Column: Remembering my father and seeing myself

Great Outdoors by James Murray

On the eve of my 70th birthday, I cannot help but look back on my life and come to the realization that I have been very fortunate.

I have family and friends that are precious to me. I enjoyed my working years as a photographer/reporter, and take pride in the fact that I have been writing this column for close to 30 years now.

I also consider myself fortunate to have been introduced to fishing at an early age. Something that has remained a passion of mine ever since.

It has been at least 60 years since I first stood on the banks of a stream and watched my father casting his Orvis Battenkill cane rod. I was just a kid, but I remember watching with fascination as his rod sailed oh so gracefully back and forth through the air. It was then that the desire to become a fly fisher was born.

I remember with absolute clarity the morning when, for the first time he handed me his rod and said, “Do you want to give it a try?”

The whole world stood still at that moment. My life had changed forever.

Now I was not what you would have called a ‘natural born’ fly caster. I can still see my father smiling sympathetically at me as I tried to cast his rod. It whistled through the air as I waved it back and forth. One might have thought I was being tormented by an angry hornet. The next week, however, he he bought me my first fly rod, an eight-and-a-half foot Shakespeare fibreglass fly rod from Gerlovin’s Hardware Store. I remember marching home with that rod held high, every now and then stopping to cast an invisible line to a trout hiding in the fast flowing waters of an imaginary stream. By the time we got home I had must have hooked and landed half a dozen nice trout.

Looking back, I realize it must have taken the patience of a saint on the part of my father as he tried to teach me how to cast a line.

“There is a rhythm to the cast… to presenting a fly line… to each back-and-forth stroke. You have to feel the rhythm” he would say. “There’s a rhyme and reason to each part of the casting stroke. You can’t just whip the poor rod back and forth.”

It could not have been an easy task for him. I was not an easy student. Although willing, I’m afraid I was neither coordinated nor a quick learner. The hours he spent trying to teach me – but he never gave up and somehow I slowly grew from neophyte to ardent angler.

I learned to cast, for better or for worse. I also learned how to be patient and how to sense when a fish was about to strike. I learned to wait for the right moment to set the hook and how to play a fish. I learned too that there is more to fishing than simply catching fish.

We went fishing many times together and I am proud to say that I have a lot of fond memories of early mornings spent casting a line together. How many times did I stand downstream from him, watching him cast his line – learning how to fish, learning about life. How many hours did we spend sitting on a log together, sharing an egg salad sandwich, just talking about things.

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Time has a way of slipping by unnoticed though and as the years passed I watched as my father’s cast became slower, each cast a little less far, each a little less accurate. I watched as it took him longer and longer to tie a fly to his leader. I watched as he hesitated, as his sight became poorer, as he walking ever so slower along the paths that led along the stream banks. I watched as the season changed, from summer to fall.

Over the years I have come to recognize the rhythm of the casting stroke, as well as rhyme and reason. I have also noticed lately that my casting stroke has become somewhat slower and ever so less accurate – that it now takes me longer to tie a fly to my leader, and that I sometimes hesitate when walking along the paths that wind their way along the stream bank. In many way I guess I have become my father.


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