Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

December 13th, 2004

Little Victories

It's not often that I take the Granger out. I guess I treasure it too much and am wary of damaging it. Not that I think it can't handle any fish I might hook into in these waters, but because of the chance of some freak accident or my own stupid and often habitual carelessness.

The rod was given to me by a good friend from Connecticut (see my column Convergences in the Bamboo section of FAOL for the story). It belonged to his grandfather. I've been through a lot of rods, and I've only been fly fishing again for two years after giving it up in my early teens, in favor of far less important pursuits. But the Granger is special. It's got a special history, came from a good friend, and is simply a marvelous fishing tool.

It's a nine-foot Victory. Sings hymns like a celestial choir when I cast it with a six-weight line, becomes a stunning soloist with a seven-weight. Though it's a heavy rod by any measure, it weighs about the same as the South Bend 24 I have. Yet the Granger feels much lighter in the hand, much more well-balanced.

I take it from its tube and sock rarely. Perhaps a dozen times this year. It doesn't go in the boat, ever. Only my graphites go in the boat where there are far more chances for accidents.

Besides the Granger, I have the South Bend mentioned and an eight-and-a-half foot Rapidan. Both are very nice rods, but they can't hold a candle to the Victory.

One evening after work, knowing I had less than an hour of daylight left, I decided I need a trip to the pond. I stopped at the house, grabbed my tackle bag and, fully intending to pull out the tube with my Redington, reached for the Granger instead. How long had it been? I figured around July. Maybe August. With winter breathing chilly on the nape of my neck already, I knew before long I'd be shut down until spring. The bamboo needed, deserved even, to be fished.

I love my graphites, don't misunderstand me. I am not a Sage, Orvis or Winston angler. I can't afford it. My graphites are decidedly modest: Redington, Temple Forks, Diamondback. I also have two mint Heddon fiberglass rods that I enjoy very much. But when I covet what Harry Middleton called "a deeper immersion" into the world through fishing, I reach for cane. When I do, the Rapidan takes me a while to find my stroke, but it lays out line nicely; the South Bend handles big bass like a champ, and I would like to challenge it to redfish this fall.

But the Granger remains my favorite. I arrived at the pond and assembled the Victory on the tailgate of the truck. With a heavy Okuma large arbor reel, it balances nicely. This near dusk, of course, I reached for an Accardo Spook, my favorite popper. On a seven-and-a-half foot 1x leader, it was probably overkill for the small bass and bluegill I usually encounter on this pond, but I knew there were some bigger fish lurking in there. I had chanced upon them before.

Golden hour. That time of the day just after dawn and just before dusk which photographers adore so mightily. Gossamer sunbeams, so deep and saturated with golden dust they almost seemed touchable, streaked out over the pond. The Victory glowed in answer, Granger's patent ammonia-treated cane matching the colors of dusk. We walked over to the edge of the water, and the wind was just dying down as the sun retreated there near the edge of the horizon.

I wiggled out a few feet of line and made a cast. I love the sound of line singing through the guides of a bamboo rod. No other rod can make that sound. It's a whizzing, lilting sound. I've never cast silk, but I'd like to try it sometime, just to hear it. Just to let it whisper to me.

We fished for nearly an hour, that old Victory and I. We caught a few small bass in the first half of that period. There in the dragonfire of a fading day, I thought about the decades this old rod had seen. It had fished trout, perhaps smallmouth, perhaps steelhead, in my friend's grandfather's hand. For untold years after his death, it had sat in storage, almost forgotten. Those northern latitudes exist in my imagination, but they are almost alien to a south Louisiana boy who has never seen the likes of a freshwater trout. Yet for at least half a century, depending on its manufacture date, the Granger knew trout. It knew rainbows and brookies, most likely, cutthroats and browns. It surely knew silk line, and it certainly felt cold, running water. It's owner's hand gripped the same cork, worked the same taper.

Fly anglers it seems are probably most devoted and loving of their tackle of all anglers. We treat our rods like they are part of the family, like treasures. And surely they are. We also pass them down, sell or trade them, and they move out of the sphere of our acknowledgment. Most times we buy new rods, factory-fresh and smelling of newness. Often we buy "used" rods, too, and some of us buy collectibles and nostalgics.

But as I cast along the edge of the pond that evening, an old newspaper man's bamboo Victory the connection between myself, the dusk and the small bass attacking the popper, I knew his grandson and I had done right by an old rod, and an old fisherman who departed this world almost twenty years ago. I still don't take the Granger out often. Perhaps it entrances me too greatly. The stories it tells, in a voice of whizzing line through the guides, are of mountains and valleys, river-smoothed rocks and pools holding brilliant-skinned trout. If I look closely enough, at the golden hour especially, into the gloss of the varnish, the reflection of an old man's face is almost there, distorted along the bridge of his nose by the angle of the strips of cane and the junctures they make with each other.

My friend sent me the rod for perusal first. I knew at once that a Granger, even a long one, was a valuable rod. I told him that I could not drum up that kind of money.

"Do you want to buy, sell and trade?" he asked me. "Or do you want to fish with it?"

I confirmed, of course, that I wanted to fish.

"Then it's yours," he said to me. "Send me some Louisiana crawdads when you get a chance."

I understood. A good rod's got to be fished, especially one made of cane. Otherwise, it's just so much wood, and the fingertips that touched it, the trout that bent it, the careful strokes that polished the nickel silver fade forever, departing the world from dusty barns and dark, lonely places.

We spent an hour at the pond, that old Victory and I. Nothing very large took the fly, but a good many small bass and sunfish put a little bend to the tip. Just before dark, I headed back to the truck, broke down the rod and dried it with a soft terry cloth. As I put it in its sock, I noticed not for the first time how straight the tips still are, that the ferrules still pop nicely when separated. A quality product of quality craftsmanship. Then I went on home, and put my pack down in my little piddling room in the house, slipped the Granger's tube into the rack with my other rods.

It'll wait there, until I'm ready to take it out again. Probably in the spring. We'll chase bluegill and bass again after the winter has subsided. I wonder if I hadn't acquired it, where would it be? Perhaps its absurdly melancholy, but I am glad that it doesn't still sit in a dusty storehouse, that my friend thought enough of me to entrust me with his grandfather's rod, a good rod that needed to be fished.

These are the little victories in the "deeper immersion" of life Harry Middleton wrote of. These are the little victories of convergences. Thanks to a grandson, I'll continue to put a little bend to it's tips, and the Victory will sing sweeping songs to me through the guides. A good rod's got to be fished. If not, it's only so much wood. ~ Roger

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