I like to think of how fly fishing has enriched my life. One of the ways that it has, is the people I have met, fished with and who are my friends because of throwing feathers and fur at fish. It used to be all about the fish and the fishing with me (sometimes, it still is), but more and more it is about the people I am with. One of these guys I met because of fly fishing is Johnny. Now, this is not “little Johnny” who is the brunt of so many stories. One of which goes like this: Little Johnny was given, in the 3rd grade, an assignment to find out about his penis from his dad. That night he told his dad about this and daddy took Johnny into the bedroom, pulled down his shorts, pointed to his exposed crotch area and told Johnny “Son, this is a perfect penis.” End of story. Next day in class, Johnny was asked if he completed his homework. When he said yes, he was asked to tell the class what he learned. Johnny faced the class and told them; “If my penis was 3 inches shorter, it would be perfect.” No, this is not my friend Johnny. He does have a great sense of humor, though. It is just one of the things I enjoy about fishing and being with him.
We have traveled, and fished together all over the Northwest (BC and Washington plus Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego). I discovered that with him, it wasn’t about how he adjusted his life to go fishing. It was how fishing adjusted and ruled his life. He is a retired doctor, now. But he never let doctoring get between him and a willing steelhead or trout. His patients loved him and he always took the best care of them possible. He was one of the first real fish bums I had ever met, but I just didn’t know it. I never thought of a doctor being a fish bum. I generally thought of them fishing at a few great destinations a year, prying away some precious time from their busy (BUSY!) lives. Johnny, however, spent two to three prime steelhead weeks for 25 straight years visiting the Bulkley River in BC and fishing the waters around Smithers. He also found time to fish one to two weeks on the Thompson River, BC, for 30 straight years. This is in addition to fishing the rivers of Washington, Oregon and Idaho for steelhead. Trout fishing was his first obsession, and then steelhead became his drug of choice. This is how much he followed chrome: He left his home and practice in Montana (Trout heaven) to move to Wenatchee, Wa, to be closer to the Wenatchee River steelhead and make a shorter drive of his trips to BC. As much as he loves to steelhead, he still finds a ton of time for trout in both lakes and rivers.
I started writing this to comment on the peripheral bonuses of fly fishing. I have and had so many great friends who I love to fly fish with. I will write about a few more of them in the future. Each one of them brings and brought unique qualities to our friendship and fishing. I also hope to meet, fish and make friends with many more in the future. A good fishing buddy is hard to find. It is something that develops after many trips, camp fires, jerky and beer.
Now, back to fishing with Johnny. He is so unassuming; one would think every trip is his first. But once some time is spent with him on the drive to the river and the hike into one of his “favorite” runs, he shows how, down to gnat’s-ass details, he has this run, river condition, fish behavior in this particular place on earth and how to fish at this time and at this place, dialed in. It isn’t like he is robotic about it. Not at all. He is so casual about it that one could miss all of this information easily. You will not know it, but you will always fish the heart of the run first. He will always put himself second through the sweet spot. And more often than not, he will Hoover a fish behind you. One of the aspects of his fishing that I admire is his adaptability to fish the conditions present, not by some pre-set method that may or may not be effective. For example, I am so programmed to swing a fly in 99% of the runs I am wading. I will sometimes (maybe moretimes) fish a method just because that is what I WANT to do instead of fishing a more effective way. Johnny will fish upstream, swing a fly, use an indicator, fish a single hand rod or double. He will use floating, sink-tip or sinking-head lines. He will knot on to his leader a weighted fly, an unweighted fly, fish greased-line or a wet-fly swing. He fishes according to conditions not necessarily to habit. And the really cool thing about all of this is that he knows his way around all of the methods he might use. I have watched him skate a fly on Bulkley knowing exactly when to mend down or up-stream to create the perfect drift. And I think he sometimes throws a skater just to watch it wake against the yellow reflections of the fall-colored trees lining the river. Behind his somewhat serious face while wading nipple-deep in the river run¸ there is a smile ready to explode across his face given a slight tug on the line or a deprecating comment from me on the shore. I have never seen him down and out on a river. Fish or no fish, he is the same.
Now, this isn’t to put Johnny on a pedestal. It just shows some of the inherent qualities that our fishing buddies possess. I know everyone of you who read this have a fishing friend who could be described with at least a few of these traits. They are important to us for making fishing better than it could have been and making our life brighter in general. Johnny is a real friend of mine and I always enjoy our days of fishing or not fishing together. No matter what happened on our day on the river, all is great. And all is perfect later in camp talking shit about each other over a smooth single malt.