Uncle Jack didn’t look like your typical fly fisherman, with all of the latest matched clothing, gear and gadgets.
He usually wore a faded pair of blue jeans, a T-shirt with a funny saying of some sort and a cap. One that read “Tullamore Dew” was a favorite that I recall.
He kept his battered fly rod and tackle box in his car trunk when traveling. You never knew when a roadside stream or pond would appear with a few minutes to spare.
Uncle Jack, my mom’s brother, taught me the lifelong passion of fishing when I was a little kid, a valuable gift that did indeed keep on giving. He was one of my all-time heroes for many reasons, a wonderful man filled with kindness, laughter and generosity.
And, despite an ample belly (“It’s all bought and paid for,” he would joke), Uncle Jack was a heckuva 16-inch softball pitcher, a good golfer and a tireless union pipe coverer.
There were many times when he didn’t have to take me along fishing with his older pals, or patiently explain this or that on casting and catching … and enjoying the special moments and sweet settings.
I would do the rowing in the early morning mist on the glassy surfaces of lakes in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois or Wisconsin, where he bought a small boat and cabin with the love of his life, my Aunt Lori. We were both raised in the gritty steel mill neighborhoods of Chicago’s south side, so these summer trips or family vacations were more valuable than a sack of gold.
No, Uncle Jack didn’t look like a fly fisherman who just strutted out of Cabela’s, but his work on the water was that of a tuxedoed maestro.
You could almost hear the tap, tap, tap of a baton to start the symphony as he swished the heavy line with the fly attached at the end over our heads, pulling line with the other hand until the little fake bug floated through the air and landed right at its target, next to a weed bank or lily pad. A perfect cast. Fishing poetry in motion.
A few flicks from his wrist sent little waves onto the water and the bug was too tempting for a fat, shiny bluegill. Slurp … Uncle Jack would keep the rod tip tight while reeling the small fly rod handle and soon he would be holding up a flip-flopping prize.
A million moonbeams lit up his round face. Uncle Jack was a kid again.
He was also a terrific bait caster and trolling fisherman.
My Uncle Jack so sadly died of sudden brain cancer in 2001 at the age of 68, leaving behind my favorite aunt, countless friends and enough precious memories to build a castle.
Since my early days with my idol I have been so fortunate to fish for bass, catfish, bluegill and crappie in the Midwest, huge largemouth in Florida, snapper and bonefish off the Keys, walleye and northern pike in Canada, hundreds of striped bass from Lake Mead and Lake Powell, mahi-mahi in Hawaii, albacore off of San Diego and trout in Utah and Colorado.
The list goes on and on and I am currently blessed to live in Pinedale, Wyo., where I have caught my biggest rainbow, brown and mackinaw lake trout at spectacularly beautiful Fremont Lake.
There are too many awesome fishing friends to mention in one column, the Harmon brothers in Provo and Mark Hines from here in Pinedale especially stand out, but they all had the same traits of generosity with their time, boats and equipment. They all shared their incredible knowledge and love for fishing, along with their unending respect for the landscapes, waterways and, of course, the fish.
Often the recipient of their gift of fishing was a young boy or girl, many out for their first time. And I cannot emphasize this enough: If you make the time to take a kid fishing you are an instant hero. Stand up and take a bow. Cheers to you. You could be very well saving their lives or improving them drastically along their often-difficult path. Sounds corny, to get a kid hooked on fishing instead of alcohol or drugs, but it’s true.
Pinedale and the state of Wyoming offer so much fishing opportunity and incredible scenery. Our Game and Fish Department is the best in the world. We have such a wealth of catchable fish in still-clean waters.
Make it a fun day for the kids, full of food and mechanical and safety tips. Try to catch some fish, catch-and-release or sizzling them up in a pan is all good. If one gets away at the last second, it’s OK. Let them reel in your fish once in a while. Take a bunch of pictures and send them to everyone, including the Roundup.
Then sit back and enjoy watching their little faces glow with so much excitement and delight.
The important part is to do it. Take a little boy or girl fishing. You will be opening years and years of healthy fun and pleasure. Maybe even saving their life.
Just like my beloved Uncle Jack did for me.
Mike Fitzgerald is a 40-year newspaper veteran and freelance writer. He can be reached at [email protected]