Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
February 12th, 2001

Artifice

by Bill DeWitt

The sun was just breaking over the mountain tops as Mike and Larry arrived at the river. The hour long drive from town had taken them through rolling hills and mountains until finally they descended into a canyon where they skirted the rivers edge for several more miles. Idle chit chat occupied them until at last they saw it. Their spot. The turn-off veered straight towards the river then dropped steeply. About 50 feet down it curved to the right into a grove of trees where there was just enough room to park two vehicles. An old pickup sat motionless as they nosed into the remaining space.

"Alright," Larry said with a tone of excitement. "Let's do it."

Mike's eyes opened with interest as he pointed and said, "Jeez, look at that old thing."

"Yea, it's a `49 Studebaker."

"How do you know?"

"Well, you see the - " Mike quickly interrupted.

"Never mind. Your answer will take too long."

"Well don't ask if you don't want to hear it."

Mike stared intently at the old truck. "You don't think . . .?" he asked with a slight sense of drama.

"Think what?" asked Larry. "Maybe it's him," responded Mike, sustaining the drama.

"Him who? Wait a minute you don't mean . . ." he trailed off.

Whispering in a tone of near reverence Larry invoked the name, "Crazy Luther."

They looked at each other as they speculated the possibility that he might actually exist.

Crazy Luther was a local fisherman whose reputation had reached mythical status. Accounts of his exploits had been passed around for decades. A seldom seen, mysterious figure, his reputed abilities had reached such a level that it was supposed he possessed some sort of secret. First hand accounts of his exploits were scarce, so that everyone had their own version of Luther's secret. Some said it was his flies. Others insisted he had achieved the perfect presentation. One obscure story even had it that Luther was in league with the devil.

"It must be him `cause I heard he drives an old Studebaker," said Mike.

"Let's check it out," he added as he opened the car door.

They approached the old truck carefully. The muffler was still pinging. Who ever owned the truck had preceded them by mere minutes. They walked around the antique and peered into the cab. The interior was original and years of trash was piled on the passengers side until it now reached the dashboard. Mike was about to make a comment when a voice rang out from the bushes, "Can I help you boys?"

Mike and Larry spun around in surprise to see a figure emerging from the bushes zipping his fly. Despite the fact that Mike and Larry were both in their 30s, their faces bore the guilt of five year old's with their hands in the cookie jar.

The stranger approached his truck. Their hearts pounded and their imaginations ran wild. In an attempt to extricate themselves Larry finally blurted out, "Nice truck."

"Oh . . .had her since she was new," the stranger smiled. "Got `er in `48."

"Actually--" Larry started to correct the stranger as to the vehicles year but received an elbow to the ribs.

The stranger was now standing on the other side of the truck gazing straight at them. He appeared to be in his sixties with a trim body and dark complexion. A crumpled fedora sat atop his weathered face whose features were reminiscent of Boris Karloff.

"You boys here to fish?" he asked.

"Uh . . .yea," stuttered Larry.

"Be ready," he said peering from under his fedora. "The Pales should come up `bout nine thirty."

"You think so," said Mike.

The old man stared at the two upstarts then reached in the back of his truck for his waders. Larry's curiosity swelled. He resolved to find out, here and now, if this was the legendary phantom.

"My name's Larry. And this is my friend Mike."

The stranger slowly raised his head and introduced himself, "Patrick."

Mike and Larry looked at each other with an air of relief and disappointment. They started toward their car feeling somewhat silly.

From behind them the stranger added, "But I hear some folks call me Luther."

They froze solid then Mike spun around.

"You're Craz . . . I mean Luther, The Luther," Mike blurted then turned red as he realized what he had just said.

The crusty old fisherman remained silent as he readied himself.

Mike and Larry finally walked to the car and started to don their waders and boots. The silence became increasingly tense. Dozens of questions raced through their minds but the silence prevailed.

"Which way you boys goin', up or down," Luther called out as he stood ready with rod in hand. Mike and Larry were speechless until Mike finally answered, "Don't matter to us."

"I'll go down stream," Luther said and walked away into the bushes.

As he vanished into the streamside shrubs, the hapless duo exhaled a sigh of relief. It was as though they been holding their breath since dawn.

"I don't believe this," said Larry. "He's for real. He really exists."

"Yea, and now we can find out if the stories are true," Mike said with determination.

"Huh?"

Mike hurried to the back seat of his car and rummaged through his carrybag until he emerged with a pair of binoculars. Larry grinned diabolically.

They donned their vests and grabbed their rods. Cautiously, they traced Luther's trail into the bushes at the river's edge. Luther was down stream to their left, about 200 yards. He was standing still in a riffle with his head bowed as he tied a fly to his leader.

"Whadya suppose he's gonna do?" Larry reflected.

Mike turned and looked at his partner as though he were one of the three stooges.

"Well, I suppose he's gonna fish."

They both returned their gaze to the figure in water. He had finished tying on the fly and dropped it in front of him. In one uninterrupted motion he took his rod from under his arm and effortlessly flicked a single roll cast upstream, picked up the line and began casting. Peering from the bushes, the two were completely enthralled with the beauty of Luther's cast. From the roll cast he lifted the line to a gentle back cast then delivered a fore cast that was as perfect as any they had ever witnessed. The loop unfurled like a work of art until the line was perfectly straight. On the second fore cast, the old fisherman added a little snap and let his fly drop to the water.

Mike and Larry were speechless but did manage some primal groans. The cast had been upstream and slightly to the side. He stripped quickly as the fast water brought his fly back to him. Suddenly there was an explosion of water. Luther raised his rod high and began stripping furiously.

"Woah!" Larry blurted.

"Shhhh," Mike cautioned.

Together they watched in amazement as Luther played the fish with the grace of a ballet dancer. The fish was guided to the net and raised from the water. It was a large brown. Mike lifted the binoculars.

"Nice," he said. "Real nice."

"Let me see," said Larry.

"Wait a minute."

Mike watched as the fish was released. Luther then examined his fly and reached into a vest pocket.

"What's goin' on," Larry begged.

"He got something from his pocket."

Whatever it was, it had something to do with his fly. When he was finished, he returned it to his pocket.

"What was it? What'd he do?" Larry continued to ask.

"Don't know. I don't think he was greasing his fly though. We need to get closer," Mike said as he backed out of the bushes.

Together they circled around and walked downstream, careful to stay out of Luther's sight. They crept into another clump of shrubs at the base of two pines. They were now about 75 yards from their quarry. Mike retained dominion over the glasses. From the new vantage point, they watched the old fisherman catch three more fish. Each time Luther reached into his pocket and did something to his fly. And, each time he was facing away from the onlookers.

"I'm tellin' ya, he's just greasin' it," Larry insisted.

"Nope. It ain't floatant. It only takes him a second or two and anyway, he ain't doin' nothing to his leader."

"Wait," Mike said with an air of expectation.

Luther had turned toward them. Mike had a clear view a what the old guy was doing. Mike's muscles tensed as he clenched the binoculars closer to his brow. Finally he lowered the glasses while he maintained his gaze toward Luther.

"Well," Larry whispered.

Mike was silent until eventually he said, "Let's fish."

"Come on. What was it? It was floatant wasn't it."

"Nope."

"Then what? Tell me."

Mike remained silent on the subject the rest of the day despite constant needling from his partner. Luther departed late in the afternoon and Mike and Larry left half an hour after that. Mike was in good spirits but refused to reveal what he had seen. As they neared their destination, Larry attempted to learn once more what had gone on at the river. Silence. As they arrived in town Mike didn't take the route to his house. He instead drove downtown, such as it was, and nosed the car into a space in front of the local sporting goods store.

"What's up," asked Larry.

"I'll be just be a couple of minutes."

Mike shortly emerged from the store with a small paper bag. As he got in the car Larry inquired what he had bought. Mike handed the bag to Larry.

"What's this?" Larry asked.

"It's Luther's secret."

Larry snatched the bag excitedly, opened it and peered in. He looked up at Mike and burst out laughing.

"Really?"

Mike nodded his head as Larry reached in and pulled out a jar of salmon eggs. Together they laughed and howled like wild dogs. Feeling empowered with this newfound knowledge, they decided a call at Fran's Bar was in order. They were anxious to bring down the legend of Crazy Luther.

Luther clutched the steering wheel with both hands as the old Studebaker rattled up a steep dirt road. He had turned off the river road some time earlier onto this abominable narrow path that led to but one place. His house. After the steep and winding climb, the road descended briefly until it settled in a small meadow. His house had been erected at the edge of the meadow and in the distance, craggy peaks of solid granite rose majestically.

Luther's house was constructed of round river boulders with a porch that spanned the entire front of the house and wrapped around the length of each side. A second floor rose above the covered porch topped by a steep roof shingled with copper sheets, now green with age. The windows were tall and narrow with a decidedly gothic appearance. It was a western mountain home with a medieval flavor.

Luther parked his truck near the house and made his way to a long stone staircase that led to the porch. One almost expected a pipe organ to erupt from the woods as he made the slow, deliberate climb. The entrance to his berg was comprised of two rather tall doors made of solid hardwood. The hinges screeched eerily as he pushed on the right hand door. Once in he groped for a box of matches on the table near the door and lit a candle. Cupping the flame with one hand, he walked to the back of the front room and into the kitchen where, on the back wall, he flipped a switch. Deep beneath the house a gasoline engine could be heard cranking over. Eventually it started and slowly increased speed. About twenty seconds later there was a metallic clank and the electric lights came on.

Luther walked back into the front room. It had obviously been lived in for many years and was nearly as cluttered as the front seat of his truck. Three of the four walls were covered with tall book shelves containing hundreds of books. In one corner stood several old oak filing cabinets. In another corner sat an old wooden desk covered with papers and books. The center of the room had but a single item of furniture, a long oak table.

The entire length of the table was strewn with hundreds of articles pertinent to fly fishing. Being over twenty feet long, it contained a considerable inventory. One end was equipped for tying flies while the other served as a rod making bench. The middle of the table had no particular purpose but was nonetheless scattered with objects associated with fly fishing. An aquarium containing hundreds of live insects, an old microscope, dozens of specimen bottles with preserved insects, feathers, hides, threads and yarns. The variety of objects was endless.

Luther's life was consumed by fly fishing. Since returning from the Second World War, he had devoted himself to nothing else. Having seen the worst of the Battle of the Bulge he promised himself, if he were to survive, he would fish 'til the day he died.

Over the years, he had consumed everything written on fly fishing and even conducted his own research. By the late fifties he was the equal of any living fly fisherman. That's when the trouble began. People would see him catching fish, seemingly without effort, and pester him with dozens of questions. Luther had become quite reclusive by then and the constant attention bothered him. He did his best to avoid people but that only exasperated things. When someone did see him, it was usually just a fleeting glimpse and the brief encounters gave rise to stories and rumors which evolved into myth and legend.

Luther stood at the large table for awhile, as if uncertain where to begin. He fixed his gaze on one of the back corners where the fireplace stood and decided to start a fire. Hanging his hat and vest on a coat rack next to the fireplace, he crouched down to attend to the fire. As the flames began to climb around the firewood, he backed away from the hearth and settled into an easy chair facing the fire. The warmth felt good as he sat motionless reflecting on the days events.

Eventually he reached for his pipe on the table next to the easy chair. Pressing the tobacco into the bowl, a smile came over him as he recalled Mike and Larry. He raised the pipe to his mouth, while he searched his shirt pockets for a match. Suddenly remembering they were in his vest he stood up and approached the coat rack. Probing his vest pockets for the box of matches his fingers touched a small jar which he quickly removed. Luther clutched the jar until he located the matches and sat down again. He placed the jar on the table, lit his pipe, then picked it up again. A cloud of smoke formed around his head as he stared at the jar then broke into laughter.

"I guess ol' Luther ain't as good as the stories make out," he thought as he tossed the jar in fireplace. "I suspect those boys'll be telling everybody they see." Luther was proud of himself. He would have done whatever it took to have someone see him using salmon eggs. When he caught a glimpse of the boys spying on him, it worked out better than he had planned. The legend of crazy Luther would soon be dead and he could once again fish in peace.

Mike and Larry strutted into Fran's with their heads held high. Seating themselves at the bar, Mike shouted out, "This round's on me."

The dozen or so patrons quietly acknowledged his generosity and returned to their particular diversions. The boys were quiet but exuded such an air of excitement that Ted, the barkeep, felt compelled to inquire as he set them up.

"What's the occasion?"

Mike led, just loud enough for everyone to hear, "We ran into Ol' Crazy Luther today."

"Really?"

"Yup. `Bout six miles downstream of Bear mountain."

Ted looked at Mike as he wiped down the bar.

"And . . ."

Mike swelled with pride as he announced, "We know what his secret is."

Ever droll, Ted kept wiping the bar.

"And . . . "

Mike was puzzled and now became a bit nervous. Surely everyone in the bar would want to know Luther's secret but no one seemed interested. Perplexed and growing uneasy, Mike opted for the long version and recounted the days event in detail. When he arrived at the crucial moment as Luther turned toward him, he began to milk the story and was able to keep his narration going for another three minutes. Mike and Larry swelled with excitement as the story approached its climax.

"And that's when I saw the jar clear as a bell."

Mike went silent as he looked the barkeep straight in the eye. At last Ted lay down the towel and hesitantly followed Mike's lead.

"What was it?"

Mike paused a few seconds then proclaimed, "Salmon eggs."

"You don't say." Ted thought for a moment.

"Hey Earl," he said raising his voice, "These boys say ol' Luther's been using salmon eggs."

Earl responded. "Better get some then." Everyone in the bar burst into laughter.

Mike's nervousness escalated to fear until he felt compelled to defend himself.

"I saw salmon eggs clear as day."

Ted grinned at Mike as he strolled away to attend to another customer. Mike and Larry grumbled among themselves lamenting the lukewarm response to their revelation. A few moments later the bar-keep returned and leaned on the bar in front of them.

"Son, I don't doubt for a minute that you saw Luther using salmon eggs."

Mike felt vindicated and wanted to leave right then when the barkeep continued.

"Question is, do you really believe that's his secret."

Mike forced an air of self confidence.

"Yup!"

"How was his presentation?" a voice shouted out.

"What do mean?"

"Did his fly light on the water real gentle?"

Larry piped in, "Yea, it came down nice and slow. Like a real bug."

A hush set in. Mikes sense of vindication began to dissolve.

"So what's your point," Mike defended.

"Ever try to cast a salmon egg?"

"What are you suggesting?"

"I'm suggesting he wasn't using salmon eggs."

Mike's frustration had reached the limit. "I know what I saw," he growled as he stood up. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out some money, threw it on the bar and walked to the door with Larry in tow. As the door closed, laughter erupted.

"Whadaya think, Earl," Ted asked.

"I think ol' Luther played them boys like a violin."

"He sure did."

"What was it last time?" another voice inquired.

"Orange marshmallows."

The legend of Crazy Luther lives on. Descriptions of angelic casting and the perfect presentation abound. A few still hold to a Satanic connection. Over the years though, some have begun to declare the whole business a fraud. In Fran's Bar, where the old timers go, a particle of truth can be found. ~ Bill DeWitt

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