By Jerry Audet
I was wandering around a local surf show this past weekend- the Narragansett Surf Fishing Club’s annual show- when I had something of a profound moment.
This show is 90% flea market, 10% vendor show, and I really enjoyed myself. I love yard sales, and I used to hunt for “investments” a lot at thrift stores and pawn shops. As life has gotten busier, I’ve had less time to do so. But, this show felt something like that- it seemed like I could potentially stumble upon something special.
Anyways, I was hunting through some bins of old Gibbs and Atom plugs when I stumbled upon a few beat up containers of saltwater flies. The man at the booth clearly wasn’t pushing these as they were buried under a pile of other more lucrative items. The bins were marked “2/$3”, which for a saltwater fly is a steal.
There were dozens of flies, of various sorts mostly pugsili, clousers, and deceivers- but also more than a few epoxy flies and sand eel imitators. Typical stuff for inshore stirper, blue fish and albie fishing in New England.
I rummaged through them, excited at first because I could tell the materials and hooks were of superior quality. I started doing math in my head and I figured I could probably talk the seller down and buy 12 for $15. I’d start by offering him $12 though…
But as I dug through the boxes, I became less enthusiastic. Clearly, these flies were tied by someone who was either amateur or not into the details. Many of the flies were crooked on the shanks, and some of the hook points had been knocked off somehow, despite them looking new. Also the eyes were falling off some, others the thread was burred, and on still others the epoxy was sporadically or haphazardly gooped on.
“If you buy 10 I’ll sell them to you for a dollar each,” the guy said suddenly. He must have seen me solemnly, methodically, examining each one.
“You tie them?” I asked, dumping what I had in my hand back into the bin. I was assuming these were his, that he was just trying to make a few bucks from them on the side.
“Nah, I don’t fly fish. These were from an estate sale. Guy died, I just bought them. I know nothing about them, or fly fishing,” he replied, paying little attention now to me, and far more interest in the man next to me making a pile of used $5 pencil poppers.
I paused, about to close the lid of the last container. I gazed over the 60 or so flies scattered in the bins on the table, and thought to myself- “this was a lot of work. This was more than just a weekend warrior. This guy, although a little weak on the details, cared about these.”
I felt compelled to go through them again.
As I searched, I started thinking about a podcast I had listened to a few years ago about death, and dying, and what it means to really be dead. In it, they discussed the physiology, and evolution of medicine; how it used to be that when your heart stopped you were dead, but now, we consider it the brain.
But in the discussion, they also had a long piece on the fact that there are other kinds of death too. Personal, or I guess what you might call “societal” types of death. These are my words; it’s been a while since I listened to it. Regardless, the one “death” I found most compelling was: we only truly die when our name is finally forgotten. When history complete erases us, and there is no record of our existence.
And, of course, just like biological death, this happens to everyone. Depending on the life you lead, the connections you have, it may take more or less time. But even Einstein, or Hitler, or Plato will be forgotten eventually. It may take ten thousand, or a hundred thousand years, or a million, but eventually time will erase us. I guess if we ever do eventually conquer the stars in some kind of Star Trek type scenario, it could be much, much longer. But it’ll still [very] likely happen. After all, humanity is a tiny moment in galactic time.
As I stood there, lost in these thoughts, I started pawing through the flies again, thinking of this man I didn’t know. Thinking that this was a way for him to live on. That, while I didn’t know him, he was continuing to exist in some theoretical way, through me, my interest and the utilization of his flies.
Who was he? Maybe he was a sharpie, an unsung diehard striper fisherman with several 50’s under his belt. Maybe he was more of a casual angler; a Dad with a good job, who liked Golf but lived for Saturday sunrises in his boat, and his two week vacation on the Cape. I don’t know- how could I? But I felt a connection to him regardless. I could see what he was trying to do. I could see that he loved this thing. Fishing. It gave me a tiny glimpse into who he was.
It made me think about my writing, too; how I hope that my pieces educate and entertain, long after I have forgotten them. Long after, I hope, I am even gone. That in some small but significant way, I will continue to live on through those that internalize my work. They carry me with them into the surf; onto the trails; along the river banks. At least, this is how I feel about my favorite authors and teachers- both those alive, and those now gone.
Then, I thought- these flies could have ended up in the garbage; discarded and forgotten. I frowned deeper, almost a scowl, thinking of that. That thought felt uncomfortable. Hell, given the lack of interest in them, a bunch of these flies still might end up int he trash.
I made a renewed effort to find a few I could use. I don’t have money to waste, now more than ever, but I had a sudden feeling of duty towards this long-passed stranger. I felt compelled to carry the torch a little further.
I ended up picking out the 3 flies pictured in this blog, which all were quite straight, well tied and well epoxied. I closed up the boxes, and made sure to put them on top of the beat up plastic rebels and red fins. I wanted them to be seen. I then took one more moment to look at the flies in my hands- I knew they would catch, I even could make a good guess when...
Come late May, I will make the same pilgrimage I always do to a spot I love more than any other. It’s not always dynamite, but when the tide and weather are right, it's almost a guarantee I will find teen bass practically at my feet. This spot has taught me so many things about surf fishing- like how to fish a bucktail, or how to fight with land owners, or the bait phases of a full season. It’s where I landed my first shore caught striper on a fly rod. I have a painting of the spot hanging in my bedroom, loving done by my wife for my 30th birthday.
Holding the 3 pieces of fluff in my hand, I thought "I know these flies will do well there".
And when they do, I’ll take a moment to thank this fellow angler.
Gone, but not yet forgotten.
I noticed the guy at the booth staring at me, as I had clearly drifted off for more than a moment. I gave him my most charming smile.
Since I was buying $8 worth of used lures from him anyways, I held up the flies too and said “Give you $10 for all this?”
“Sure,” he didn’t even hesitate, or pause to add up what I was holding.
Damn. I could have bought it all for seven.