Midway into second grade we moved to the outskirts of town....new school, new house and a creek. Oh yeah...a creek. Wild and woolly, through the ages Joe Creek had carved out the perfect proving ground for three young boys. There wasn’t much water in it most of the time, but the carving was deep and wide, full of mature oaks, cottonwoods and small game of all sorts. Armed with Daisy Red Riders, my brothers Bruce and Tom and I made the creek our private preserve. Saturday mornings were the best. Rising at dawn I would pack a peanut butter sandwich, grab my canteen, my trusty BB gun and head out for a day of shooting. Mom and Dad had a rule about the birds though. Sparrows were fair game, but don’t get caught pluggin’ a Cardinal, Robin or Blue Jay.
Ours was just the third house in the neighborhood and it set right on the edge of the gorge. Everything on the other side of the creek, that distant land, was undeveloped. Nothing but scrub brush and oil pumpers all the way to Southern Hills Country Club of PGA fame. Occasionally we would explore that foreign land but the creek had too many undiscovered wonders...too many nooks and crannies...too many places just around the bend for us to venture into the oil fields very often.
The best spot was right behind the house. On Joe Creek a “large” pool was only about thirty feet across and we had one a stones throw away. Inhabited with little catfish, it couldn’t have been more that four foot deep at the center. You know how certain smells can inspire a memory? Uncooked bacon does that for me. With our Zebco 33’s and a supply of Oscar Meyer, I doubt we ever caught anything bigger than five or six inches. But to have a fishin’ hole right out your backdoor, well it was great, and every time I open a pack of bacon it brings back the memory of that pool and the happy days spent there.
We built forts, we set box traps and snares for rabbits...we even stocked it with trout. That’s right, trout. Returning one weekend from Roaring River, we had convinced Dad to let us bring a few live trout home. We justified it by science. It was a science experiment...an experiment in survival. Even as a ten year old, I had no doubt that the trout would die in the warmth of the creek, but it might be interesting to see how long it took. We placed three of them in a bucket of clear, cold water and headed for home. After a couple of hours in the car the water was no longer cold, but at least it was still clear and the trout were alive...sort of. Talk about culture shock! I don’t recall how long they lasted but I’m sure they were belly up before we made it back to the house to get our fly rods.
When in Tulsa, if I have the time, I try to drive through the old neighborhood...and it’s sad. That giant house we lived in isn’t so large and the yard across the street where Scotty and I, along with my brothers played football is so small it’s a wonder that every pass wasn’t through the end zone. The only things bigger are the trees...especially that big Oak right on the edge of the gorge. Mom’s Oak tree is about all that’s left of Joe Creek as we knew it.
In 1959 Joe Creek flooded. Our neighborhood had turned into a river. Every house that was built on a slab had three feet of very muddy water in it. Ours was on a good foundation, so it was spared. Dad’s new Chevy wagon wasn’t so lucky. The water was up to its windows and completely covered those gorgeous red fins.
Come to find out, Ol’ Joe had done this before, so it was decided that Joe would cease to be a creek and become a ditch. Our playground was straightened and paved from top to bottom. Gone were the forts we had built, the paths, the hideouts and the catfish pool. The playground of my youth is now only suited for skate boarders and those bicycle jumpin’ X-Game crazies you see on TV. But mom’s Oak tree still stands.
The day the bulldozers arrived to clear the stream banks was a sad day in the Folger house. Mom and dad (not to mention, their indentured servant children) had spent countless hours landscaping our section of the creek and the thought of it being scraped slick and clean was hard to accept. By the time the diesels were unleashed on our section of paradise my brothers and I had grown a bit and the lure of the creek had lost its pull on us. Not so with mom. Armed with dad’s Winchester .22 WRF Rimfire, she stood her ground and demanded that that one tree be left alone. Whether it was the fear of a round through the radiator, or just kindness on the contractor’s part, it doesn’t matter...the driver found other trees to knock down.
Every now and then I pull up Google Earth and take a look at the tree. Yes, from that satellite on high it can be seen...perhaps like it was seen from above on that long ago day when mom fought to save it.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Our folks at Rivers Edge Outfitters will be providing meeting space for the Chapter’s activities and their shop, sitting right on the banks of the river, was the ideal location to kick things off. A number of our visiting vets, including our intrepid leader, Capt. Nicholson, enjoyed the fishing right behind the shop, catching fish after fish on a variety of patterns as we watched from the deck, chowing down on delicious grilled burgers and brats.
Long about mid afternoon I was summoned back to the deck, where I found Curtis and John set up in front of Steve Hasty’s camera for what was obviously a shoot planned for an upcoming show. Of course I was aware that there was going to be some filming done and that I was going to be a part of it, but I had no idea what these guys had planned right now.
Curtis began by introducing both John I, and then John started recounting our time on Big Cedar two weeks ago. Then he made some disparaging comments about the ancient tackle that I was using...wondering how I managed to catch anything at all on such antiquated equipment, and then Curtis pulls out two brand new TFO rod cases and presents them to me as a thanks for the work I do with the organization. I was speechless of course. Inside each case was a Project Healing Waters Series TFO rod and reel, complete with line and leader. The first one held a nine foot five weight and the second a nine foot eight weight. Of course I stammered and stuttered my way through an insufficient thank you and hurried away before they had a chance to take the rods back. Those that know me well know that being a tightwad, I’ve been heard to say “I aint one to give up on a fly rod just because it’s got a little wear on it” (paraphrasing Augustus in Lonesome Dove), so these two new rods ought to last me at least two more lifetimes.
Monday morning the film crew, the vets and volunteers headed for the river. Curtis and I, along with River’s Edge head guide, Eugene Shuler, picked out a likely looking stretch. With cameras rolling, Curtis issued a challenge regarding the number of fish caught and the fun began. Knowing my role well, I graciously allowed Curtis to catch the first fish, and when just a few casts later he landed a very large one, I was determined to hook and land only the small ones. After all, I want to go on the show again someday.
Although we quit counting after the first five or six, within the next couple of hours we each caught at least 40 very nice trout. I learned some very good techniques from Eugene and best of all, Curtis and I each managed to do the Cherokee Grand Slam...catching rainbows, browns and brookies. From what I heard when we gathered back at the fly shop everyone else did equally well. Smiles were everywhere.
By the way...Did you ever make a special effort to take your camera along to photograph all the fish you would catch on a special day at a special place...and then catch nothing worth recording? Well, here’s a tip: If you want to catch a load of fish, just leave the camera at home!
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
The pressure was on. Mike, from Mike’s Gone Fishin'…Again fame was going to join me for a day of fishing on the Davidson River. We had been trying all winter to get together for a day of fishing and finally it was to occur. Mike has only been chasing trout for a couple of years and as a regular reader of my blog, he assumed that a day spent with me would enhance his developing skills. Especially after I bragged last week about my nymph training at Big Cedar. Ooooops.
We met up at the fly shop under a blue sky and perfect conditions, and headed up to a stretch of the Davidson below the hatchery. Walking down to the run that I had selected we passed a few rising campers, warming themselves over campfires. I admit to being a little jealous of them – not for their fires and the coffee they were brewing – but for what must have been a special time camped along this beautiful stream.
Unexpectedly, we had the water to our selves. Just us and the trout. But they were expecting us. Yes these wonders of creation had to know that we were coming. Their water was warming from the winter’s chill and surely they knew that on this clear day they would encounter a few fishermen.
Mike (shown above) and I tried every trick we knew and the fish ignored all of them. In the four hours that we fished I touched not one of them, and Mike’s luck was only slightly better. But a good time was had, a friendship was solidified and both of us knew that the day was not wasted. Back at the parking lot we talked of planning a next adventure. We talked of Mike’s home water, the Haw River and the river bass that he’s so familiar with; we talked about meeting up on Wilson’s Creek for a day of rock hoping and chasing native trout. We talked about fishing with the optimism that fishermen have. That’s what fishermen do.
Monday, April 5, 2010
Ever since my high school days I have fought against common sense and resisted nymph fishing. Until this past weekend. After watching my buddies land rainbows in the 8 to 10 pound range, I couldn’t take it anymore. My stubbornness was overtaken by my desire to catch a trout!
We were on Big Cedar Creek in SW Virginia. I had been there a year ago and had good luck with streamers and wets, so I just naturally figured they would work again this year. Wrong. I tried every trick I knew and got nary a strike, while watching John Bass land fish after fish from the same water. John had invited Billy Davis and I to one of his favorite waters and I was determined to live up to my undeserved reputation as a competent angler.
Bill Nuckles ready to net a big one for John
I arrived at noon on Friday and proceeded to disprove any notion that I knew what I was doing. Bill Nuckles, John’s good friend and guide, watched my pathetic efforts until he too couldn’t take it anymore. After Friday’s unproductive day (I caught one six inch goggle-eye) and Saturday’s repeat performance (another goggle-eye), Bill grabbed my arm on Saturday evening and pulled me to a run that had produced fish for the others all day long.
Bill is rightly proud that those he shares the water with catch fish, and while he may have been fine with me destroying my reputation, he wasn’t about to allow me to destroy his. With obvious disdain, Bill cut the streamer from my line and replaced it with one of his tried and true stonefly creations and a couple of split shot.
As any of my previous teachers would testify, I am a stubborn student. Fortunately Bill was an even more stubborn coach and within minutes I managed to sting a few of the trout the stream is known for. Yes, I eventually landed one and Bill left for home...his job accomplished. Before heading to the house myself, I was able to land a twin of that first one and Sunday morning saw me catch an even bigger one. One lesson does not make a graduate, but I’m well on my way to earning a degree in nymphing.
Thanks Bill for showing me the light, and thank you John Bass for a great weekend and introducing me to THE COACH!