I have to admit, I am a little overwhelmed by both the quantity & quality of our article submissions this month - we have some real talent among our members. We have three really excellent stories this month - thanks to Jay Stewart, Jeff Jones, and Norm Ficke Jr....keep 'em coming!
"The Stream is a Gift"
"Son, what you are seeing is a stream of the forest and you will travel a similar direction throughout your life. The stream is a gift; learn from it well, for it will prepare you, as you course through the stream of life." Thirty-five year-old Clay remembered his Daddy's words spoken in his tenth year.
The slender, attractive man with red, curly hair both smiled, and at the same time felt sort of lonely, as he sat on a rock by Cooper's Creek, a beautiful trout stream in North Georgia, and continued to recall his Daddy's words.
"The stream starts small, as we do, and many creeks merge increasing the stream's volume just as experiences add greater dimensions to our lives," Clay's Daddy remarked as they stood next to each other fishing the headwaters of the Cooper's stream. Daddy and his boys and were together so many times, on various streams that many specific memories were jumbled concurrently, but in the few years since his Daddy's death, Clay had, in his mind, assembled a collage of retrospections that served his purpose on reflective moments, like today.
"Notice how the water enters the deep pool," Daddy commented to the boys standing in the cold, swift water. " See how it diverges and investigates every crack and crevasse, every nook and bank of this mysterious place. The stream wants to learn all the pool's secrets, and, when it has the knowledge necessary, the water gathers and continues, eager for more." Clay smiled at his Daddy's wisdom. "Look here son," Daddy would say, sweeping the tip of his fly rod in a vague, general direction. "See how the stream surveys ahead of itself, twisting and turning to avoiding obstructions. It is like the stream notices a large rock and turns away from it, or dives deep to miss a tangle of roots. That's a good lesson, son, very good indeed." Clay winced as he though of the times in his life before he learned to dodge or dive deep.
"Have you noticed," Daddy once said, as they waded to an impassable place in the stream and detoured on the bank, "how, at times, even the stream seems to lose direction as it falls about on the rocks and ledges. The water looks confused, and depressed as it sulks in eddies and even flows back on itself. But, look son," Daddy added as they reentered the stream in a placid pool, where pinkish, white laurel blooms dropped and floated gently on the water. "After the turmoil, the stream always follows smoothly, peacefully for a while collecting strength before continuing on its journey." Clay inhaled as he thought of the times when he faced incomprehension and chaos in his life. But, like the stream, things became sorted with time and life eased in a more peaceful way.
Clay glanced at his watch and could not believe it was already midday as he returned from his thoughts. Then, from up on the road, he heard a car door thump shut and the rustling of leaves as his brother, Jason, hiked the short distance to the stream. Directly, and accompanied by the sounds of tree limbs slapping and a flurry of cussing, Jason came into view and produce his trademark smile as he saw his brother; the chipmunk smile, his Daddy called it.
Jason looked at Clay and joked, "I thought you would have your limit by now."
Clay laughed, "No, I haven't even wet a line. I was just thinking of Daddy."
"That's all I could think of too," Jason answered, poking his hands into his pockets and looking sad.
Five years ago, standing on the same rock, the boys and their families scattered their Daddy's ashes into the placid currents. It was an odd affair, but their Daddy was kind of different himself. He wanted to be laid to rest in this stream he had known as a boy.
"I want to spend eternity here," he often said, and added when Jason and Clay wanted to be close to him they should return to the stream for, "It is a gift; learn from it well."
The funeral Daddy spelled out caused some concern among his traditional family; however, the will was clear. So, the boys, their families and friends stood stoically at the edge of this pool while Jason and Clay waded into the water with a zip bag full of ashes. Mothers nervously held to small children least they fall in, and young boys and girls fidgeted, wishing they could wade, as the brothers opened the bag and together held it near the water. Everyone watched as little snowflakes fluttered the few inches to the water and glittered like diamonds awash on a sea of peace. They all held their thoughts for a few moments and suddenly Jason's youngest son shouted.
"Daddy, there he is, down under that big tree." Everyone looked, but saw nothing.
"I saw Grampy, under the tree holding a fishing pole and watching us. I really did."
Later, at lunch, the incident was passed off by all as a child's imagination, but the boys, in a conversation of the eyes, knew and understood they must return often to the stream of the forest; to learn, live and renew.
After talking for a few minutes by the stream, Clay followed his older brother up the path to the cars. The brothers did not share similar personalities, but over the years they had grown to love and admire each other. It had not always been so, but Daddy, with loving words, harsh talks and a few punishments, had planed and sanded the rough edges off their sibling rivalries, so now their relationship was as sure and steady as a dovetailed joint.
While fishing that afternoon, the boys chortled and conversed about their Daddy's idiosyncrasies and in particular the different way he had of answering questions.
"You know", Clay shouted to Jason over the water's roar, "I always use to aggravate me how Daddy had to answer a question by asking another question."
"Lord I know it, or how he use to tell a story".
" Yeah, if you heard him take a deep breathe and raise his hand to his chin you might as well find a soft spot, because athen ending would take a long time coming."
And the brothers thought about all Daddy's stories, how he seemed to know something about anything and the uncanny way the forest animals approached him. Once Jason asked him how he sensed, and knew things other people didn't. Daddy would just smile and comment, "I had a good teacher".
That night, Clay poked the campfire sending glowing embers swirling high into the night.
"You still like to play with the fire," said Jason.
"Ah, it gives me something to do while I'm thinking," Clay answered. "Do you remember that old mule story Daddy used to tell us?"
"Oh, Lord, do I ever," Jason laughed. "It seemed like I was in enough mischief to hear that story at least once a month."
And the boys, each taking up where the other left off, remembered during the periods in their lives when Daddy stepped in and corrected their behavior. After an oppressive lecture accompanied by much pacing and arm waving, Daddy would give them a fixed look in the eyes and ask, "Did I ever tell you the story of the old mule?" Before they could answer, "Yes," Daddy would start into it. Standing tall, with the badge of experience and fatherhood pinned high on his chest, Daddy would tell them about the farmer plowing in the field. The mule, one day, stopped. The farmer threw down the reins, walked around to the mule's face and asked why he quit? The mule looked at the farmer and relied, "I just don't give a damn any more." Both boys were now quaking with laughter as they relived the events of the story.
"You know, Clay," Jason said, suddenly becoming serious. "I once told Daddy that story was the stupidest thing I ever heard in my life. Daddy came over, took me by the shoulders and said, "Son, when that stupid story makes sense to you; hurry, run to the mirror, and maybe, for the first time, you will be seeing the start of a man." The boys were quite for a while listening to the stream and forest, the sounds of their Daddy.
Stabbing spears of morning sun and Clay's insistent banging on the tent woke Jason up and out of the tent. Soon, with cups of strong coffee and the clean odor or the woods, the boys entered again into the fraternity of woodsmen who have mutual respect and understanding for each other.
They gathered their rods and started into the wilderness area. This was where they laid Daddy's ashes. They fished within sight of each other and about midday Clay and Jason rested in the soft sand at the edge of a pool. Jason started to sing an old Indian song Daddy taught them years ago.
"I was wondering if you remembered that song," Clay interrupted.
"I'll never forget it," Jason replied. And the boys thought about the story when their Daddy was ten years old and fishing away from his father. Daddy, in his youth, was not a model of patience, and if nothing was biting he would become bored and start looking for something else to fill his time. Bored boys often find misfortune as a companion, and such was true with Daddy. He started climbing on a rocky ledge, slipped and split open his knee. After pulling himself out of the water, Daddy sat on the bank, crying and clutching his bloody knee. He was scared, just knew he was bleeding to death and could not fathom how he was going to get up the steep bank and back to the road. Abruptly, an old Indian man mysteriously appeared. The compassionate look in the Indian's crinkly eyes helped Daddy not to be afraid. The old Indian sat next to Daddy and said that his name was Oogala. Before Daddy could reply, Oogala took some powder out of a pouch and sprinkled it on the injured knee. The bleeding stopped immediately, and then Oogala found some odd shaped leaves and spider webs and dressed Daddy's wound. All this time, Oogala was telling Daddy that a long time ago Oogala came from a village not far from here and this stream Daddy called, Cooper's Creek, was named, Et-nam-wah-tee by Oogala's people, meaning the teacher.
Oogala picked Daddy up, and with a burst of wind Daddy found himself on the road with the old Indian standing over him. Daddy asked Oogala where he lived now. Oogala just pointed to a dark place on the cliff below them. Daddy glanced where Oogala gestured. The next year, a more cautious Daddy climbed to that dark place and found a small cave sealed by rocks. Daddy removed a few stones and discovered an ancient skeleton surrounded by a pouch, bow and arrows and a clay pipe. Knowing what it was, Daddy resealed the tomb.
For years afterwards, Oogala would come to the young Daddy on the stream. It kind of scared Daddy at first to look up and suddenly the old Indian would materialize, but after a while, Daddy came to expect and look forward to when Oogala appeared from a swirling mist, or as a creature of the forest and, motioning with his ever-present pipe Oogala would say, "Come young one, and glean." It was hard, at first, for the young Daddy to understand Oogala, for he told stories in metaphor and parable, but like reading Shakespeare, in time it all came together. The greening of young Daddy took many years, but Oogala was patient; time was on his side and when fidgety Daddy grew frustrated, the teacher would council, "Young one, remember, when the deer range on a jagged trail they learn to tread softly."
With the sweet breath of the forest, and the whispering stream for accompaniment, the boys recounted the song Daddy learned from Oogala. As the ancients listened they sang:
Mother spirit, lead us to your messenger stream,
The boys did not notice, but as they recited, the sounds of the forest fell silent, for the ancient psalm was one of great power, something the Indians knew even affected the circle of time.
The day was ending, and the sunlight was filtering low through the leaves, casting deep shadows on the stream. Soon, the boys came to the end of the wilderness as the stream opened and flowed profoundly through gentle fields. They remembered it was here, where they as children, lost a stringer of fish which took all day to catch. Daddy, not too far behind, discovered his two lovely spawn sitting on a log, fussing and disappointed over their loss. Daddy leaned his pole against a tree and sat between these two mounds of misfortune, and said, smiling to himself.
"Boys, don't feel so bad; it's just sometimes the stream takes a little payment for all the good times she has given us. See, you must learn to love the stream for what it is. I love this stream unconditionally. No matter how many times she has battered my legs with submerged limbs, no matter if she is clear and sweet or raging and muddy, I will always love her. Her spirit knows this, and we understand each other. That is why she speaks to me and I can hear, and it is the same with each of you. I love you unconditionally. No matter what you do, what you say, or how you succeed or fail, I will love you. You know this, and like the stream we can talk and understand. So, love the stream, yourselves, and your families unconditionally, and over the years their joys will outdistance the disappointments a thousand to one. When you love, you must do so unconditionally - only then will you really hear and understand.
After sitting so long, the brothers looked like old men as they groaned to their feet. The day was slumping toward night, and the birds were flying low, returning to their roosts. Clay and Jason were drained, and the big, old bear of silence bore his presence as they collected their gear.
Before they started up the lonesome trail, back to their car, Clay turned to Jason and asked, "Do you think he was with us today?"
Jason, instinctively feeling Clay's emotions smiled his chipmunk smile and replied, "Sure, you don't think he would pass up a good day's fishing, do you?" And Clay beamed at his brother's attempt to make him feel better; and so, bound in the love for their Daddy, for each other, and in the wisdom of the stream, the brothers walked silently back to their cars.
Up on the road, Clay said, "I wish Daddy was here guiding us again."
Jason walked gently to Clay, looking him in the eyes and grasping his shoulders said, "The stream is a gift."
Without hesitating Clay replied, "Learn from it well."
As the boys left, driving adown the dusty road out of the past and back to their lives, they should have looked down the embankment toward the area they just left, because, if they had, they would have noticed an old Indian sitting on a flat rock, smoking a clay pipe and a man holding a fly rod standing next to him. The Indian turned to the man and asked, "Did you have a good time with them today?"
"Just great," the man answered, as he took his pole apart.
The Indian did not reply, but motioned with his pipe for the man to rest.
The man smiled, but shook his head and replied, "I wish I could, but the boys might need me."
The Indian smiled knowingly and raised a lacquered hand as the man waved back and stepped into a cloud of mist.
(Author's Note: There may be more fact than fiction in this story. Take your children to the stream. They may learn something. Written by Jay Stewart May not be reproduced in whole or part without consent of the author.)
From Owl (Jeff Jones):
"UH-OH, I DON'T FEEL SO GOOD"
When I was seventeen years old, the church I was involved with took a Mission Trip to Helen, Georgia in order to help with the construction of a Baptist church that sits on a hill in downtown Helen. The fledglng church needed manual labor in the evenings and we ( the youth group ) taught in Vacation Bible schools at daycares in the Cleveland area. One afternoon we were taken to see a waterfall near Helen. This is where my Youth Minister set into motion a passion that has often consumed much of my free time and most of my thoughts.
The simple phrase that started it all ? "I'll bet there are trout in this creek !" Trout? I had been fishing all my lfe ( all 17 yrs.) and didn't even know we had trout in Georgia! I asked when we were coming back to do some fishing!
That spring Rick, my Youth Minister, Eric, a close friend, and I loaded up Eric's family's Vista Cruiser and headed north. If you've never ridden in a Vista Cruiser, you haven't missed much. It weighs the same as a small building and drinks gas like I drink Mountian Dew. ( and that's by the gallon ! ) We left on a Friday afternoon and got to Rick's cabin on lake Burton around 9:30 . Ready for my first chance at a trout, I could hardly sleep !
The next morning we left the cabin and headed for the Tallullah River area. Rick was a novice at trout fishing and this was the only area he knew fairly well. We arrived at the Tallullah and I thought I was going to be sick. The roads seemed so narrow, the cars, driven by locals, seemed to be flying. (Nowadays, I look like the locals when I drive) We found a campsite at Tate Branch, and we pitched the tent and got the camp ready for that night, before setting out to find a stream near there that Rick had fished before.
That's when the " fun " began..... We stopped the car by a small bridge and scurried down the slope into the creek. Rick told us to flip our spinners or crickets (that Eric was carrying) into the whitewater sections of each pool and we would connect with a trout on almost every cast. We did cast. And cast. And cast. Nothing but limbs and rocks found their way to our lines. Well, not catching any trout was disapointing, but the scenery was wonderful. I didn't know mountians, sparkling streams, and moss covered rocks could be so nice and . . . ERIC! Eric had fallen in the stream and the cricket cage opened - a hundred twitching bugs drifted down the creek. Shins bruised and only a little embarrased, we pressed on. Shortly we came upon a large, steep, cliff-like waterfall. There was a huge log across the face of the " wall", with water gushing around all sides.
" How we gonna get around this?" I asked.
" We're gonna climb up to that log and shimmy across.", Rick said with an aire of confidence that we assumed was due to his experience on the creek. I wasn't so sure I knew how to " shimmy" over a moss covered log 30 ft. in the air. However, it was the only option. The surrounding cliffs permitted no other escape route.
So we climbed. And "shimmied". nd PRAYED ! We made it up the face of the waterfall after 1/2 an hour of clamoring about like three amatuer mountian climbers using Everest as their " trial run" ! We were all exhausted and breathing heavily at the top. Then I heard a "funny" sound.
" You guys hear that?"
" I don't hear . . (BBOOOOOMMMMM)"
" O.K. LET"S GET OUTTA HERE ! ", Rick shouted !
"No argument from me", I said.
Eric just looked pale and nodded.
The thunderstorm kicked in and Rick pointed to the to of the ridge - " The road is right up there." Well, the road may have been up there in another decade but it sure wasn't there when WE got there. We were in the woods, now, and as lost as we could be. I was a little angry. What kind of guide nearly kills you on a waterfall, leads you up a stream with no fish, and then gets you lost in the woods??!!
After being drenched by the passing rain and scared stiff by the lightning, we followed a small brook to the man river and then the road.( whew)
We hitched a ride from a passing truck and got back to camp in time to try the Tallullah. I must state that at this point I did not understand that their were stocked trout and native trout. Eric and I just thought trout were trout. So when we walked up the Tallullah and saw five or six people standing "behind a log" ( a man made pool) we were perplexed.
" What are all those people doing?"
We walked up to the pool and there were trout EVERYWHERE !
" Can we fish here?", I asked Rick.
" Sure, just stay out of the other folk's lines."
We caught a limit between the three of us and I caught two or three as
I remember. Happily, we walked back to camp and got ready for dinner. The fun was just beginning ! We couldn't believe that Rick took us up the " Stream of No Return", which had been fished by the folks in the truck. They were the owners of the "wet-prints" we saw on the rocks. Being beginning trouters, we cold have and would have been just as happy catching those stockers. We forgave him for nearly killing us and proceeded to gather things for dinnr. Eric and I got the water from the creek at the fish-dam on Tate branch and started to boil it to make a nice glass of iced tea. Then, as if the trip wasn't exciting enough, someone suggested that, since we had to boil the tea anway, why boil it twice? We decided to put the tea bags in the pot and boil it long enough to make the tea . Brilliant.
To shorten the story, the rest will be in " short mode" !
On the way home the winshield wipers on the Vista Cruiser stopped working. LaPrade's was closed. We lost the power steering.The Vista Cruiser is a BIG CAR . When we got home we were all tired beyond belief. The next day, we all called each other - from the bathroom. We all ended up sick as could be from the tea. It was awful and I didn't go back to the mtns. for about a year. You may ot be able to remember the first trout you caught, or your first trip to the Mountians. I will never forget mine. I never want to do that again !
May the fish you seek, be the fish you catch.
February 14,1999 - From Member Norm Ficke Jr. in response to message digest for that day...
Having read most of you for several months I have never felt inclined to participate. Been fly fishing for about forty years, started here in GA with a long spinning rod and a borrowed fly real to work on the golf coarse lake bass. In Michigan later as a young man I took up trout in some famous rivers as the AuSable and the Grayling. My finest fish until yesterday was a fifteen pound steelhead in the Platt river in the cold of February. I only consider myself average and that is on my best day. I don't know the name of most of the flies in my two boxes and I still can't tie a blood knot on the stream side. I read all the reports and descriptions that show up here month after month and wish that I could contribute with the same acumen.
Saturday morning started at 4:30 AM an on the road at 5. One hour drive and now I am in the GA mountains. Still dark so I ketch a 15 min. Cat nap before starting out. Most people would be on he stream in a few minutes but not me: I have a well planed 3 mile hike up Forest Service roads that is closed except during deer season. Then there is a 2 klick busting brush straight line hike thru winter-dead brush and thick mountain laurel to get to this spot on the TOPO map that looks as if it should be productive. I guess that 6 months in the Nam help getting thru all that brush. It does seem a lot of work on a guess an a hour forced march. The last 200 yards were straight down barely able to stand only knowing that I had to climb it to return but not knowing at the bottom whether I would be facing a very deep and unwadeable pool.
There it was at the bottom of that hill: almost there , a river 40 feet wide and plenty of casting room an a deep pool with a little room to wade. Get your waders on and get in: but where to start? Well a nymph is the best place and leave that 6X tip on , you'll loose it sooner or later. Carefully: if you spook them if they are even there its a long wait and a long way home. Once in the stream looking up and down you better make the most of it for this the only fishable spot as far as you can see.
The first casts are always an adrenalin rush for me and this is no exception. But now after 25 casts and only 5 of them worth showing to any anyone there seemed to be nothing in the bottom of that pool. Lets try something else. I left my vest on shore so I eased back to tie on What... The wind began to blow and the sweat popping trip here with the in activity made me cold so I took my time getting back in the water. And am I glad! A light snow began to fall and as I watched that pool I could not believe my eyes. Fish were rising 5 to 6 at a time. But what where they rising too. Snow flakes??? Yes Snow flakes!! What does anyone have in there box to match that?
I finally decided on a parachute fly; white on top with a brown tail. Back in the stream and praying for the snow to continue I began to cast to the closest fish: less than fifteen feet away and me in the open. But no one seemed spooked except me. Forty casts later and the rising begins to slow but not a hit for me. Finally I thru to the middle of the pool and just watched because to a below average fisherman like me just seeing that many fish rising is exciting in itself. Apparently my fly sank and when I decided to cats again I eased back on the rod and the line went tight. Fish!
I have lost many fish to poor nots and broken leaders and my first thought now is set the hook and easy. Only this was not having any effect on the item at the end of my line. No thrashing about and sudden surprise that even a decent sized fish has when first hooked. This fish had the confidence of being the biggest fish in the pool for a long time, a slow movement that said I have beaten this and many opponents many times. 90 seconds later he decides to surface an now my breath is taken away. What a fish! To big to thrash around , just run after run trying to get back to the bottom of that pool.
Now I have read all your stories and criticisms about overplaying fish and getting them in quick but X is another thing. A full 10 to 12 minutes pass and still plenty of fight. Finally the leader is on the rod and I get a good look at this fish. This is it -- you know --- your hole in one--- the double quail with a 410---the 12 pointer.. Finally he rests on my wetted hand and I have the sense to measure him with my rod. Huge is the only word that comes to mind 4 inches across the back and when I get home the tape says 27plus inches from that spot on my rod. The release goes well only this was the one to put on the wall. He slides of to the side of the stream and rests in the shallow for a full ten minutes.
Twenty minutes later I catch another only this is only 20 inches,, Ha! The action stops and I call it quits for the day. The two hour hike out didn't seem bad at all and I will return. Where you ask it this spot and river. I'll share my story but not this water. Thanks for listening..
Norm Ficke Jr. ( firstname.lastname@example.org )