If you fish you have hats. Hats for fishing, hats for wearing out, and then there is that growing pile of hats that remind you of place and time you don’t want to forget. My old Resistol is one of those hats, one that I still have, yet one that these days just keeps a peg in my house company. Over years of serving me well it’s earned that.
I remember taking this photo like it was yesterday. It was in the late 80’s at the take out below a place we fondly knew as Seaton Camp. I help build this steelhead camp back in 1986, the same year I started Western Rivers Flyfisher after returning home from that incredible fall experience in BC. That year the two Bulkley Mice, one tan, one black were added to the hat band, but the steelhead pin would become a part of this well worn later.
That fall I was fortunate to guide a group who lived in the east; Stan, Marty, and Giorgio in particular. Giorgio was probably one of the best dry fly steeheaders I’ve ever fished with. I learned a lot from this guy. I remember our last day together we were paired with this ass who kept accusing me of putting Giorgio in all the buckets, when in fact he got all the buckets that day. Giorgio fished shit water and had one of the best days of dry fly steelheading I’ve seen. He was that good.
Marty was a decent stick and he’d had a good week, but going into our last day poor Stan still hadn’t caught a steelhead. If you fish for these fish you know what it feels like to not be hooking up when others are. It happens to us all, but in this particular circumstance for Stan his misfortunes carried a more significant burden.
Stan pulled me aside that final morning at breakfast and said he wanted to go out with me for the day. We’d already spent a day together, and I really enjoyed this kind old gentleman. With Giorgio now out of the equation, fishing was so good he left early to be with his girlfriend, it would just be Stan and I. Although I wouldn’t have called myself a seasoned steelheader at this point in my life, I know enough to know that the more you want one of the fish, the harder they are to come by and I understood this all too well as the day unfolded.
Like the photo of the hat, I remember the day well. Before lunch Stan hooked a big fish, one that he struggled to handle. After a long fight, it came unbuttoned. I buried my face in my hands in disbelief. In the morning sun we stat down to contemplate our misfortune and the opportunity lost, the weight of his burden growing heavier. As we got up, Stan turned to me and made an emotional request. Before he headed home he wanted just one steelhead, no more. Given his age, I knew this would be trip he’d probably not do again.
In the next piece of water, Indian Summer, Stan caught his fish. After tailing it, I handed to him to hold for a photo and to have the opportunity to feel what it’s like to have one of these incredible fish in ones hand. After he let it go, with tears in his eyes, he walked over and gave me a hug. It was a special moment, one in life I’ll never forget.
But, there’s more to this story. Remember that pin? We’ll in the summer of 87 Stan sent me that gold pin in memory of that day, that moment that we shared. Unfortunately, the pin no longer sits in that old hat. The day I returned home from butting my dad to rest and settling his affairs, someone broke into our house. Upon first inspection it appeared they didn’t get much that was worth anything. Several month later I realized by happenstance they ended up with the first nice reel I ever bought myself. It was an old Hardy Marquis. Several more month passed when in the middle of the night I woke realizing they’d gotten my steelhead box. That was pretty devastating. Several years had passed before I noticed that the gold pin was missing from my hat. I stared at the small black dot in the center of the hat where the pin was in utter disbelief.
I remember looking through my old photo’s for this Throwback project and coming upon this photo. There were a lot of mixed emotions that came out when I saw it. When it was all said and done this photo reminds me of an incredible year and a gentle old man who I met and shared a very special day with almost 30 years ago.