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Part One Hundred thirty-six

Randy Fratzke

Big Dan,The Dapper Man

By Randy Fratzke

I was just pulling my boat up to the dock when he went by heading up stream at nearly "no wake speed" the first time. About fifteen minutes later I looked up and saw him floating back down stream with the current, using his electric trolling motor to correct his position. He had a fly rod and reel in his hand but it looked more like he was using it to jig with instead of casting. I watched as he pulled in a couple of nice sized crappies, thinking to myself, "I was just out there for three hours and got skunked! Now this guy comes along, using a fly rod for a jigging pole and catches crappies right in front of me! What gives?" As he got closer I noticed that he wasn't jigging, he was kind of skipping a small fly across the surface of the water, pretty soon I could hear the small sucking sound as another crappie took the fly under and the guy smiled and pulled it in.

"So how'd you do today Fritz?" he asked. I was a little surprised by the question. Not really by the question, it's a common one amongst anglers, but by the fact that he knew me and I had no idea who he was. "Kind of slow," I replied not really wanting to let on that I hadn't caught a thing. "Looks like your doing alright though" I commented. He just smiled and nodded his head. I finally asked, "Do I know you or have we met some where?" He looked a little puzzled this time then laughed, "Yup, I just looked a little different then." He put his hand up in front of his full beard as if to show what he would look like without it. "Okay", I said, "You look familiar, but I sure can't place you." He laughed again, he reminded me of the guy who played Grizzly Adams on the old TV show. Big man, full beard that covered his neck, graying, probably in his late 50's. "Well I sure remember you!" he said, and then finally relented and added, "We talked fly fishing for almost 2 hours last summer at your Aunt Florence's hog roast. 'Course I didn't have a beard then 'cause I was still working for the railroad, but I'm retired now so I can do as I please," then he sheepishly added, "as long as I check with my wife first!" And we both laughed.

It was starting to fade back into my mind. The hog roast, over a year ago, it was a hot mid-July Saturday afternoon. The pork was good, the beer was cold and both were free. And in the normal local tradition, all the people brought their "specialty food" to share in the potluck. I remember my aunt bringing over this big guy and saying that we should talk because we both "fished with those long poles and tied those fly thingies." Finally it came to me, "Dan, right?" I asked. "Yup", smiled and beamed like a father whose son just brought home a report card from school with an "A" on it. "Now you remember!" "I told you I'd make it up here as soon as I retired and got caught up with the wife's "Honey Do" list, it just took me a little longer than I expected!" he added, stroking the beard.

Getting all of that out of the way I ventured the question, "So what exactly are you doing with the fly rod? I don't ever recall seeing that technique," not wanting to sound insulting but not really sure that what he was doing could be called "fly fishing" either. "Dappin' me laddy, dappin'" he said with a heavy Scottish brogue and another one of his huge smiles. "We talked about it last summer, don't you remember?" Then he added, "T'was somethin' me Granpappa taught me when I was too small to fling a fly."

Okay, I'd heard of it, but never actually seen it in action, until now. Again in his Scottish brogue he started in, "Me Granpappa used to fish the lochs and lakes back home from a boat. They'd use long spey rods, 14 footers they'd be, and let the wind drift them across the water, dappin' out in front of the boat. He told me of the salmon and big trout they'd catch that away." He went on, "So's when he immigrated to America and took up farming he put his rods away for the most part. But come mid summer when the plantin' and tillin' was done but it was still too soon to harvest he'd pick me up and take me dappin' with him. We'd float the ponds and lakes and small rivers in an old home made flat-bottomed boat that he'd made." Then he winked at me like a big Santa Claus, 'I'll be glad to teach you if you like, I'm looking for a fishing partner", he said, "and you know this section of the river." "Sounds good to me!" I said, knowing my wife had been pretty unhappy about me spending a lot of time out in the boat alone. He said he'd pick me up at the dock on Thursday morning about 9:00 AM and not to bother bringing anything but my rod, he'd even supply the flies!

Thursday morning finally arrived, bright, sunny and hot! It was already past 80 degrees at 9:00 when Dan picked me up from the dock. We both had on lightweight, long sleeved shirts, wide brimmed hats and sunglasses. The first thing he asked is weather I'd put plenty of sunscreen on and I'd assured him I had. The he asked, "Okay, Fritz, show me the hot spots so we can get fishing!" I directed him upstream, pointing out the snags and sandbars hidden just under the water along the way. We went about a mile upstream and I had him pull over along the bank where two trees had fallen over into the river. I tied the bow to the upstream tree and had him tie the stern to the downstream one. We were about 10 feet from the shore in about 5 feet of water. "Okay," I said, "Here's the first hot spot, show me how to dap."

He took a small minnow dip net and reached over the side of the boat and swirled it around some of the brush that had collected in the tree limbs hanging in the water. Brought it up and started examining the bugs and husks that he'd collected, opened up his tackle box (nope, not a vest, not a fly box, a regular tackle box!). Each compartment held a different assortment of flies, broken down by size and color, three trays on each side, twelve compartments to each tray. A regular rainbow of colors! He took out a tweezers and picked a husk out of the minnow net, compared it to a couple of different flies in the box, then selected one and told me to tie it on to my line. He picked one out for himself that was a shade or two lighter. As we tied on the flies he explained the technique. "The whole idea is to make the fish think that the fly is just emerging from the husk and sitting on the top of the water drying its wings and trying to fly off" he said. Then added, "So you just set the fly down with only a couple of feet of line out and then twitch it or scoot it on the top of the water." As he talked, he showed me, and about 30 seconds later pulled in a nice sized crappie! "Okay Fritz, your turn!" I followed his directions and was promptly rewarded with another crappie. "This is too easy," I said, unhooking the fish. He just laughed and hauled in another. "Yup, just don't let the line drag in the water, just the fly, the fish just slurp 'em up!"

After catching about a dozen things slowed down. "Time to move, I think they're on to us here Fritz," he said. We untied the boat and maneuvered to a new site. He went through the ritual of the dip net, comparing the husks (otherwise known as shucks), and tying on the appropriate fly. What surprised me were the differences in the flies and their colors in as little as a quarter of a mile in the river. At one point we were fishing with almost white flies, the next a dark gray, the next a light olive color. It seemed like each snag or fall or area was akin to its own color of fly. Until now I'd never really noticed it that closely. He had a small board screwed at an angle to the side of the boat filled with several rows of very small eye bolts that he used to hang the flies on to dry. By the end of the day there were probably ten to twelve different colors and sizes hanging there and the live well was "well stocked."

We knocked off about 3:00 in the afternoon and headed for my dock, tied off his boat and started unloading fish from the live well to a five gallon bucket. We cleaned a lot of fish, tossed back some of the smaller ones that were still very much alive and healthy, and talked. Sometime during the day I had dubbed him "Dapper Dan" We split up the fillets and bagged them up. By then it was close to 4:00 PM. And time for him to make the five-mile run down river to the ramp where he'd put in. I asked him when he'd be back and he said he'd give me a call the following week. Then he asked if I'd show him how to "fling some of those flies." I said I would be glad to. He untied the boat, waved and headed downstream.

Yes, he did call the following week and yes I did teach him how to "fling flies," but that's another story.

Until then, may the only thing you hook be a fish on the end of your line! ~ Randy Fratzke

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