Taking a Bow

Taking a Bow

What is the most important milestone in an angler's career? Most fly-fishers would probably tell you it's that usually awkward, always triumphant, moment

  • By: Paul Guernsey
What is the most important milestone in an angler's career? Most fly-fishers would probably tell you it's that usually awkward, always triumphant, moment when you hook and land your first fish on a fly.

My own first fly-caught trout came from the Little Beaverkill, just upriver from Junction Pool in Roscoe, New York. An experienced angler might have been less excited than I was about this "trophy"--a nine-inch, finless, silver-bullet of a brown recently flushed from the hatchery truck--and a more sensitive fly fisherman might have allowed his enthusiasm to be dampened by the peanut gallery of 10-year-old boys who loudly mocked my disproportionate celebration from the safety of an upstream bridge. Nonetheless, it was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill.

But the truly unsurpassable occasion was when I caught my first fish on a fly I had tied myself. The time: May, sometime in the late 1980's. The place: A roadside thoroughfare a stone's throw from a venerable sporting camp in central Maine. The fly: A very special Hornberg, Ginked-up and swung across the current. The fish: A sublime and wonderfully cooperative 20-inch landlocked salmon.

Following my second cast, the salmon rocketed to the surface to whack my homely offering, fought a spirited battle, and came to my net. Then, as soon I'd bent to scoop him up, I was startled by an outburst of cheering, whistling and applause. I turned, and up on the bank behind me stood an audience of at least a dozen people, all of them clapping for me. It later turned out that the camp's lunchtime crowd had emptied out of the dining room to watch me perform after one of them announced that somebody was fighting a big fish in the channel.

As far as I'm concerned, your first fly-caught fish makes you a fly fisherman, but it's that first fish you get on a fly you tied yourself that marks you as a serious fly fisherman--someone for whom the sport has moved beyond the status of a mere hobby to become an inseparable part of who you are.

Now, if I had it to do over again, as soon as I heard those generous people applauding me, I would have stopped for a moment and faced them fully, and I would have taken a bow.

Finally, a few odds and ends before I head out to shoot my spring gobbler--or try to--and then get down to this summer's fishing:

FR&R equipment editor Ted Leeson e-mailed to thank me for mentioning him in my April Editor's Notes--but he also wanted to let me know that when I said he'd written his first gear review for the magazine in 1991, I'd been off by four years. The correct year was 1987, and the review was on genetic hackle, not personal watercraft. I didn't even join FR&R until 1994…

On page 26, you'll find details on the untimely death of angler and Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Halberstam. Among other things, his passing serves as a sad reminder that anything can happen at any time. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, "That's why we go fishing."

My best friend, David (Republican Dave) Gallipoli called to say that his dad had gotten bored with the photo of me holding the spawned-out king salmon, and told him he thought I needed to make a change. Since Dave's dad taught me how to fly-fish, I couldn't refuse. So, here's the new picture, Ham. How do you like it?