Fly Fishing

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My grandfather used to fly fish on the Jackson River. Uncle Wallace would call on a Thursday evening and invite him down to the cabin on the river for the weekend. Grandpa jumped at the opportunity. It was his excuse to get away from Grandma’s list of chores. Most of the time, he carried her with him for the trip though. She and Aunt Ellen stayed in the cabin, waking early to cook ham with red-eye gravy and buttermilk biscuits for breakfast. Lunch was a cold plate of thick club sandwiches and homemade potato salad. The two sisters vied for attention with a feast for Saturday supper. They compared recipes and attempted to out-do each other cooking and baking the entire visit. The men never ate so good.

Grandpa wore the pair of hip waders that hung from a wooden rack he built in his shop. They were tall green rubber boots that squeaked when he stepped on wet rocks.  I can see him now, in the river, water swirling around his knees, a brown cotton vest over his flannel shirt, a railroad cap covering his bald head.  The flies he so carefully tied using feathers and string, stuck tight in the lamb’s wool on the front of his vest, an angler artist’s collage.  One hand held the handle of the long bamboo fly rod, the other held the line. He’d draw back and cast, draw back and cast. The tiny fly barely touching down before it took flight again.  Trout seemed to fight over which one would attack the little camouflaged hooks.  The men never wanted for a catch.

The fish fry was Sunday night.  Grandpa and Uncle Wallace stood outside at the cleaning station, gutting, scaling and de-heading the trout. They discussed the bend in the river, and hiding places where rainbow and brook trout laid low.  The ones the fishermen tempted out from under rocks and falls of water landed, clean and shiny, into a bucket of cold water.  Grandpa presented them to Grandma on the back porch. She and Aunt Ellen rolled the trout in cracker meal and fried them in big iron skillets.

We sat around the old pine farm table at the camp, passing the platter of fried fish, the bowl of homemade cole slaw, and the pan of cornbread cut into buttery gold triangles. The men compared this trip to the last one and argued about who caught the biggest or fought the hardest to land a catch.  

No fish ever tasted any better.

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6 Responses to “Fly Fishing”

  1. OldMack Says:

    Trout, coleslaw and cornbread. . .mmm! Good story and true to the spoken language of your part of the country too. I always got a kick out of the way folks around Raleigh pronounced words like “about” and ‘house” as “a boot,” and a “hoose.”

    The Brattons and the Shipmans migrated down to the Piedmont from Chester County, PA. They were Quakers, naturally. They took up land on opposite sides of the road, cleared and farmed the land for three generations, but moved on. I looked up their patents and then drove out to the properties. The forest had reclaimed the land and the only human artifacts I found were a cast-iron skillet and one hearthstone and about a foot of chimney stones. The pines were full grown and as dense as when the settlers came. The second generation Bratton daughter married one of the Shipman boys and they migrated further west, into the Ozarks (now Arkansas). The know how of making skillet cornbread came all the way down to my mother. I sometimes dream of ham hocks and dried Lima beans cooked in ther cast-iron dutch oven and served with her cornbread.

  2. Steve Says:

    Of course Train, this story comes very close to my heart. This was fly fishing during a classic era. Beautiful river. Beautiful memory. Great women. Good food. Lucky men. Would’ve loved to have been there.

    • train-whistle Says:

      Hi Steve, was visiting your blog last night and read the post about the various lengths of fly fishing poles. This memory popped to the surface of my brain and I wrote it as a response to your post. It didn’t seem to take, so I posted it here. Thanks for the memory jog! –tw

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