Welcome to Warmwater Fishing!

And 46 Years Later I'm...

By Joe Hyde, Lawrence, KS

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 and methods.

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 good company.

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

About Joe:

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 'day job.'

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