“Pops”- by VERN-O

Articles, Book Reviews & Excerpts, featured — By on May 12, 2011 11:55 am

Vern-O is a commercial fly tyer from upstate New York. You can see his flies at J. Stockard’s Fly Market, or visit his Blog Vern-o.blogspot.com

April 1st for many in the Northeast signals the opening of trout season. For the rest of the country it means April Fool’s Day. I have been fishing for as long as I can remember, though fly-fishing came much later. Opening day of trout season is one of those things where I ask myself, “Do I really want to go out there with all those nut jobs trampling through the streams and be stacked Asses to elbows?” No, not really! Don’t get me wrong, I like comradery and all that jazz and I’ve done my fair share of opening day trips.

When I married my wife I inherited in-laws. This is not the case for me, I enjoy my in-laws. My father-in law, “Pops” to everyone who knows him as family, loves the outdoors. He was into Scouts, camping, hunting, and fishing. You name it with “outdoors”-attached and he was always willing to do it. After he inherited me as a son-in-law, along with a brother-in-law began to teach him the fine art of fly-fishing and eventually fly tying. He was an eager participant. It is always fun to help someone learn and enjoy the new life experiences that come with fly fishing; the flies are too small to see, the tangles of line, the cracking of the whip also known as a fly line, the frustration of rising fish refusing your offering, the task of getting waders on in the dark in sub-zero temperatures, and the art of skillfully removing those waders when nature calls. No, really it is fun to watch because we’ve all been through it. For me it was odd to show someone older than me the ins and outs of fly-fishing, but my student, Pops never complained when I asked him if he wanted to go fishing. He did however complain when it came to tangled lines, donning waders, lost flies, and the whole list of things that can go wrong during a “River Runs Through It” fishing trip. It eventually became funny to chat with my brother-in-law about what we saw Pops doing. We of course would offer assistance when needed and I usually found myself rigging his rod for him while he tried to fit into his natural casing, known as waders to many of us. Of course when I was rigging his rod I realized that his leader was about eight inches long, understand here that leaders usually run in the nine to twelve feet range. I would say to him, “What happened to you leader?” and he would respond that he was meaning to replace it. After doing so, I would position Pops in a likely fish holding spot and go trekking off up or down stream. After an hour or two we would meet up and discuss how things had gone and strategize on a game plan. During these discussions we would talk about our earlier success and or failures. Pops was always willing to give you the number of flies lost rather than number of fish hooked. Nevertheless I always enjoyed fishing with Pops and when no one else wanted go, Pops was always willing, and I mean always willing to go! The destination near or far didn’t matter. The targeted species didn’t matter. The weather didn’t matter; Pops was a Scout remember, always prepared. I fondly remember picking him up one early spring morning and he came out explaining he didn’t know what the weather was going to do that day. He had a fleece, a raincoat, a vest, and a Carhartt jacket stowed either on him or with him. One of the greatest joys of fishing with Pops was you were guaranteed a free treat to Dunkin’ Doughnuts if you were driving. Nothing beats a fresh giant apple fritter at o’dark thirty in the morning while driving and trying to drink scalding hot coffee. The other joy was to arrive at the fishing destination to see who had more doughnut filling dripped all over the front of themselves. Not every trip was perfect with Pops. There was the time when he had eaten a liverwurst and onion sandwich the night before and we had to keep reliving it through the power of stench filled burps that seemed to linger in the cab of the pickup truck, too rainy and cold to open the window, I was sure this would be the last fishing trip with Pops! As the years evolved Pops became a fly fisherman and a dear friend. His skills never really got to his potential but we had a lot of fun and a lot of stories. One of the fondest was the time we had gone to a spot never fished by us before and struck gold. The stocking truck must have just left, I really don’t know. We caught brook trout after brook trout and had the entire spot to ourselves for the entire morning. The pure joy and beauty of that day lives in my memory forever. Pops was in his glory and he shared a story on the way home about fishing for brookies with a stick, some string, and a safety pin as a young boy in Vermont.

As the years progressed and our trips seemed to level out as life catches up with all of us, I noticed Pops was slowing down and his breathing seemed labored. Pops wasn’t getting younger, but he certainly wasn’t ready for packing in the gear, he had grand kids and great grand kids to take fishing. A couple of bouts with pneumonia and I realized Pops wasn’t really the same. The labored breathing really made me nervous and I mentioned to my wife that I had concerns about taking him fishing. I think we all know where this is heading and it pains me to relive the pain that came over the next two years and still lingers today. Pops battled lung cancer as a non-smoker to the best of his ability. He didn’t want to go and we all wanted to the best outcome. It was hard to see Pops in this way and I had a hard time keeping it together when visiting with him. Often times when it was just him and I sitting together I would remind him of some of our fishing trips together and how much I appreciated his help in life. As April 1st, 2010 came around and many flocked to the streams for the trout season opener, friends and family flocked to Pop’s side. It was the sunniest, warmest April 1st in memory. I got the call at work that I should come soon. When I got to Pop’s side I let him know that I was there. I said; “Pops what are you doing, It’s April 1st and we should be fishing”. Pops in his deteriorated state gathered the energy to attempt to get out of bed. I reassured him that it was ok and we were there with him. My last memory of Pops, always ready to go fishing. I spent the next night in my fly tying room trying to fill orders and take my mind elsewhere. Into the late night I tied and it was time to create a fly for my fishing buddy. As I listened to the Jerry Garcia Band play out a mournful version of Lucky Old Sun, I made sure Pop’s had a fly for his trip. I miss my fishing buddy.

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"Pops"- by VERN-O, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating


  1. George Mickatavage says:

    What a wonderful story. Pops was also lucky to have you! Thank you for sharing!

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  2. tom anglim says:

    loved reading your story on pops. i was a scout with todd, enjoyed trips to boy scout camp in the summer with him, troop 80.keep telling stories, he would love that.

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  3. Doug Harmon says:

    Got a tear in my eye reading this eulogy. It’s an awesome thing to share fishing with a close friend and family member like that. Hopefully your kids and grandkids will treat you the same way as you are getting older. I am in the early 40’s now, and like a lot of fishermen, beginning to realize that I won’t be able to hike 5 + miles a day for the rest of my life. My new motto is “don’t leave any cards on the table”. Life goes by way too fast to live with regret for the things you didn’t do. It sounds like Pops lived life the right way, and you are too.

    God Bless,

    Doug Harmon

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