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Hooked on fly fishing

Several years ago I decided to add fly-fishing to my fishing repertoire. I had watched others fly-fishing the rivers and lakes of Alabama with great envy. The graceful arc of the fly-line, the soft presentation of the fly--it appeared to me that fly-fishing was about the most fun thing you could do with your clothes on. So I went to our local sporting goods store and bought a very cheap fiberglass fly rod. Although I had no one to teach me how to use the fly rod, it looked easy enough when I had watched others, so I assumed that it would be a piece of pie. (I actually thought it would be a piece of cake but was informed that was a cliché.)

My previous fishing experience involved using a casting rod or a spinning rod. With a spinning or casting rod, the heavier the lure the farther you can cast it. Real fly-fisherpersons know it doesn’t work that way with a fly rod. However, I applied that principle to fly-casting and selected a large and moderately heavy bass bug for my very first fly-casting effort—a hula-popper, if memory serves me correctly. I tied the big bug onto a long leader and prepared to make the very first fly cast of my life. I managed to get about 10 feet of line out on the water behind me and made a mighty forward cast. Instead of the graceful arc of the fly-line and soft presentation of the bug landing on the water just in front of a hungry bass, my bass bug landed solidly on the back of my head about 2 inches above my neck. It stuck.

As you may know, hula-poppers are brightly colored bugs with an even brighter colored hula skirts dangling from the back. The people in the waiting area of the Lee County Hospital emergency room were very impressed with how the hula popper enhanced my already manly and somewhat sexy appearance. It was not long after this that body piercing became popular in that part of Alabama. I don’t know if the two instances are related or not.

You will perhaps be happy to know that in my more than 40 years of fly-fishing I never again hooked myself while casting. I did, however, manage to hook 4 other people one of whom was my wife Lynn.

One of my more memorable fly-fishing trips involved my two favorite high school fishing buddies from Ohio, Lamar Snipes and Kelsey Puckett, better known as Lurch. The three of us had drifted apart after leaving Morgan County, Ohio to pursue education and gainful employment. Lamar became a physician and moved to the uppity east coast. Lurch became an officer in the United States Air Force and moved everywhere. I ended up in Alabama teaching school. We got together at a high school class reunion and decided to relive our youth by taking a fishing trip together.

The next 4th of July weekend we all converged on Spokane, Washington, rented a car, drove to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, rented a bunch of camping equipment, drove to Kootenai National Forest in Montana, set up camp, and made ready to fish for king sized trout in the famous Kootnai River just below Libby Dam.

Lamar bought quite a large variety of the makings for adult beverages. He explained that, as a doctor, he would prescribe fairly large quantities of the stuff to ward off the cold, which still pervades northern Montana even in July. Lurch bought a very large box of fireworks to celebrate the birth of our nation. He said it was the patriotic thing to do. In between drinking and fireworks we would fish.

The first day out we met our guide about noon and put his big boat in the water just below Libby Dam. Why so late, you might ask? Because, unlike bass or even blue gill, trout are not early risers. They usually sleep in until at least noon or sometimes 1:00, local time. This is very convenient for fisherpersons who also like to sleep in.

We fished a lot and drank a little until nearly dark when we headed back to our campsite. Lamar broke out the really hard likker and Lurch broke out the fireworks. We sat in front of our very large tent, told stories, drank a bit more, and shot off an occasional bottle rocket or cherry bomb. After an hour or so we got down to the Roman Candles. For those of you who don’t know, Roman Candles are about the size of regular candles with a fuse much like the wick of a regular candle. The similarity stops there. When you light a Roman candle it shoots colorful fireballs out of its front end. Each of us lit a Roman candle and started shooting fireballs skyward.

For some unknown reason (perhaps it was our besotted condition) it suddenly occurred to Lurch that it would be great fun to shoot the fireballs at each other. Sounded good to me—so the battle was on. It lasted only about 8 seconds. It ended when both Lurch and I took aim at Lamar, who in an effort to set a good drinking example for the rest of us had apparently exceeded his capacity and was unable to get out of his lawn chair in front of the tent. An easy and stationary target, you might think. You would be right under most circumstances. However, when you consider that the weapons of choice were notoriously inaccurate and Lurch and I were, by this time, experiencing both visual and motor impairment, Lamar was not an easy target at all. The tent, on the other hand, was. Two fireballs went right in the front door and landed on the sleeping bags. The blaze attracted the attention of the park rangers who I mistakenly thought would be friendly, congenial people. It seems we had violated some silly park ordinance about setting tents on fire and another about using alcohol and 6 or 8 more that I don’t recall clearly.

We actually spent very little time in jail, but the total fine pretty much used up my fly-fishing budget for the rest of the decade. Considering the fines, airfare, car rental, paying for the camping equipment we had burned up, and other incidental expenses, we figured the fish we caught on our one day of fishing cost about $3,798.43 per pound. All in all I would say that’s a pretty good trip.