Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

October 18th, 2004

Just Bitchin'

By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson

There seems to be a lot of discussion lately concerning purists, elitists; putting fly fishermen, and women in upper classes, damned near comparing some to royalty and others as having no class at all. It almost began to bother me, then I thought to myself, why should it?

I was a lucky kid growing up with both parents, and luckier than that, two parents who loved to fish. Did they ever contemplate such ideals as purism or elitism? Nope, never crossed their minds and sure as hell never crossed mine as a youth growing up in Auburndale, Florida.

I was asked to write this column, and I agreed with a lot less enthusiasm than one may have expected. I agreed to it only after I asked that I not be expected to write just about fly fishing, or just fishing, for that matter. I even warned Deanna and J. C. I might just get on a soapbox from time to time, but so far I haven't. Well, this article might take me there.

Carlos Okla Henderson was my dad, and he certainly wasn't a purist, or elitist. He fished mostly for fun and for good eatin' bluegills, shellcrackers, bass and speckled perch. But he did fly fish with cane. Surprised? Don't be. The cane was a sixteen foot, cane pole bought at Maggie's Bait House and rigged with a length of eight-pound test monofilament line, and a cork-bodied poppin' bug bought at Fred Baugh's Shoe Repair and Tackle Shop, right across the street from Maggie's place.

Fred's shoe and tackle shop always smelled of leather and shoe glue and cigars, and I'm pretty sure Fred wasn't a purist either, except maybe in replacing someone's worn out soles on the bottoms of their old brogans. Fred's place was also somewhere everyone in town gathered to BS about fishin' and huntin', or stand around and shoot the breeze with Fred while he fixed their shoes. Maybe even purist is the wrong word. Fred was more of a perfectionist, actually, when it came to shoe repair. Fred's gone now, so is his shop, and the art of repairing shoes, mostly. Gone are the many cards of brightly-colored cork bugs that were hung on a thin wire just above the shotgun shells that were stacked on the worn, wooden floor.

No, Dad surely wasn't a purist or elitist either, but he was a perfectionist in the carpentry field. That was his trade, and what he put together with wood and nails bore his trademark, his name, and was so marked with five dots appearing as the number five on the side of a die. Fishing was reserved for enjoyment, nothing more, and certainly nothing less, but in the same sense, a sort of religion and that's the fiber he passed on to me. Pure enjoyment, that's all.

I wear the title of "captain." So what? It only means I know enough about boats and waters that I so happened to pass a lengthy test. Just don't call me Captain in public; I'll probably turn around to see who you're talking to. Just call me Gary, or Flats or Dude, and please don't call me Mr. Henderson, that is a title reserved for my dad, or his dad. Oh, you can label me as a perfectionist, though. I am that. The flies I tie, the care of my equipment, my glasswork, my cooking. But isn't that part of my structure my dad and folks like Fred passed on to me? You bet it is.

Let me get back to Fred's shop. His warm and inviting place, and those like it, has all but disappeared around these parts. A venue where one could just show up and spend a few minutes seeking advice from an expert, not an elitist. Fred could multi-task, and with a short stub of a cigar tightly gripped in the corner of his mouth, would lecture, as long as one stood there, on the subjects of fishing, hunting, outdoor life, or life in general, all the while cutting a piece of thick cowhide in the shape of the sole of a shoe. I'm afraid if one had ever referred to Fred Baugh as an elitist, Fred would probably have thrown them out of his shop. Purist? Not really. Fred hunted bear, deer, and ducks; basically anything in season, not sticking to one certain variety, and he was a guy who taught his two sons to do the same. He fished all waters for all fishes with every piece of tackle he stocked in his store, and I'm pretty sure he sold my dad his first and only fly-rod and automatic reel; mom's fly-rod came from Fred's place, too. I bought my first over and under shotgun/.22 rifle from Fred for twenty-five bucks. But that was long ago and I was just a kid. No papers to fill out, only a call from Fred to our house to check if my parents knew what I was about to purchase. Common sense played a large part of growing up then, something that has gone away along with the friendly shops like Fred's. But Fred wasn't a purist or elitist, he was just someone that knew a lot about a lot.

Maybe we are all caught up in defining and labeling to the tenth power. I never want to do that...too restricting. As I mentioned in my article in the very beginning of writing this column, I'm not a purist. Heck, I'll still fish with a cane pole and worms and teach my grandkids to do so, after all, that's the way I started. If you choose to be, that's fine. Just don't preach to me on becoming one.

Saltwater fly-fishers are a different breed. As Micus once said in one of his articles, we are a colorful bunch; sometimes in appearance, sometimes in personalities, sometimes in language. But two of the facets we share with each other; we are fun loving and we share an irreverence to seriousness. So, does this make us less of fly-fishers just because our flies are huge and our rods are heavier and our false-casts are half the line carried on our reels, or maybe because our surroundings are different?

I've fished with saltwater fly-fishing purists; Steve Letchworth, Terry Friedrich, Jon Cave, just to mention a few. But if I decided to pick up my light-tackle, spinning rod that sat next to my nine-foot, nine-weight, they never looked down their noses at me, or lectured me in the choice of my method.

The particular tackle I happen to be using on a given day dictates what purist mode I'm in at that very moment. I'm sure as hell not, and never will be, an elitist, and if I ever call myself the latter, slap me up 'side my egotistical and condescending head and remind me of my roots. My dad and Fred Baugh certainly would have.

So, whether it's a hundred and thirty pound tarpon on a twelve-weight, or a ten inch brook trout on a two-weight, makes no difference. The important thing to remember is that it is the "purest" fun we can have and being a "purist" isn't all that important, but claiming to be an elitist, well, just stay at home and enjoy yourself in the mirror.

See y'all next week. ~ 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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