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Dad's Cane


Brian G. Angevine

204 Brandon

Cuba, KS 66940




Words: 1501


I Don’t Limp When I Use My Dad’s Cane


            Many years passed as I impatiently awaited my chance to use my Dad’s cane.  That might sound strange to you unless you are a fly fisher.  The cane, of course, is an old bamboo fly rod with lovely red wrappings.  Just how is it that one falls in love with some inanimate object?   I have seen men adore a certain car they owned, lavishing more money and tender care on it than any mistress.  I used to watch with envy as Dad, using that gorgeous rod, coaxed leaping rainbows and burrowing browns out of the South Platte River.  To me that rod was not an inanimate object when in the hands of my father playing a wild trout.  It was a thing of beauty as it arched and pulsed with the strain from the healthy, vibrant fish we pursued.

            My fishing time was usually spent trying to untangle the loops and knots I somehow managed to throw into my line.  Then, just as I began to cast with some rhythm and power, I would snag a high tree branch and have to break off.  Once in a while, by some miracle, I would get the fly to land on the fantastically beautiful water in the canyon, and a fish would take it.  I might manage to play the fish for a few minutes before the slack line would signal another escape.  Often my Dad pointed out that I had popped the barb and point off the hook by hitting a rock on my back cast.

            Oh the trials and tribulations of fly fishing! I finally inherited a bamboo fly rod from my great-uncle Archer.  He was my rich uncle--at least his $1,000 was the only money I would ever inherit--so I guess that made him rich.  For some strange reason my Dad gave me Uncle Arch’s Granger Favorite fly rod.  It is a willowy three weight, nine footer and casts like a dream.  Of course I was just a teenager and had no idea it was far more valuable than my Dad’s five weight Powr Pakt.  I clearly remember the time I slammed the tiptop of the Granger in the car door.  I don’t remember Dad getting mad--he just had it fixed.

            Part of the mystique of our fishing trips was the setting. Both the rod and the canyon figure into the equation of my passion about fishing.  We had a fishing camp that consisted of  a cave dug under an enormous boulder high on the south canyon wall. It had been created by some distant relative as a trapper’s cabin in the early 1900’s, as chronicled on a piece of tin around the stovepipe. “Grant Foster, 1912” was the inscription.  Absolutely every item in that cave had been carried four miles on somone’s back up a treacherous trail with many stretches covered by small gravel that tended to cause one’s foot to slip at inopportune times.  I always felt that any misstep would cause a fall far down the precipitous wall into the raging river below.  Besides that there were very few level spots with many huge boulders as big as a house one had to climb around, up and down, up and down.  When I was very young Dad used to help me through those dangerous areas by having me hang onto the straps on his backpack as we strained to stay on the trail.  Included in the camp, to provide comfort for the rugged fishermen, was a double bed mattress and springs, a wood burning stove for cooking, and a few storage bins covered with tough wire to keep out rats and mice. Another hole under a rock with no amenities provided a summer camp for overflow visitors, and our fishing gear was hidden under yet another rock. On the other side of the river were two or three camps built by men who also were regulars in the canyon, none of which boasted a double bed. Later, when the canyon became popular and more people started trudging up the trail and crossing the river, our camp was destroyed and the equipment stolen by idiots who can’t leave things alone. It was devastating to Dad and we quit using the camp as our home base.

Eventually, at the urging of a representative for Heddon fishing lures who had a camp, my dad and uncle moved to spin fishing.  My Uncle Merle and Dad seemed to catch more and bigger fish using a Heddon FlatFish than they could with flies.  Of course I still struggled losing dozens of FlatFish in the river.  I never would use the big gray-green “rockworms” as live bait.  But my Uncle caught huge fish on those disgusting larvae.

            When Dad died I was finally old enough to appreciate fly fishing again.  I had great-uncle Arch’s Granger, Uncle Merle’s Phillipson, and Dad’s PowrPakt to choose from.  By then I was a teacher in Kansas City and a visiting Japanese educator was an avid fly fisherman, so I decided to take him to the Canyon below Cheesman Dam to experience great Western trout fishing.

            Shin Ici Hashimoto had heard of the Canyon even in Japan and he was eager to try its waters.  Watching me erect the tent at the campground, he rubbed his chin in classic concentration, finally exclaiming, “Ah!  Dome type,” as the tent sprang into shape.  I had not fished the canyon for over fifteen years and I was eager to finally get to use Dad’s lovely rod.  With tender caresses I uncased the rod, and imitating Dad rubbed the metal ferrules alongside my nose to pick up some body oil to help the sections join together more easily.  Often when performing this ritual I would leave smears of dirty grease by each nostril; perhaps my war paint for the battle to come.

            We hiked in along the Gill trail early the next morning with our rods strung up and ready. I used to think the Gill trail was named for Dad, since his nickname was Gil.  It is strange now to visit a place I grew up fishing and see signs identifying something that I knew by a different name.  It is almost comical to read so-called experts describe how to fish the Canyon and identifying places to fish.  Do they know how “Soldiers’ Crossing” got its name, or “Peg Hole”? I am no expert, but I have fished that canyon far longer than they have, and I too know how to fish it.  I know all the holes and riffles by their old names and related to Shin memorable times while I was growing up on the river.  My style of fishing is to cast a few times, then move.  The patient Japanese found a likely looking spot and sat down to work it.

            I fished up river for a mile or so until a sudden shower hit.  I started working back down river to see how Shin was doing when I slipped on a wet rock, fell and broke the tip of Dad’s rod.  I was devastated!  Dad had been dead only about 3 months at the time and I had waited a long time to use that rod. I felt like I had betrayed his memory.

            Shin, still fishing the same hole, was kind enough to hike back out with me.  I had only my spinning rod as a replacement, so we drove up to Cheesman Dam and hiked down to the river that way.  All afternoon and the next day I communed with Dad and nature, continually apologizing to Dad for breaking his rod.  I think Dad helped me catch a number of nice browns and rainbows on FlatFish while Shin caught about 25 out of one hole on nymphs! In his initmitable style he had removed his shirt on the hot day and sat on a comfortable sand beach casting to different spots in the braided current.  Of course in the catch and release area we returned all the fish to the water unharmed.

            On the tiring hike back out of the canyon the irrepresible Shin continued to practice his false casting while I reflected on the small monument I had built for my Dad on the riverbank. Arranging small rocks I spelled his name and his birth and death dates. I like to think it is still there.  We drove back to Kansas City holding great memories of our too brief trip.  And I got Dad’s cane fixed.

            Dad’s cane is now displayed on the wall of my cabin in Colorado, along with the Granger and the Phillipson.  I don’t use them often since they are so precious in my memories.  They may or may not be worth quite a bit of money, but the memories are far more important to me than their monetary worth.  Dad’s cane will probably catch another fish or two next summer before it once again retires to a place of honor in my memories.  I love Dad’s cane.