When I eventually write a book about my life as a fly fisher, I’ll call it Greenleaf, after a small lake and stream in northeastern Oklahoma, 17 miles from my birthplace of Muskogee.
During the Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) constructed a 40-foot, earth-and-rock dam across Greenleaf Creek, and it quickly filled and formed a lovely 4-mile-long lake. According to my folks, who were often jobless during that era, it was one of the few good things that happened there.
My first fishing memory of Greenleaf is from not long after the lake was filled, when my dad, Joe, and granddad, Dee, caught a big stringer of largemouth bass and channel catfish while cane-pole minnow fishing. How exciting it was to have such great fishing so close to home. Often, over the next several years, dad and granddad took me to Greenleaf on weekends during school and several times a week during my summer vacations. We usually plug-fished for bass in the morning and evening, and through midday we’d tie up to some shady, bankside willows and fish for catfish with ripe chicken entrails and shrimp. I hated baiting my hook with that smelly stuff.
One year granddad built a 16-foot rowboat out of cypress and oak. It must have weighed 500 pounds when it was dry. Soon after that he bought a moody and smoky old Johnson 5-horsepower motor. It was wonderful because it allowed us to fish the entire lake, even into the remote upper end at the farthest point from the boat dock. But it was also terrible, because about half the time that old Johnson failed to start and we often had to row and paddle until after dark to return to the dock.
When we’d finally reach it, there was always the nightmarish task of lifting that water-laden wooden boat onto its homemade trailer. In those days boat trailers lacked tilts, winches, or rollers and getting the heavy wooden rowboat on the trailer was a four-man job. Granddad, a blacksmith and professional wrestler, had the strength of two normal men, and grandma and I made up for another. The final energy needed came from sheer determination.
When I was nine years old, I received my first fly rod, a 9-foot, three-piece warped and peeling bamboo. Almost from the start, I caught more fish with my fly rod than with my little 4-foot backlashing baitcaster. The fish I caught were smaller, but at that age size mattered little and fly fishing was immediately more fun than other methods. From what I had seen and read in granddad’s L.L. Bean catalogs and Outdoor Life issues, fly fishing seemed a better alternative to backlashes and stink baits. I learned that in some ways my judgement was correct, but I also discovered that a fly rod has its share of physical and sociological disadvantages.
None of my family or friends fly fished, and after watching my spastic, line-tangling, rod-waving hookups on everything except fish, they decided that the fly rod was a lethal weapon: They banned me from fishing with it in granddad’s boat. So, until I was 15, my fly fishing was confined to waters near home that I could reach by walking or riding my bike. On rare occasions I’d cajole my folks into taking me to the smallmouth bass creeks along Oklahoma’s mountainous eastern border, and once we even went to the Roaring River Trout Park in Missouri.
Then, during the summer of my fifteenth year, something wonderful happened. I was fly fishing at Honor Heights Park Lake, near Muskogee, when a smiling, friendly boy, a little older than me, came up and asked me if I was catching anything. His name was Dick Storkes, a seventeen-year-old high school senior and lifeguard at the park pools.
Dick, much to my surprise and joy, was a fly fisher. In fact, he was the first real fly fisherman I had met. We became immediate friends, and that afternoon he asked me if I’d like to fly fish with him the next Saturday on Greenleaf Lake. Dick had a 1938 blue Chevy coupe, a driver’s license, and a canoe. What more could anyone want?
I wanted to go to Greenleaf with Dick more than anything in the world, but my parents wouldn’t give me permission until they met Dick and his parents. It didn’t hurt when they heard that Dick was an honor student and an outstanding swimmer on the high school team.
Continued – click on page link below.
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