The reel was beautiful. It had a worn look on the leaden finish that told of years of loving use. I grabbed the reel off the table when he laid it down. He quietly crossed the room to toss a couple logs on the fire in the stove. The big stove creaked as he opened the door, the heavy cast iron door swung wide as the inviting fire light from inside flickered on the old Indian woven carpet on the floor.
I turned the reel over in my hands; it felt solid and well made. The light gray agate line guide was still perfect, not a crack or check in it anywhere. I pulled on the backing line, pulling it from the reel in long strokes like Walt had done moments before. I could feel the vibrations of the reels mechanism in my hands as I pulled. The sound was sort of mesmerizing………
“That’s a 1906 you got there Anders, I actually bought that one in England when I was over there almpost 50 years ago. That thing has sure caught some fish!”
I continued to look at the reel in my hands. 3 3/4 “ Hardy “Perfect” Salmon Wide Spool it read on the side. Hardy’s- Alnwick –Patent was written in a semi circle around the hub. A smooth brass reel foot was attached to the reel and there was an ivorine knob on the reel handle.
I looked up to the ceiling and recognized the same kind of reel was on many of the rods that were resting on the rack.
“Walt, (I surprised myself by calling him by his name for the first time) what’s the deal with these reels, why do you have so many of them?”
“ Well” he said after a lengthy pause, “The main reason is that they hold up so well and there’s hardly anything that can go wrong with one. They make them by hand and they take their time doing it. They use real good metal and by golly the reels just last and last.”
“Hey I want to show you something out back,” Walt said suddenly. He got up abruptly and headed to the small door at the far end of the room that led to the back of the shop. Smoke from his pipe trailed behind him as I hurriedly swallowed the last of my Coke and followed him out the door.
I was a bit behind as I rounded the corner of the shop and found myself in front of the home built smoke house. Walt was inside mumbling about this and that, the smell of smoked meat and fish was intoxicating. There were piles of split alder, apple, peach,oak and cherry stacked at the entrance and the smoke from the fire inside was seeping through the gaps in the walls. I approached the doorway and could see Walt had drawn his knife in a flash from the leather pouch on his hip. He expertly carved a small piece off the bottom of the hanging ham in front of him took a quick taste and handed me a piece.
“I’d say that is perfectly done” Walt said smiling with delight.
“That’ll melt right in your mouth I guarantee, it’s the honey cure I use”
I took the morsel in my hand and quickly popped it in my mouth, the flavor was amazing and I immediately smiled my approval. Walt was watching for my reaction and saw my eyes light up and when they did, his did too.
“Told ya!” He said with a laugh.
“You’d slap your own mammas hand outta the way to get you some of that now wouldn’t ya?”
I had to agree it was good but the thought of slapping my Mom’s hand had me thinking I’d end up getting slapped myself.
“Did you raise that hog yourself”, I said as my eyes scanned the back fourty and noticed a few animals running around back there. A particularly large boar wallowed in the mud by the fence under the pine trees.
“That’s right, I raise all my own food and do my own butchering and packaging. You should see the garden!”
“Wow, that’s neat!” I said as I reached out to pet the big lab that appeared out of nowhere knowing we were at the smoke house.
“This is Shep” Walt said. Reaching over to scratch the head of the 110 lb lab.
“He’s ornery and stubborn as a mule but he watches the place and takes good care of the animals and me. A coyote came into the field the other night trying to get a hold of one of my lambs. Old Shep was watching from the tall grass along the ditch line. That Coyote never saw him coming and Shep jumped him and rolled him in the dirt but good, got a good piece of him too, I saw the fur flying! That little wild dog lit out like his ass was on fire, and it kinda was!”
“ You keep them doggies outta here right Shep?” Walt said in the voice reserved for the do
“Hey Anders, you want go look at the home pool?”
“The steelhead should be up in here by now pretty good”
“Yeah, I got a great fishing run down there about a half mile from where I saw you the other day.”
The North Fork of Boulder Creek bordered Walt’s property for more than three miles. He owned over 500 acres and I had snuck on the lower end a couple times with my buddy Jimmy but we were just throwing spinners and bait. We were always in there in the early summer. The trout fishing was great but we never had any idea there were steelhead in the creek
“Yeah sure Walt, I gotta be home before dark though or my ma will skin me!”
“Won’t take long to see if there’s one in there that wants to eat a fly. Let me grab a rod and we’ll go!”
Walt disappeared into the shop and came out with a fly rod of around 8 ½ feet. It had a Hardy reel on it and was strung up with what looked like a big bushy dry fly. A bit bigger fly than what I had seen other guys trout fish with. He also had a small metal fly box and a spool of tippet, both of which he slipped into his vest pocket.
“ I ain’t walking down there, lets take the mule!” Walt said as he headed towards the barn.
He clucked his cheeks together twice and a huge mule came over to him. He gave him a small flake of alfalfa from a nearby bail and gathered the bit and reins of the hook on the wall of the tack room.
“That’s Pete” Walt said as he threw a beautiful blanket across the back of the huge animal.
“No need for a saddle, we’ll bare back it”
He expertly fitted the bit into the mouth of the still chewing Pete and threw the reins over his head until they rested on his mane.
“Here hold this rod while I jump on” Walt said as he climbed the rail corral to get high enough to throw a leg over the gentle giant before us.
I grabbed the rod as he climbed aboard; Pete was fighting the bit a little as he was still eyeballing that flake of hay. I climbed on the rail as I saw Walt do and when he motioned to me,he extended his arm and I swung around and sat on the back of the mule behind him.
“Now this is traveling in style,” Walt said as he clucked his cheeks again and gave Pete a gentle nudge with his boots. Pete responded and moved ahead with the steady gate of an experienced mount.
It was probably a mile and a half to where Walt wanted to go and I was on back just enjoying the ride. The late Indian summer sun was still high in the sky. We meandered through the upper meadow, Walt pointing out and naming everything he saw.
Walt said,” Look at that fir tree over there, you see that lightning scar spiraling down the side? I was moving the cows down to the water last year during a big thunder boomer and was right in here somewhere when that sucker hit. I was on Buck my quarter horse and he reared up like Trigger on the Lone Ranger, problem was, I ain’t no Lone Ranger. Left knee hasn’t been the same since, that’s’ why were riding!”
As we rode Walt continues with story after story of his exploits on the ranch. It was a wild and wondrous place for a kid like me. The cares of the world, school, chores, and all the rest melted away. The steady plodding of the big mule was comforting; he barely felt our weight on his back.
After a few minutes we rounded a patch of madrone and I could see the creek. This was the part I never could get up the nerve to sneak into. It was actually pretty big here, a nice riffle at the top broadened out into a perfect glide filled with rocks and boulders, the water slowing and deepening as it went. It was several hundred yards long and Walt was looking at a particular section as we drew nearer.
Walt spoke excitedly “You see that mid river boulder that is just barely submerged? Look how the water breaks behind it. That rock creates a soft spot that goes on down from there. Fish will look to get into that soft spot and hold. Just like you and me, fish are lazy; they don’t want to work any harder than they have to”
There was a corral near the Creek and Walt guided Pete over to the split rail fence so we could dismount. We both climbed off and he pulled the reins over Pete’s head and let them lay on the grass in front of him. He wandered around and ate of the tall late summer grass as Walt grabbed the rod from my hands and headed toward the water..........