Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

February 27th, 2006

The Natural

By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson
When I grew up in central Florida many years ago, I didn't know, at the time, where my enslavement to fishing would take me. One thing I did know was the fact that when I got into trouble with my parents, it was usually caused by me staying too long at one of the lakes that dotted my hometown of Auburndale.

It wasn't until I had pretty well mastered all the other facets of fishing, both fresh and salt, did I take up the art of fly-fishing. Oh sure, my dad dabbled at fly-fishing with an old fiberglass rod and automatic reel, but I didn't pay a lot of attention to his style, if he had one, or some of the time not paying attention to what direction the fly was heading on his back-cast, thus resulting in me being firmly attached to a small popping bug by the forehead.

As time passed, I took up the sport through lessons offered by Captain Jon Cave. I took it seriously, and believe me, Jon took his instructions seriously in the same manner as a drill sergeant, but with a little more rigidity. I took to it like a duck in water. That was over seventeen years ago. However, this story isn't about me.

A friend of mine, Matt Philips, lives close to the St. Johns River here in Seminole County. Matt is a true outdoorsman, and his love of the water and woods goes back many years. In fact, he told me recently the only time he usually got in trouble with his mom and dad was when the teacher would send a note home complaining that Matt spent too much time writing his class essays on fishing, and the teachers wanted him to "broaden" his storylines on other subjects. However, this story isn't about Matt either. Well, sort of, maybe.

Just before Christmas last year, Matt invited Linda and me out to his sister and brother-in-law's home on the St. Johns River for a Christmas party. Very nice home, warm and friendly folks, outdoor camping type of place with a boathouse. My kind of hangout.

After brief introductions, I spotted Matt down by the boathouse cleaning an assortment of bream and catfish, but it didn't seem as though poor Matt would ever complete his task of cleaning part of the Christmas dinner; fried catfish, bream and speckled perch (crappies as they are also known as). Matt has two boys, Stone and Gage, and while Matthew stood in the boathouse cleaning station, steady streams of catfish were being delivered by the boys. Now that's fresh fish, don't you know?

Stone kept fishing as Matt began cooking up the fresh catch of the day, and finally he had to tell his son to quit so he could eat. As I saw it, the kid stopped for a few minutes, but as Dad began getting the grease hot, the kid was right back down by the water and resumed dragging in catfish and bluegills. Reminded me of when I was nine, and like I said, got in trouble for fishin' just a wee bit too much.

A few months rolled by and Matt expressed his interest in learning to fly-fish, and came to me with questions on equipment. A few visits to EBay and Matt found a nice rod and reel. I got him set up, new line, backing, leaders and such. I rigged the new outfit, took him out front of our office and gave him a brief lesson in casting skills, then sent him home to practice. The next day Matt came back to work with stories of Stone, his boy, asking more questions than Matt knew how to answer. But just as soon as it started, the interest seemed to wane.

A week or so ago, Matt came to work and asked if I could tie tails onto lead-headed jigs for speckled perch, and showed me a few photos of a jig that wasn't made anymore. As I examined the pictures, I remembered I had an old bobbin and some other fly-tying materials on a bookshelf in my office. I fetched them and demonstrated with a pencil and a paperclip, and how to tie the feathers (paperclip) to the hook (pencil) with the thread that I just happened to have, also. After the Neanderthal tying demo, I handed off the materials and bobbin to Matt and told him to take the stuff home. Oh yeah, Matt and his family have chickens...and the two boys...and now very frightened chickens...with far less feathers.

Seems the boys have now taken a more than normal interest in tying chicken feathers and deer hair to the shanks of jig hooks, and by the looks of things, they have gotten quite innovative in newly formulated patterns, some of which were recently tested on the local speckled perch population. The tube type and the natural chicken are working very well with the boys light spinning tackle. But that's not where this is going, it gets worse...or better.

It seems as Matt has been practicing with the long rod more than I realized, and with more observation than he realized from Stone. Stone began asking more questions, and Matt figured it was going to be one of those "flash in the pan" things with the nine year old.

Yesterday I began being grilled again about tying vices, and after a few suggestions, Matt, and his wife Angel, ordered a Regal vice for the boys to tie the yard-bird flies. The boys had improvised somewhat by using a pair of hemostats and a pair of vise-grips to hold the hemostat in place to grip the hook.

Another event took place yesterday, and here's your story.

Matt decided to go to our local K-Mart and purchase a twenty-dollar fly-rod and reel combo for Stone for Valentine's Day. Figuring the kid would probably loose interest, or break the 8' 6" Martin, or just use it as a cane pole, why invest in anything more than this inexpensive rod that came with a little box of streamers and a muddler minnow (size 8). After all, it was a Martin, came with a WWF line, already rigged, leader and everything and was a 5/6 weight. I'd fish it.

This morning, Matt came in with a disk and told me to plug it into my computer. And there was Master Stone Phillips...The Natural!

With brief instructions from Dad, Stone put the rod together, Matt tied on the minnow and as his dad watched, The Natural began to lay out line, watching his back-cast, shooting line on his fore-cast and back-cast. Twenty, then thirty feet. The fly landed on the surface. The warmouth perch plastered the muddler, and ten fish later, in the dark, Matt had to drag his Natural up to the house to eat supper.

So, in ten years or so, when you read about Stone Phillips in some fancy fly-fishing magazine you heard it first right here!

I figure, with a few lessons, well, Dad's in trouble! (And so are the chickens!)

'Til next time. ~ Capt. Gary

About Gary:

Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area. After moving a little closer to the coast, his interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."

He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the waters will ever be present.

Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater patterns in the early '90's and has participated as a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting and tying instructor and stained glass artist, creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.

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