Recently I received a similar legacy, which had much more sentimental value. Just before Christmas, my father had suffered a series of strokes that made it necessary for him to enter a convalescent hospital for the rest of his life. Dad suffered severe brain damage and dementia and can never go home again. Some days, I don’t think he even recognizes me. Mom gave me Dad’s old fishing gear since he won’t be using it again. This time, as I went through an old anglers gear, it wasn’t just an interesting exercise, but was a personal and gut wrenching experience.
As I went through Dad’s stuff, it spoke volumes to me. His fishing vest was serviceable, but not fancy, made by Columbia Sportswear, not Eddie Bauer, or Abercrombie and Fitch. Attached to the outside by a sturdy shoelace, was his fish counter, which he flicked every time he caught and released another trout. At the end of the day he might have two or three fish in his creel, but there were 40 or 50 that he had released. Also hanging from the outside of the vest was his folding scissors with which he would snip lines and leaders during a days fishing. One of the larger vest pockets held a plastic rotary fly box with several dozen flies that Dad had tied. It evoked memories of sitting around the house on a rainy winter night tying flies in front of the fireplace. We would gather up all the little bits of fur, and thread, and feathers that we generated in an evening and toss them in the fireplace before going to bed. In other, battered aluminum fly boxes were more dozens of flies, most of which were his favorite pattern, the Wooly Worm, Oh sure, Dad had most of the other patterns like the Adams, or Mosquito, or the Royal Coachman, but his tried and true favorite was the old Wooly Worm.
Naturally, Dad had several reels but his favorite was a double action reel that you could use as an automatic and just push a lever to take in line, or you could use the handle and crank in line manually if you chose. The dual action reel was only made by one company, Ocean City, and when they went out of business, he bought a half dozen reels so that he’d never be without his favorite reel. Ordinarily a good reel will last a lifetime, but Dad just wanted to be sure.
Another vest pocket held his folding aluminum cup that evoked images of stops to rest at nameless side streams along the long hot climb out of so many Sierra canyons. It seems the fishing is always better when you walk past the crowds into the backcountry. Instead of eight or ten fish a day, our average was in the dozens because Dad would insist we walk until we were alone. Dad always thought that trout fishing should be a solitary pursuit, just between you and the fish.
Other vest pockets included indispensable items like toilet paper, soap, bug repellant, reel grease, and line grease to make your line float. Naturally, there were extra leaders, a sharpening stone for knives and hooks, and a match safe to keep your matches dry. Tucked in the big pocket in the back of his vest was a folding net housed in a leather holster that you’d wear on your belt. Alongside the folding net was a plastic rain poncho that was sometimes worth its weight in gold.
As I look at the inventory of the gear I had inherited, almost every item evoked memories of streams and fish and adventures that stretched over the fifty years or so that I could remember. The match safe reminded me of a rainy day in the mid 1950s when Dad found a big overhanging rock along the Tuolumne River and made a roaring fire so that my brother and I could stay warm and dry while Dad fished in the rain. The fish counter reminded me of the day on Cherry Creek when I caught and released 106 trout while my darned partner caught 156 fish!
Dad’s hook sharpener reminded me of the time we were fishing the Mokelumne near Monty Wolf’s cabin, and I missed hooking almost 20 fish in a row. When we realized that my hook had broken just past the bend, we had a good laugh at my mistake. Even his little hotel sized bar of soap reminded me of the time I was 5 years old and had gotten lost along the Tuolumne for several hours. When Dad finally found me, he sat me down beside the stream and washed away my tears with that bar of soap. Somehow everything seemed better after that.
It’s really amazing how many memories could be wrapped up in a bunch of old fishing gear. I recall when Dad was setting up his trust, I told him I really didn’t want his money, that he should spend it on himself and Mom. I said that I would however like to have his fishing gear when he could no longer use it. It won’t buy me a condo in Baja, but that old battered fishing gear is just about the best legacy I could hope for. During the recent past, I have taken my son fishing on many of the streams I fished with my Dad. Hopefully, I can leave my son with an enduring love of God’s creation; if I can, he will receive the kind of legacy that money can’t buy. Maybe someday, he’ll feel as I do now. Thanks for the legacy, Dad.
Until Next Week,
Don Moyer is taking a trip to Europe to study World War II history, including the Normandy Invasion. This column originally ran in March 2004.