A Tribute


The following was written by Capt. Marty and originally published on the online magazine www.flyanglersonline.com.

My dad wasn't a fly fisherman, but he was an avid outdoorsman.

The overwhelming majority of my adolescent memories are firmly planted outdoors -- hunting, fishing, crabbing, trawling. Our excursions were always in or near water, and more times than not, at least one of the multiple boats we owned at any given time was built in our backyard.

As a child, when asked for my address, I was often tempted to tell the inquirer where our camp was located near Lake Salvador, since we seemed to spend more time there than home. But I knew what they meant, so I suppressed the mischievous urge.

We broke the silence of many a pre-dawn morning with the drone of an engine, wrapped in layers of insulated clothes against the biting cold, as we plied toward duck blinds. Or enjoyed the coolness of the air that can only be found in the early morning hours of an otherwise blistering summertime, laden with rods, reels and tackle, a shrimp trawl or possibly stacks of crab lines.

It was an idealistic childhood in the vast wetlands of Cajun country. But I was too young and naive, and having too much fun, to realize that as much as we fished, our lives were void of a higher calling -- fly fishing.

That’s not to say fly fishing was unknown to my dad. One of my earliest memories was the discovery of a long, two-piece green rod with a funny-looking reel propped in the corner of a hall closet. It was a fiberglass fly rod, from the Sears & Roebuck catalog, that dad simply called a waste of time and money. “Too much line to mess with.”

He, like most men of his generation, was a meat hunter. He enjoyed the sport of fishing immensely but couldn't fathom such concepts as catch and release, so efficiency was of the highest concern in the selection of all fishing tackle. These were the days before size and creel limits; success was gauged by full ice chests, not the number of fish. Our reels were spooled with heavy line, and our freezers never lacked for an abundance of seafood and game.

Time with my dad on the water was priceless. And even though we were both “quiet” fishermen, rarely speaking as we made our casts, I was constantly exposed to decades of experience, soaking in every bit of knowledge. His years in the marsh had taught him when and where to find the fish, and what techniques to use; lessons handed down from his dad.

As a child, I was always amazed at how he could make dozens of turns in the seemingly endless marsh and find his way back, even though the miles of broken land looked the same to my young eyes. As a guide, I get to relive that wonder as out-of-state clients, not accustomed to such expanses of marsh, constantly scan the panorama for clues to our location. The look is unmistakable, and it’s the one time when I can actually read someone’s thoughts: “You do know the way back, right?”

Sometimes, they will actually verbalize the question. It's delivered tongue-in-cheek, of course, but deep down, I can tell a positive answer would be reassuring.

I can’t blame them. The marshes of southeast Louisiana are massive, spanning as far as the eye can see in every direction, and beyond. It’s been nearly 50 years since my first trip into the marsh -- fishing pole in one hand and a can of worms at my feet, watching dad twist and turn our boat through the aquatic labyrinth -- yet I still haven’t seen all of it.

I was not only blessed with a wonderful dad, but also with one of the world’s greatest estuaries as my playground, my backyard, my home.

My transition as a fisherman through the years was rather typical. On my first trips, I just wanted to catch a fish. Then I wanted to catch a lot of fish. Later, as the desire to catch bigger fish became stronger, the pursuit of trophy-size specimens became more important than filling a limit. Eventually, even something as inconceivable to my dad as catch and release started to make sense.

I still enjoy many a fish dinner, but now I fish for the pleasure of the sport. If my freezer is well-stocked, I release my quarry with gentle care and a smile, hopeful that we will meet again another day. Most of my clients are the same, only wishing to return home with photographs of their catches and heads full of memories. Occasionally, a client will ask me if I’d like to keep a few of the fish for myself. Often, I will accept a few, which I usually bring to my mom.

She loves fish. And the concept of catch and release is lost on her, too. I can only bring fish to my mom now since dad is no longer with us. And sadly, we lost him years before he left this earth -- his mind and memories stolen by Alzheimer’s.

Dad never got to see me fly fish. I began learning the art before his body succumbed to this world, but not before his mind was ravaged by this cruelest of diseases.

As my mom told me on the day of his funeral, "He died a long time ago. We were just taking care of his body."

I wish dad could have watched me fly fish, for the same reason I beamed as he watched me reel in my first tiny bream. No matter our age, we want to show our dads what we learned, what we accomplished, and we want to see that smile that lets us know he couldn’t be more proud. If he had been granted the mind to comprehend in his last years, I’m sure he would have approved of my transition to fly fishermen.

But he still wouldn’t have understood catch and release.