spring Brides Western Anthology. “The Hand-Me-Down Bride,” is the story of a proper Boston belle who finds herself jilted on the Montana prairie when her fiancé marries someone else (but never fear, the real hero is waiting in the wings). In one scene, my heroine is taught to fly fish by the hero’s sister.
This led to a bit of research. Needing to make sure fly fishing was a common practice by the mid 1800’s, I went on line and found a few surprises. The earliest known description of fishing with an artificial fly was written in the 2nd Century by the Roman, Claudius Aelianus. He jotted down his observations of Macedonian anglers on the Astraeus River:
They fasten red . . . wool round a hook, and fit on to the wool two feathers which grow under a cock’s wattles, and which in color are like wax. Their rod is six feet long, and their line is the same length. Then they throw their snare, and the fish…comes straight at it, thinking from the pretty sight to gain a dainty mouthful…
Except for some improvements to the pole and line, and the 1874 modernization of the reel, by Charles F. Orvis, whose company is still in business, the sport of fly fishing is not so different today.
Back to my novella – in the fishing scene, the two women use flies that were tied by the hero to pass time over the winter months. More memories. My dad tied beautiful flies. There’s a real art to it. You wedge the tiny hook in a vise, wind the body with silk thread, then tie the feathers into place and finish off the head with a dab of glue. It’s harder than it looks. Dad taught me how to tie flies, but I lacked the patience and steadiness to do it as perfectly as he did. This classic fly is called a Royal Coachman. The one in the photo is for salmon. My dad’s were for trout, so they were smaller .
My mother died of cancer in 2002. Dad lingered on for more than three years, but without his sweetheart his life had lost its meaning. A few days before his death at the age of 91, he woke up with a smile on his face. “I had the most wonderful dream,” he told me. “Your mother and I were fishing on Boulder Mountain, keeping the big fish and letting the little ones go.”
Dad, I thought, you may have caught a glimpse of heaven.
I hope I was right.