Readers Cast


Neil M. Travis - November 21, 2011

I received a phone call from a relative of an old man that had recently passed away and wondered if I could come over and give him some idea of the worth of some fly fishing items. I'm not an expert on such things but I told him that I would be willing to take a look and give him some idea about the value of the various items. I made arrangements to meet with him and he gave me directions to the residence where the old man had resided before his death.

A couple days later I drove to the old man's residence. The house was on a tree-lined street in a modest neighborhood consisting of older homes. The lawn was neatly manicured, and flower beds lined the sidewalk and driveway leading up to the house. I was greeted at the door by relative that had called me; a nephew and he was the old man's only living relative. He led me through the house to a large room at the rear of the house. There were large windows looking out over a well landscaped backyard. On one wall was a large floor to ceiling book case filled with books, on another wall was a fly tying bench and cabinets that I presumed held fly tying material, and then there was a glass fronted case that contained several rod tubes. The nephew informed me that there was more equipment; waders, vests and miscellaneous items in a small room adjacent to the one in which we were standing. I explained that it would take me several days to go through this collection before I could give him a reasonable idea the value of these items. He nodded and left me to my task.

The collection of books contained some rare volumes; first editions and signed copies, many of which contained personal notes to the old angler. The collection was quite extensive containing volumes that covered all aspects of fly fishing from fresh to salt water, panfish to salmon.

Like the library the fly tying equipment and material was extensive. One cabinet contained several drawers lined with aromatic cedar that was used for the storage of hackles, furs and hairs. All the material was enclosed in plastic bags closed at the top with twist ties to keep out moths and other feather eating vermin. There were boxes and boxes of hooks, tinsels, wires, and all manner of items related to fly tying. Clearly it was a collection that spanned a lifetime.

Finally there was he rod collection. All the rods were bamboo from famous rod makers; Payne, Leonard, Garrison and Orvis. That is all of them but one; a rod that I found in a small cabinet with some other personal items. The rod was in a dented metal case and a rough cloth sack. Inside the rod case was a hand written letter that explained the importance of this particular rod.

"This old fly rod isn't worth much in monetary value. I got it from my dad back before the big war. It had belonged to my dad and he gave it to me before he shipped out for Germany. I never saw my dad again. He died on Omaha Beach during the D-day invasion.

I cherish this rod more than all of the other rods that I own, not because of its monetary value, because it has none, but because this rod embodies everything that means anything in this world.

You can see where the one tip was broken and repaired. I broke this tip on the first really big fish that I ever caught – a 5 pound brown trout that lived in a small tree-lined stream. The tip broke when I put the pressure on him to keep him from running back under the bank. I had to grab the line and land him after the tip broke. I was just 15 years old and it was the biggest fish that I had ever seen and I never imagined that I would ever catch anything that big. Although I have caught larger trout and salmon the memory of that brown trout is the one that is still most vivid in my mind.

The cork grip is stained with the slime of many fish that I caught during those early years. I would strap the rod case to the handle bars of my bike, sling my wicker creel over my shoulder and head out to the nearest body of water. With this old rod I investigated every piece of water within bike riding distance during those days. This rod and I did battle with feisty pumpkin seeds and bass in our local ponds, we poked our way back into small brooks overgrown with brush and I learned to snake a cast though the openings in the trees and place a fly on a piece of water the size of a tea cup. Together we explored a world that now only exists in memories that only I can remember.

Over the years there have been many other rods and many more fish, but this old rod is the most treasured of them all. It was a magic wand that started me on a journey into a world that I could not even imagine. When I hold it in my hands, as I am doing as I write this, I am transported to a place and time that none of my far more expensive rods can invoke. That's why this old rod is more valuable than all the other rods that I have owned. In the end, it's not the cost of the things we own but the memories that we have made with them.
When I finished the inventory of all the items in the collection I gave my estimate to the old man's nephew. I took the old rod out of the rod case and showed it to him. I handed him the note and sat as I watched him read it.

"Your uncle had some very valuable rods, but this is the most valuable one of all. It has no monetary value and certainly no collector would want to add it to his collection. It was an inexpensive rod when it was new but your uncle valued it more than all the other rods in his collection. He understood the true value of this old rod, and I suspect that he understood the real meaning of life. I'm sorry that I never knew him."

Several days later the postman delivered package – a long cylindrical package that contained a dented rod case. Inside were the old bamboo rod and the handwritten letter. A note was taped to the outside of the case.

"I think my uncle would have wanted you to have this rod. Thank you for showing me the side of a man that I never really knew. Like you, I wish that I had known him."

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