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Uncle Dee's Fly Fishing Life Lesson
By Norm Cox, TX


I grew up out in the barefoot country of south Louisiana, just outside of Baton Rouge. I was surrounded by fertile fishing waters that were easily accessible in any direction I peddled my trusty Schwinn bicycle. Naturally, fishing was in my Cajun heritage blood, but I experienced the joy of fly fishing from my great-uncle Dee one wonderful summer when I was about 10 years old.

He and Aunt Myrtle lived in the "big house" about 300 yards away from the back porch of our little 3-room shotgun house. It was down a hard-pack footpath through the woods and around the north side of the goat pasture. They had huge gardens, pastures, tractors, barns, animals, ponds and all sorts of country accoutrements for boys to enjoy. But better than that, they also had a small 3-room riverfront fishing cabin with a screened porch and noisy tin roof on the Chinquapin River. Though it was only about an hour away, it seemed like a whole 'nother country when we'd load up the pickup and head to the camp for a few days. It had a small wooden dock for swimming, woods for exploring, and mosquitoes the size of small helicopters. But for me that summer in the early '60s, their camp was my "summer vacation home" and Uncle Dee was my fishing buddy. No shirt. No shoes. No school. Perfect.

Every afternoon, Uncle Dee and I would take his small handmade pirogue and cranky 6 hp. Wizard out to fish. We'd drift along in the shadows of giant cypress, willow and white oak trees, all resplendent in their flowing veils of Spanish moss. In my mind, we were the men of the camp, out to fetch supper for the women and children awaiting our triumphant return. We were fisher men.

Of course, at the time I didn't realize that my "special" job on our daily mission was to be the "best dang paddler" Uncle Dee ever had. I was the trolling motor. I was charged with keeping the pirogue parallel and just the right distance from the bank while he fished, but that was just fine with me. His success was my success, and on the river, all men are created equal.

I was constantly impressed how he could maneuver a broomstick-sized popper underneath the low-hanging cypress limbs, roll it behind the trunk of the tree and land it perfectly between the gnarly knees. With a quick twitch, he'd make it pop like a cork gun, and more often than not, somehow entice a bass out of the tannic-stained waters.

He taught me the basics of fly fishing with a cheap $6 heavy fiberglass rod that my dad bought me at the local sporting goods store. I used that rod for probably 30 years, never realizing that it was not much better than using one of the lacquered cane poles that used to hang in bulk on the walls outside every bait shop in Louisiana. I remember how heavy and sore my arms would get after a day of fishing with it, swearing that it actually weighed more at the end of the day than it did in the morning.

I'd always catch fish with Uncle Dee during that first summer he taught me to fly fish. But I was so enamored at his finesse with a fly rod that it was often more fun just to sit and watch him. He was cheap entertainment. It was like he had x-ray vision and could actually see the fish beneath the tea-colored water. We'd paddle up to a likely looking spot and he'd say something like, "Now watch out, Norman! There's a little beauty in there just waiting for me. I can just see her now! Just watch...watch...watch." He'd make a couple of false casts and, like always, land his white pearlized popper right in the saucer-sized spot where he pointed. Then he'd start chattering like a baseball catcher to the invisible fish where his fly had just landed, "Ok, Cher...come on now, you know you want to go home with me, c'mon...cooooome on...I know you're in there!" And sure enough, it was like he could talk them into biting, and one would always seem to take him up on his offer. He'd let out a Cajun whoop and I'd always notice his gold tooth through his broad grin. After a moments fight and peaceful surrender, he'd welcome the fish into the boat like a long lost friend. We'd laugh and make jokes about how gullible fish could be and how we "outsmarted 'nother one." It was pure delight in the awesome theatre of the great outdoors.

Uncle Dee's been gone for over 30 years now. But besides his expertise with a fly rod, the thing that impressed me most about him was a small thing he'd always do before we'd fire up the cantankerous old Wizard outboard and head back to camp. We'd open up the rusty green-and-white metal Igloo ice chest and rummage through the day's catch. He'd find the largest fish in the chest and hand it to me. We'd admire it for a moment, and then he'd give me his winsome wink, a nod and a perfect false-toothy smile. Without saying a word, I knew what this wonderful gesture meant. It meant that when we got back to camp, with Aunt Myrtle waiting for us on the pier, I could reach in the Igloo, lift up this fish in trophy fashion and, with all the poker face I could muster, tell Aunt Myrtle that I caught it. A bald-faced lie! I was going to go against everything I was ever taught in Sunday School and go straight to hell with no stops in between! Well, maybe I didn't actually hook the fish... but it was certainly my paddling that put the boat in the perfect position. And I helped him land it...and put it in the Igloo...and...and. And in the 15 minutes it took us to motor back to camp, I'd justified the conclusion that I was just as responsible for catching that fish as Uncle Dee was. It was a team effort! And I put on my poker face.

And with that obvious lie, of course, Aunt Myrtle would play her convincing part as the camp patsy and always say something to me like, "Well, looks like you out-fished him again!" I'd smile and swell with pride and cast a secretive glance at Uncle Dee. He'd smile back and he'd give me that knowing wink again as if to say, "Good job, we pulled another one over on her again." And this 10-year old chose to believe that it was for true.

Later that night, alone on my cot with only my conscience for company, I'd always say my prayers and ask God to forgive me for telling a lie. But somehow it just didn't feel like a REAL lie. It was more of a practical joke on Aunt Myrtle that we just never revealed. Yeah, that's it! It wasn't a malicious lie. I meant no harm or disrespect. We were just fooling her, and that was different than a lie. My conscience soothed, I'd fall asleep, convinced that God surely understood and wouldn't hold it against me. At least I hoped He wouldn't, because I knew I couldn't wait to get up and do it all over again tomorrow. ~ Norm

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