My friend Adam—the same Adam who persuaded me to buy my first bamboo fly rod by pointing out that life is short and I could get run over by a moose tomorrow—began his note with a query that would have made my wife’s hair bristle had she read it:
“Lusting after any new rods lately?”
I took a long deep breath, loosened my collar, shut my office door, and then read on.
“Jerry Kustich from Sweetgrass is retiring and selling a bunch of his stuff. You might want to see what he has left.”
Jerry, it turns out, was gearing down for a momentous change in latitude, and, though Adam had already swooped up several, his list of available bamboo rods was impressive. What should I do? My armament of bamboo rods had recently swelled from zero to three, which—according to a person who’s hair had now begun to bristle—was already two more than any reasonable person should need. Aha! No one had ever mistaken me for a reasonable person. I adopted two.
The first was a 7′ 4-wt five-sided rod that Jerry had made as a prototype at Winston. Perfect for my local mid-sized streams. The second was an 8′ 6wt Winston. An excellent complement to Voelker’s Nijinsky on a big river like the Escanaba. Now, finally, the night after my Sweetgrass Mantra had proven its versatility on the Big Esky, I would give Jerry’s 6wt rod a chance to shine on that celebrated river.
As it was in Voelker’s day, access to most of the river without a boat or canoe is difficult at best and overwhelming at worst. About a fifth of the way into my odious hike, I found myself longingly fantasizing about the difficult access. Because I’d be slogging out after dark, I tied strips of white garbage bag to branches in prominent spots along the way. The moon was nearly full, so—with route-defining ribbons hanging from the trees and new batteries in my headlamp—I should be able to find my truck without the assistance of a herd of volunteer searchers accompanied by a “what on Earth has he done now?” reaction from my wife.
I emerged from my trudge into a section of river encompassing an alluring chain of riffles and pools. Part of my madness, though, is my willingness—nay desire—to weather a prolonged battle with brambles and bushes only to overlook fishy stretches of river as I sit on the bank flicking ticks and swatting mosquitoes in anticipation of the rise of a lone trout.
At about 9 p.m. it happened. I didn’t see the rise itself, but only a small ripple radiating from the opposite bank. Two minutes later there was another. I suspected the fish was eating emerging flies, so I tied on a small snowshoe emerger—just like the one I had used the night before—and began a slow and deliberate march into the river. The fish was tight to the bank. A snag would most likely cause both the trout and the fisherman to mope and brood for the rest of the night. My first two casts were short. The third was on.
When I let the fish go, I felt a sense of relief in knowing that only one of us would mope and brood for the rest of the night. The other, the one with the million-dollar grin, would purr and beam and clumsily stumble from one impromptu route marker to the next.
As I began my dance toward the flag that marked my reentry into the woods, I thought about this beautiful rod that I probably didn’t deserve, and I recalled the words that Jerry had written about his long relationship with a particular Martin guitar:
“Although it was unlikely that my talent would ever be a worthy match, I was convinced of one thing: such a fine instrument would have the power to make a significant statement in a life searching for purpose.”
Perhaps now was the time to tell my wife that Jerry was selling some guitars too.
(click on images to enlarge)