July 14th, 2008

The Hex
By Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona

It was a warm early summer evening along the banks of the South branch of Michigan's Au Sable River sometime in the late 60's. Two men were camped with their families at Canoe Harbor campground, wiling away the late afternoon hours tying flies and telling lies while they waited for the sun to begin to dip toward the western horizon. Dinner was eaten in haste, then gear was quickly stowed in one of their vehicles and they were off down the dusty road that leads up the river. They drove passed Dog Town, the Chapel, and the High Banks until they came to a faint track that was barely visible leading out through the Jack Pines. Through the piney woods, down a hill and across a dry swale to a sweet fern carpeted meadow where they parked their vehicle, and quickly assembled their gear. A barely discernable game trail directed the two anglers through the tangle of tag alders that bordered the river, which was already bathed in the twilight of a Michigan summer evening.

The river ran dark and silent belying the promise of what the two anglers knew would transpire within the next few hours. In the fading light of this summer day the two anglers waded across the river at the tail of a long deep pool that was marked by a large logjam about halfway down its length. Cedar sweepers hung far out over the river on both sides of the logjam, and the water was dark and deep as it swept under their overhanging branches and beneath the logjam. In the fading light the anglers reclined on the far bank watching and waiting, making last minute adjustments to their tackle, rekindling their pipes, and exchanging small talk.

As the darkness deepened a faint sound of rustling wings began to fill the silence of the night. From somewhere in the darkness a trout rose with a splash, and each of the anglers stirred from their repose wading carefully to their pre-selected positions along the expanse of the pool.

Hex Fly

Rummaging around in a box of long forgotten photographs I recently came across a fading black and white image of a much younger reflection of myself kneeling beside 4 large, but very dead, brown trout. The grinning visage in the photograph is clad in a fly-fishing vest, and is clasping a bamboo fly rod in one hand and a white Mershon pipe in the other. The faint inscription of the back made record of the date and the respective length of each of the dead trout. The shortest was just over 16 inches and the longest was in the excess of 20 inches. They had all been caught in the span of one hour on the South Branch of Michigan's Au Sable River on the night that is described above. I recall that I landed five trout that evening, but I had released the fifth fish, a respectable brown in its own right, in order to be able to say that I did not kill a limit of trout on the Au Sable.

The purpose of this slaughter and resulting photograph was to secure the coveted Notable Angler pin that Orvis® awarded to anglers that made a notable catch using their rod. Despite the passage of over nearly 40 years that pin is still fastened to my hat.

Over the years the memories of those late nights deep in the Jack Pine forest waiting for the magical appearance of those giant mayflies still makes me shiver with anticipation. The fluttering of hundreds of wings, the swooping bats, a good companion to share the experience, and the slurping sound of a large brown sucking in another Hex is the stuff of which legends are made. I'm glad I had the privilege of experiencing those times. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona

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