By James Murray, Observer contributor
He was certainly a tall fellow – long-legged, lean and lanky with a smooth, determined stride – not the sort of person you’d want to have to walk along beside while trying to carry on a conversation.
Then again, Ralph Kernaghan was also the kind of guy who would stop and actually take the time to talk to you. I know he certainly liked to talk about fishing. I think, more than anything else, he simply liked just sitting out in his boat on one of his secret lakes somewhere, casting a line.
I first met Ralph about 25 years ago at a meeting of the Shuswap Fly Fishers.
He was one of the guys that showed up to that first meeting and while he never really seemed to be into all the new, high-tech fishing gear, he was a pretty darned good fly tier – nothing fancy, just the kind of flies that catch fish.
I remember one time he gave the club a talk about Jimmy Lake, complete with a map showing the depth and structure of the lake. His presentation was precise and informative, almost military in manner. Not a surprise when you consider that he spent 22 years in the Canadian military, retiring with the rank of captain. We all paid close attention and in the end everyone felt they had gained a pretty good insight into fishing for rainbows that could be moody up at Jimmy.
What I remember the most though about his presentation was the one thing that he inadvertently left out. He had gone on in great detail about structure and insect hatches and when specific hatches were most likely to come off. He even recommended a few patterns that were almost sure to catch fish. But he never actually went so far as to say what patterns he used – a small point but one that didn’t escape my notice. Like I said, Ralph was a consummate fly tier, more than willing to discuss fly patterns and materials, but he was a lot more secretive when it came to actually showing you the flies that were inside of his fly boxes – the ones that caught fish. Ralph could be equally secretive about the names of the lakes where he liked to fish.
Having said that, once you got to know him and he got to know you a bit better, he would eventually come around to sharing some of his secrets – at least about his second-favourite lake.
While I admired and respected Ralph, I never had the opportunity to go fishing with him.
Ralph went on some of the club fish-outs, the ones that I was never able to attend because I had to work on weekends for the paper, and it was in my capacity as photographer/reporter for the paper that I took a fair number of photos of Ralph up at Larch Hills.
Ralph loved competitive cross-county skiing as much as he loved fishing. He won in his age category quite a few times at the Reino Keski Salmi Loppet. Not that he didn’t have an unfair advantage with those long legs of his.
Another one of Ralph’s passions was camping with his family – to be more precise, spending time with his wife and five children. He would pack them, the gear and their great, big canvas tent into the car and head off for a provincial campground somewhere.
Being in the military and over time being posted from one coast to the other, Ralph and his family saw a lot of campgrounds – and a lot of the country. I can only imagine the military precision with which space was allotted in the car and the patience required to keep five kids in check.
It’s the small things about camping together as a family, the sound of the rain falling on the tent, the meals eaten together over a Coleman stove and the just being free to wander in the woods that stay with you for ever. Ralph’s family was lucky.
Over the course of a lifetime, a person touches the lives of the people around them.
Ralph passed away a couple of weeks ago at the age of 89-years-old. I know he touched the lives of many people. Quite simply, he enjoyed people and people enjoyed him. While I was saddened to hear of his passing, I am glad that I got to know him. His family has asked that when people think of Ralph, they think of him fishing. I will. I only wish I had gotten the chance to have had one good look in his fly boxes – to see his flies – the ones that caught fish.