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The Educated Fly Rod (Part 2)

May Day of each year was an undeclared school holiday for high school boys as May 1st was the opening day of trout season, and nearly every boy skipped school that day whether they went fishing or not. I always eagerly awaited the opening of fishing season and every school day afternoon, while seated in class, I was afflicted with a tremendous itch to be out in our local trout streams. I was not the only one afflicted as many of my fishing buddies would be equally tormented. There was no football practice, basketball was over and we felt that we could best train for the track team by hurdling over rocks and doing the broad jump across the creek. One of my closest friends was Barney “Max” Barnett, who equally loved fishing. We would squirm until the 2:25 bell rang and by 2:30, we were out the door, heading for the creek. School was officially over at 3:30 but we were long gone by then.

One memorable trip began in 1939. Hitchhiking was popular, safe and easy then, and we caught a ride in a 1932 back Buick sedan heading for Alma, three miles upstream. (Alma is now a ghost town under the waters of Lexington Reservoir.) At the southern edge Alma, public land ended and the property of the private San Jose Water Company began. San Jose Water was very jealous of their land and patrolled it with horseback riders to keep out intruders—particularly young fishermen.

It was a beautiful spring afternoon when we arrived at the concrete seven-step fish ladder, and passing it put us in the off-limits stream. We gradually worked our way upstream, stopping at each of many rocky holes. As we cast our flies—either the productive Royal Coachman or Gray Hackle Yellow Body—into the pools, they were gobbled up by hungry, seven- to eight-inch rainbow trout. This was fishing as it should be and we soon filled our pockets with fresh trout. (We couldn’t carry a wicker creel; if searchers saw us, it would have made our illegal fishing completely obvious.)

We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves when we heard the clippity-clop of horse hooves coming downstream. We quickly hid in the bushes while the water company rider passed us (we were scarcely breathing). But now, our route of escape had been closed and the only alternative was through the brush, straight up the steep mountainside to the old Santa Cruz Highway. As we finally emerged, dirty, panting and scared, we arrived at the two-lane concrete road right in the middle of Father Riker’s Holy City Community (now a ghost town). We weren’t dilly-dallying, for fear the ranger might have heard us, so we promptly thrust out our thumbs, hoping to hitch a ride back to Los Gatos.

The second car approached, pulled over and stopped. It was a green Chevy sedan and as we got into the back seat we noticed that the driver was dressed in a matching forest green uniform. What startled us most was the shield-like patch on his shoulder that read “California Department of Fish and Game.” Our benefactor turned out to be the game warden. His first question was, “What are you boys doing up here?” As we were in the town of Holy City and dressed in our school uniforms, we explained that we were on assignment to write a story for the Los Gatos High School newspaper. He asked no further questions and we offered no conversation. We expected to be taken right to Juvenile Hall for fishing in restricted territory. As we entered Los Gatos, we asked to be let out at the corner of Main and Santa Cruz Avenue. Exiting the car, we heaved a big sigh of relief. As he started to drive off, the game warden’s parting words were, “Better be careful where you fish the next time.” We hadn’t fooled him one bit!

The Educated Fly Rod (Part 1)

When I was rummaging around my garage recently, I found an interesting five-foot long box. The garage is packed as it houses two cars, cupboards, power saws, woodworking tools, workbenches, sanders, a sink and, of course, many treasures that I am going to use or may need some day. I was looking for a small umbrella that fastens to a chair when I came across the box.

The box was intriguing for it was a long-lost treasure chest. It contained pieces of old fishing rods I hadn’t used in decades, mostly of split bamboo, a rusty steel telescopic rod and one fiberglass butt. All of these were going to be repaired someday during my retirement. Mixed in with all this stuff was a real treasure from my youth, my “educated fly rod.”

What’s an educated fly rod, you may ask? Well, it’s been to school a lot and, being a rod, it is assembled from many sections, while a fishing pole is just one long piece of cane. This rod made many visits to my high school classes in the 1930s and has a long history and an equally long story.

This was my favorite: a five-piece rod made of split bamboo. The nickel plating on the ferrules have corroded, the butt plate is missing, the guides have been removed, the silk wrappings need replacing and there are several scars of burned areas, but what memories it brought back!

Being of five pieces, each section is only 22 inches long. These short sections are what made it so important. Lost in my memory was where and how I got it. It wasn’t new when I acquired it, so I probably traded for it as money was so tight during the Depression. It’s at least 70 year old. Most split-bamboo rods were made in England, France, Japan or the United States then, and were eight to nine feet long when assembled, with each section normally measuring 36 to 48 inches long. About the only place one sees them today is fishing museums and expensive sportsmen’s catalogs. The action when casting a fly with a long rod is much better with long sections, but mine had a major advantage: it was easily hidden!

My high school education may have taken place in hard times, but the students still managed to dress quite well. The girls wore wool skirts, Angora sweaters, bobby socks and white saddle shoes. Apparel for a boy at Los Gatos High was a white, open-necked shirt, slacks and either a sport jacket or a block LG sweater. (I was able to afford such luxury by hitchhiking to a small town near the Stanford campus where the college students would hock their clothes and I could get real bargains and excellent quality for a pittance.)

The beauty of my five-piece, 22-inch section fly rod was that it would fit into my back pocket, under my sport coat and no one knew it was there, particularly my mother and the Dean of Students and Discipline, Doug Helm. Mr. Helm and I developed a friendly relationship because I saw him so often; he had a special name for me: “Not YOU Again.”

May 1st brought the opening of trout season every year, and the torturous itch to leave school and go out fishing was sometimes too much to bear. Next week I’ll tell you how this urge to fish nearly got me and my educated fly rod in big trouble one year.