Back many years ago, just before my fourteenth birthday, which was
the day before Christmas, it was there under the tree, "To Doug from
Dad and Gam." Gam was my dad's best friend. His name was Homer
Gammons and he lived up the street from Reverend Pew. Dad and mom
rented the upstairs rooms in the old, 2-story brick house at 1451 Windsor
Place in Jacksonville. At the time, it was the only house on the street.
Jacksonville was smaller than it is today.
My mom was assistant in the Central Supply and Drug Dispatch at St. Vincent's
Hospital and my Dad was a Pharmacist's Mate at Jacksonville Naval Air Station.
JNAS was like a small city. I couldn't believe how big that place was, still is today.
Because my dad worked seven days a week, there wasn't much time for us to
do things like other fathers and sons. His friend Gam had lost his son and I sort
of became a surrogate for Brad – that was his sons name. I didn't really know him,
but do know how crushed Gam was when he died.
Gam was a great fisherman and he loved to fly fish. So, he'd take me over to the
St. Johns or the Trout River on Saturday's and Sunday's, or during the week after
school, and we'd fish. I was terrible. But he was determined to teach me. Did
I say what a patient teacher he was? The best. He was also the Guidance Councilor
at the high school and just terrific with people. Gam loved the outdoors and nature.
An avid hunter and fisherman, but he respected all things in nature. One time I
caught a baby Copperhead and I brought it home. My mom wanted me to run it
over with the lawnmower, but Gam stopped her and said we would return it to the
woods. Snakes have their place and help control the rodent population. He was
a real stickler about those kinds of things, but it made me aware of preserving God's
Gam taught me how to fly fish when I was about 11 years old. He had a bunch of
rods and would take me to a big field near Riverside Park, the one off of Sydney
Street. He would fill balloons with water and air and place them in the field. The
object was to pick out a target and cast to the balloon. It was a game and once I
mastered it we moved on to more tricky targets. One Saturday afternoon he took
me over to a place behind St. Vincent's, down by the river. He had some balloons
filled with water and air and had strings attached to them. The balloons were
lowered into the river and floated out with the current until it reached the end of the
tether. They weren't out that far, maybe twenty or thirty feet. With the wind and
current, it became a little more difficult casting to the balloons. Once you hit a
balloon it would break and then you could haul the balloon in on its string.
I got quite good and now it was time to apply my new talents on the fish.
Gam picked me up early one Saturday morning and took me up to the river. At
that time you could get out on small creeks and wade for fish. I think the fishing
was easier then. My recollection is that we always brought fish home, which my
mother cooked in her many southern dishes. She could make bluefish taste like
Prime Rib. She worked her magic on fish using homegrown vegetables and herbs.
We were down at the river and having one terrific time when I broke my leader.
Gam was still away from me and I didn't want to bother him. So I put the rod
down on the bank and fixed up another fly. Who knows what kind it was. Gam
usually tied some and gave me a couple because he knew I would loose one. That
was ok. So I put on another fly. I think this was a streamer and it probably was a
white one, because Gam liked white flies. I got the fly on and threw it in the water
of this little creek. As I reached down to pick up the rod the line screamed out at
high speed. I tried to stop the line from spooling the reel and wouldn't you know
it the line came right off the spool. I guess Gam had been watching the whole ordeal,
because by that time he was about 50 feet down stream from me and he reached
out and grabbed that line. He pulled back hard, set the hook and hand-over-hand
pulled in a 15-pound Jack Cravelle. My first Jack. Well, I can't take credit for
catching it. That Jack was probably a record then, but they might not have been
tracking record fish. This was some awesome fish and was he powerful. Gam
and dad talked about that fish and the whole episode for a long time.
It was happy memories like this that I remember Gam and what a great friend and
mentor he was, until his death in 1996. There is a special place in my heart for that
man and the great times our families shared. On Christmas Eve, my father told me
to go ahead and open that box. There it was all wrapped without a bow – who
needed one. The Shakespeare was inside with the Plueger Progress reel. Times
were hard then and I know my dad and Gam saved a long time to get me that rod.
So it is a special rod that lives in the Fenwick case today.
Doug is a USCG Licensed Captain and fly-fishing guide from New Smyrna Beach, FL
a member of CCA, FFF, AFF, APCA, FOWA, the Action Craft Saltwater Team,
and the Orvis and Redington Pro-Guide Program. He can be reached at 386-679-5814.