Uncle Elwood and the Stranger
My Uncle Elwood had a fine collection of fly rods, and when I learned
of his death a couple of years ago, of a coronary thrombosis, I wondered
what would become of them. So I wrote to my Aunt Amy, after a decent
interval, saying I'd like to buy the Paynes and Thomases, suggesting a fair
By Ed Zern
I didn't get any of the rods, it turned out, because in his home town of
Connell's Forks in Pennysylvania Uncle Elwood was a well-known
sportsman with a lot of close friends among fishermen there, but Aunt
Amy did send me a Vom Hofe salmon reel I had asked about and
two clip-boxes of standard-pattern salmon flies. She also sent me
Elwood's fishing diary, saying he had been making an entry in it when
he died and that although she had found it dull reading and had given
up after a few pages she thought it might interest me, as I was a writer.
It turned out to be a large, battered notebook with entries dating
back to 1934. I browsed through it a few pages at a time all through
this past summer and found most of the entries too cryptic to be of much
interest - "Tried Slocum Branch with Tom G., no luck," "Took limit of
natives before noon above CCC camp," "Showers all day, four small
browns on #16 Bread Crust, one 15-incher on white maribou streamer"
- that sort of thing.
Between the entries of May 1965, and the final one there were six or
seven references to a huge brown trout supposed to live in the lower end
of the Wagon Pool in Fishing Creek; it had been christened "Gangbuster"
by Uncle Elwood or one of his cronies. Since Fishing Creek usually
produces at least half-a-dozen browns of five pounds or better, any
fish that rated a nickname must have been quite a trout. The last entry
in the journal was the only lengthy one in the entire diary, and I quote it
Saturday, May 23, 1967. Returned Charley Haskauer's power
saw and drove on over to Musser's Bridge, left station wagon back of dry
wall and started fishing at first bend. Had usual Leadwing Coachman for
dropper and picked up five small trout on it before I got to Tent Rock, but
except one chub nothing touched the tail fly, #10 Hare's Ear, same on
which took three-pound rainbow opening day. Met Dave Sneeder at
Tommer's Brook Pool, he had no trout but said some were raising at lower
end of the fast run below RR bridge. Ate lunch on bench at Boy Scout camp
and watched water but saw only chub rises. Walked across meadow to avoid
bog and took path to Henkin's Run Pool where I lost good rainbow last week,
fished both sides but took only two small browns and released.
About 3PM walked down along creek to Wagon Pool, sat beside upper end
and watched small natives splashing at natural March Browns. Joined by city
fellow in new waders and fancy tackle but pleasant, eager to learn. Had small
beard but respectable look, maybe college professor or doctor. Said he owed
great debt to fishing, didn't say way, probably health. Had three dandy browns in
creel, biggest about 19", said all had taken on dry fly he ties himself, calls it
Fallen Angel. Something like Hendrickson but body more sulphur-colored. Gave me
one. Inquired about any big trout. Told him about "Gangbuster" and how George
Harvey, best fisherman this area, had hooked him three times and lost him.
Said I'd seen him chasing minnows twice, would sell my soul just to latch onto
him for five minutes.
After city fellow went upstream, saw fair trout rise nicely to natural Red Quill so
tied on stranger's fly, dressed line, and started fishing dry but no luck. At bottom
of pool ten-inch chub took fly just above boulder at head of fast water and ran
down into riffle. Then something took chub. Felt enormous weight and power
when tried to bring chub in, then line stripped off reel in screaming run across riffle
and up into main pool again. Knew it was Gangbuster when he ran upstream.
Held rod high and walked upstream above boulder, waded into channel far as
possible to head him off from coming back downstream into fast water again.
Kept pressure on much as possible with two-pound tippet but he was sulky, finally
when arm almost dropping off from holding rod high, tapped butt to stir him up.
Monster took off, came down around boulder and into fast run, never even slowed
up when came to end of backing. Pop! Reeled in feeling sick, decided to call it
quits, maybe give up fishing for good. On way back to car met city fellow on
path, told him I'd hooked Gangbuster. More than five minutes, wasn't it, he said.
It surely was, I said. Fine, he said laughing, I'll be around at midnight to collect.
Collect what, I said. You, he said, that was the deal, wasn't it. I'm in no mood
for jokes, I said, and he said sorry, no offense but a deal's a deal, midnight sharp.
I went on up to car, drove home.
Thinking of it now, got to wondering about city fellow. Where from? Strange
accent. Can't understand how anyone could see how upset I was by loss of big
trout and make feeble jokes. But it is now five minutes after midnight so my
slight nervousness about stranger was unwarrented.
Just remembered I set watch ahead five minutes this morning so must be exactly
Aunt Amy found Uncle Elwood the next morning, with his fountain pen still in his
hand. I'm glad he hooked Gangbuster before he died, but I wish I'd got one of
those rods. ~ Ed Zern
Credits: From The Best of Ed Zern published by
The Lyons Press.
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