I normally do not spend time visiting yard or rummage sales. I have more than enough of my own junk without purchasing stuff that other people are trying to sell. I was visiting some old friends and decided to take a walk around their neighborhood while they were doing some domestic chores. A few blocks away from their house I came upon a small city park and it appeared that they were having a local art fair and flea market. I decided to wander around to see what the locals were selling. Most of the sellers had a variety of art objects; paintings, carvings, jewelry and similar objects for sale and I moved through most of the booths rather quickly. At the far end of the line of tents was one set of tables that contained a variety of household items and as I moved by the tables I noticed one box that was labeled "misc. fly fishing stuff." The box was the type of box that is used for fresh fruit with a top that slides down over the bottom with hand holes at both ends. I stopped and peered through one of the hand holes and I saw what looked like the frame of a fly reel. I tried to slide the top off the box but it was taped shut. There was a young man sitting in a folding chair back under the tent awning and when he noticed me looking at the box he got up and walked over.
"Is this your stuff?" I asked.
He nodded and said, "Five bucks and it's all yours." Then he added that all this stuff had belonged to his uncle and when he died a couple years ago he left it all to him. He had sold off most of the big stuff and this was all that was left.
"Do you know what's in the box?" He shook his head in a negative way. "This box was on the top shelf of a closet in his bedroom and I never opened it up. I think it is probably just some odds and ends of some fishing stuff. He had a bunch of rods and stuff and I sold all that stuff."
I looked at the box and thought that it might be fun to see what was inside and certainly I could afford the price. If it just turned out to be junk I could afford to just throw it away. I fished out a five dollar bill from my wallet and walked away with my treasure. Back at my friend's house they were ready to take me out to lunch so I tossed the box in the trunk of my car.
I completely forgot about the box and it was a couple weeks after I got back home that I remembered that it was there. I took the box into my garage and set it up on my work bench. I cut the tape that secured held the box together and pulled the top up revealing the contents. Like the label on the outside of the box said; the box was filled to the top with miscellaneous fly fishing stuff.
On the top were two skeleton-frame fly reels. They were obviously older models but even when they were new they were inexpensive and time had not altered their value. I guessed that I could probably get five dollars for them so I could recover my initial costs. Digging through the box there were a few empty fly boxes, a couple old fly lines, several pieces of amadou, and boxes of fly tying hooks. As I pulled out the last of the objects in the box I discovered a leather bound book; a fly fishing diary. Settling into a chair I opened the book and I was immediately introduced to the man who had penned the words in this book over four decades of his life.
The entries were entered in fine cursive script, a reminder of a time when school children were taught to write in legible script. The first entry was dated April 30, 1946, "The long war is over and it's good to be back home again and standing along a trout stream with rod in hand preparing to do combat with a wild trout and not an enemy that is determined to kill me." The writer was a World War II veteran and he started his stream diary just after he had returned from the war. This was the first and only entry that indicated that he had been in combat and I guess that he really just wanted to forget that period of his life when he was fishing.
The entries started in 1946 and ended in 1987, ten years before I purchased it. It was truly a fly fishing diary with entries listing the hatches, the flies he used, the anglers he fished with and the places where he fished. Not being familiar with the area where he lived the names of the various waters were not known to me but when I consulted a map of the area I found many of the places listed. Most of the streams were small trout waters but several of the lakes and ponds supported populations of warm water fish, especially bluegills, crappie and bass. The entries in his diary indicated that he enjoyed these fishing for these fish as much as he enjoyed fishing for trout.
Except for the occasional mention of the name of someone that he was fishing with the diary contained no information about his personal life. Was he married, did he have children, grandchildren? The diary gave no hints about anything but his days on the water.
What struck me most as I read through the pages of the diary was the fact that it recorded mostly ordinary events. None of the fish that he caught were notable in size or even in numbers. The fly patterns mentioned were mostly common flies that one would have been able to find quite easily in any local fly shop during the period covered by the entries. However, I was also impressed by the fact that the entries were entered meticulously, even though they seemed so very ordinary.
The writer obviously had a cadre of friends that he fished with on a regular basis. Like the other entries in the diary they were the names of ordinary men; Bill, Tom, Dick, Paul, Bob, Jim, Ralph, and Joe. As I read through the entries these names appeared frequently but as the years passed some of the names began to disappear and in the last several entries the writer often noted that he fished alone. It appeared that the writer had outlived his angling contemporaries.
As I closed the book I thought how much the author of this angling diary was similar to me. In fact it seemed that the entries in this diary were a microcosm of the record that most anglers could write; a record of ordinary events that have inordinately important meanings to the author. His angling adventures were quite ordinary; the fish he caught were not remarkable, he enjoyed variety and fly fishing was a very important part of his life. He had friends he fished with but over time they slipped away. I wish I had known him, I wished I could have fished with him; I think that I would have enjoyed calling him my friend.