It's funny, how memories of girls you dated in your
teenage years come back to you at unexpected times.
Recently I bought a pair of pliers specially designed
for crushing down the barbs of fish hooks. A day later,
preparing for an afternoon fishing trip, I was sitting
on my camp chair at lakeside carefully picking through
my three small fly boxes, removing the flies by one so
that I could de-barb them. This task would take all of
two hours because my fly boxes, although small - some, in
fact, no bigger than a pack of cigarettes - hold an
embarrassingly large number of flies. A guess, but I
probably carry close to 100 flies into battle every trip.
On standby inside my truck cab are perhaps 200 more flies.
Those I would leave for another day; right now all I wanted
to de-fang were the flies I use (or anticipate using) on
a regular basis.
It was relaxing work de-barbing these flies, not boring at
all. The physical doing of it made me feel like I'm taking
one more baby step into the world of serious fly fishers.
Using de-barbed flies, because they're so much easier to
extract from a fish' mouth, will let me better protect the
health of any fish I decide to release. And that number
seems to grow monthly as I get more into catch-and-release
fishing. Being divorced is a factor in that, too.
Nowadays, apart from a few friends who occasionally ask me
for fish there's nobody anymore to bring fish home to, no
family to feed my catch to. I will sometimes keep a few
pannies and enjoy a fish meal solo. Life has certainly
changed for me fishing-wise: now the trips I go on don't
have the "mission" quality they had for 33 years. I often
miss that because going afield and bringing home fresh-caught
fish for family and neighbors gave me a caveman's sense of
tribal accomplishment and social worth. (Don't let that
high tech 00-wt. Sage fly rod in my right hand fool you:
it's only by random fate of birth that I was born 40,000
years too late to live the Paleolithic hunter/gatherer
lifestyle I'm spiritually best suited for.)
But now whenever my new days get a bit lonely and hollow
feeling in the fishing sense, I stop and think farther back
to when I was a kid, back before I got married. Fishing in
those days never had be defended against a wife's supervisory
scrutiny, defended or justified as a legitimate undertaking
compared to, say, performing domestic chores. In my youth
there was no mission to fishing, only excitement, fun,
anticipation and fascination.
In my youth, Grandpa Stu and Uncle Harold taught me the basics
and many clever tricks of bait and lure fishing. Those two
guys were lights-out great fishermen. I loved fishing, too,
and my folks allowed me to do it a lot. With no serious
responsibilities tying me down, I went fishing pretty much
whenever. Just like I can again do now.
So I'm sitting there on my camp chair de-barbing fly hooks
and the memory of this girl came to mind so suddenly and
clearly that all I could do was look up at the canoe on my
roof rack, look back down at the flies in my lap, and laugh.
I'll call her "Ann" for lack of a better name. She lived in
Emporia, KS. We met one late summer day when Ann' parents
and my Uncle Harold and Aunt Suzie (who I was visiting for
the weekend) took Ann and me along on a picnic outing to
Chase County State Lake, located west of Cottonwood Falls.
"Ann's" dad, who I'll call "Rocky" for lack of a better name,
had brought his canoe for us teenagers to paddle around. This
wasn't just any canoe: it was a fiberglass canoe he'd hand built.
In those days I could have cared less about girls, and Ann, for
some reason I didn't understand, was being friendly toward me.
I was never popular in school; girls in Lawrence never showed
me any attention in those days, which was fine by me. Ann was,
though; she invited me to paddle around the lake with her for a
while. She even asked me to take the stern seat, where most of
the course and speed decisions are made. (Not that I appreciated
the trust she was placing in me by putting me in this "control
position;" it was my first time paddling a canoe.)
We got across the lake and quietly approached a dense weedbed
whose edge was a good 40 yards off shore. Ann said we should
stop. Places like this, she told me, are where she and her
dad often fly fish for bluegill. She was a nice girl, friendly
and very pretty, but when she said "fly fish" and "bluegill" in
such an excited way I was about 90% finished with her then and
there. It felt stupid enough just being in a canoe - sitting
in one with a girl at that - and now she's talking about
bluegills and fly fishing? For a farm boy raised on bait fishing
in flowing rivers for channel catfish, the very idea of someone
using a fly rod to deliberately catch bluegills from a canoe was
a concept so alien it sounded downright ignorant.
Then we got back to the picnic site and things went downhill
even more. Which wasn't Ann's fault. Trying to make conversation,
I mentioned how I love not just fishing but hunting, too, and
I could hardly wait for dove season to open on September 1st.
Overhearing this, "Rocky" got a distasteful look on his face,
and with a sarcastic tone that startled me said, "Hunting, huh?
What would you do if rabbits had guns and could shoot back?"
This was 1965 and he was the first person I'd ever heard voice
disapproval of hunting. I realized, of course, that not every
man prefers to hunt, but to hear someone actually disapprove of
hunting in such a challenging tone of voice was a new experience
for me. And Rocky sounded sincere: he wasn't faking a dislike
of hunting, or playing Devil's Advocate. Looking back on it,
whether he realized it or not he may have been in the vanguard
of the anti-hunting movement that, within a couple of decades,
would politically and legally challenge America's traditional,
comfortable assumptions about acceptable hunting practices and
the moral rightness of sport hunting.
All I knew about him was that only a half hour earlier, out there
on the lake with his daughter Ann, she'd mentioned that her dad
absolutely loves to fish for bluegill and bass. His apparent
moral condemnation of hunting therefore struck me as contradictory.
Personally I've never felt there's a difference between finned
quarry and furred or feathered quarry: they're all sport animals,
each species has equal high value to my eyes, and the pursuit of
them is equally enjoyable despite requiring different equipment
I didn't want to disrespect Ann's dad, and I wasn't angered
or even slightly offended by his comment. It was the logic
behind his caustic challenge that didn't make sense to me.
So I asked him, "Well, what would you do if bass carried
torpedoes?" He didn't answer, and those were the last words
he and I spoke to one another during the picnic. Matter of
fact, that day was the last time I ever saw him.
Not Ann, though. At dusk that evening we moved off a short
ways and sat together looking south across the lake at an
approaching thunderstorm whose swiftly-rising cloud columns
and ice anvil top were forming right before our eyes, the
whole cloud mass side-lit dramatically by the setting sun,
the storm's main body interior relentlessly strobe flashing
with lightning as if artillery salvos were detonating inside
it. Ann was as mesmerized by this magnificent sight as I was,
and I had to admit to myself that for a girl she was pretty
We dated only twice. My aunt and uncle were disappointed,
I think. They thought Ann and I were a good match and kept
slyly trying to put us together at every opportunity. I
just wasn't ready for a girlfriend, especially not one who
lived 80 miles away.
We didn't go fishing the two dates we got together, either.
The idea of fishing with her, well...she'd probably just want
to get me in a canoe again, then at some point pass her rod
over with that god-awful tangle of loose line and ask if I
want to try my hand fly fishing for bluegills. ~ Joe Hyde
From Douglas County, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and
federal police officer. In addition to fishing, he hunts
upland birds and waterfowl, and for the last 15 years
has pursued the sport of solo canoeing. On the nearby
Kansas River he has now logged nearly 5,000 river miles
while doing some 400 wilderness style canoe camping
trips. A musician/singer/songwriter as well, Joe's
'day job' is with the U.S. General Services Adminstration.
Joe at one time was a freelance photojournalist who wrote the
Sunday Outdoors column for his city newspaper. Outdoor
sports, writing and music have never earned him any money,
but remain priceless activities essential to surviving the