My son left his stick on the lacrosse field. He beat himself up because every last penny of his allowance for the whole summer went into that thing. He spent hours looking among the internet and asking players from the local college, which shaft? which head? how do I lace it? He soaked it the bathtub with some vice that was an amazing technical concoction for a ten year old. He was disappointed when he knew it was gone and probably not getting replaced. I gave him the old responsibility talk. His coach walked up and shrugged it off, in our moment of parental distress– he said: It’s not the stick that makes you good. Son you probably need to practice more with a starter and you’ll be able to play with anything.
I didn’t tell him about my fishing rods. He has never seen them all assembled in one place, neither have I. One in the closet and two under the bed and one in the trunk and the few a friend borrowed and the one left up in the mountains. There are many more and frankly it’s almost embarrassing. I have never assembled my twenty-five years of gear. Occasionally, some of it gets put together. Those old Cabelas nylon bootfoot waders, the first ones from 1989. I don’t really like them in the same bag with my new ones- kinda like a toy chest with trains that are a different scale. Han Solo never met GI Joe in my playroom.
But, this morning I did have a moment to pause on all those rods. Some are good, others were really bad, a few are excellent. I’ve kept most of them but traded away some of the best. I wonder if I’d pulled them all out and casted them, which ones would win, which ones would evoke emotion.
I know for damn sure that in the year 2000 I could cast twice as good as I do now. Maybe because I was on the stream at least once a week, perhaps because I remember betting my classmate that I could keep a loop going through two open windows of my truck and did and he bought me a case of beer. For convenience, I hire up more guides than I used to in those days. Often I have to dilute my talk against my skill– I’m rusty and crusty and can’t move the line like I used to. But I have some damn nice rods. I can afford them now. I wonder what would have happened if I had them back then.
The first rod I ever had my hands on, some bendy fiberglass staff with a two pound mechanical reel, didn’t get me hooked. And then my own first rod, the one that was mine, it was a real piece of shit. It got me hooked, an entry level big name rod. I learned to flip roll casts in skinny Carolina streams. It was that lacrosse coach’s story. I didn’t know any better. Later, when I got my hands on a good rod in a Montana spring creek on a windy day, slinging the guide’s premium rod– I was ready, he didn’t complain. Later that summer I took my starter pole on some big water and looked into my self. I was just like my son, I gave up a few months worth of beer money and bought my first real rod. And then I traded it for another and bought another. Then I started buying mid-level blanks and started justifying the cost of making my own. I went to a fly shop and bought two rods one summer day because the one I brought along didn’t throw big hoppers in the wind. One year, I bought a longer one to nymph from a boat, a light shorty for the rhododendrons. I have fast ones and slow ones, short ones and long ones, all pretty much between three and six weights, most of them are eight and a half foot fives.
All this time, among the memory of say 25 plus rods, I wonder which one is my favorite. Sages and Winstons and Scotts and Thomases. Is next years model really any better than the last? Have I taken a look at my haul lately? I have an elegant beautiful bamboo rod that I am afraid to scratch. More than anything I have one that brings back memories that causes me to think I’m having an affair with my new one. Now, I fish with a niche brand that folks don’t know outside of the region where it is made. They are ugly compared to the deep green ones I endeared. The older I get, my rod becomes very personal. Thank God for eBay, cause I like one that’s been out of production for fifteen years. I don’t show them off like I used to, but I always cherish the rod as I run line through it’s guides by the truck and feel the impression of my hand in the cork.