Lighter Side

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October 22nd, 2001

Uncle Elwood and the Stranger
Ed Zern

By Ed Zern

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 price.

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 verbatium:

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 midni

The Best of Ed Zern

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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