Catching a fish can be more than the physical interaction between the angler and the fish, as the action can reach into you to make an indelible impression. It can be an adventure, a struggle, a magical moment, or a connection to our past or childhood. There are many thoughts, emotions, and memories orbiting us in who we are at each moment. The fog of those conscious and subconscious elements creates the lens of our perception of the world around us. The focus required for fly fishing can burn the fog away for mental clarity or further imprint our experiences with the hue of our perception, but most often the moments just float away in our memories like a fallen leaf on the river.
I don’t remember all the fish I have caught or have been caught near me, but there are quite a few that are etched into my mind clearly. My first trout, my son’s first fish on a fly, my biggest fish, my first brook trout, and larger fish my friends have caught can be recalled immediately. On December 30, 2022, I added to that list when I caught a memorable fish that had nothing to do with the fish at all or even much about me. It was about the fly.
I was contacted by a friend and coworker, Rick, who is not a fly tier but inherited a bit of fly-tying materials from his father, who had unfortunately passed away several years ago. Rick asked if I was interested in the materials and that he wanted someone who ties flies to put them to use. I jumped at the chance to get the materials and felt like keeping those materials fishing would be a nice tribute to his dad.
I met with Rick on Christmas Eve, and he handed me an overflowing box of dubbing, feathers, threads, and many other items, including tying tools his father made by hand. His organization was particularly evident in the dubbing with fantastic labels.
Rick’s father Dick Shannon was born in 1938 and raised in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Growing up in Cumberland County, Dick developed a love for fly fishing and spent a great deal of time fishing the famed LeTort Spring Run and the Yellow Breeches. He also became a talented fly tier, creating crawfish patterns to catch smallmouth on the Susquehanna River. Through his time on the river, Dick became acquainted and friends with Charlie Fox, Vince Marinaro, Charlie Barnett, Ed Shenk, and Joe Humphreys. Starting in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, he volunteered at the Carlisle Fish and Game Association’s Friday night fly tying classes. He was a skilled teacher who inspired many young anglers to develop into passionate and skilled fly tiers. I feel honored to have some of his supplies.
When I got home and went through the items passed along to me, I was excited to start tying flies. I tied several pheasant tails and some Walt’s worms from the supplies. I will be able to tie hundreds of different flies with the quantity of items I received. Looking at the flies I had tied, I hoped Dick would be happy with the flies and that the materials would continue to be used to try to fool fish. At that moment, I decided to make a special trip to the Yellow Breeches and use the flies I had created.
On December 30th, I traveled to Carlisle and fished where Dick and Rick had likely fished together. It was a cold day and fishing was slow, but I was able to catch a memorable trout using his pheasant tail. I felt unusually calm as I released the fish. A smile grew on my face, and I thought of Rick and his father. I looked upstream and downstream on the river hoping that somewhere Dick could see me and feel the satisfaction of more time on the river.
Carrying on the traditions and skills of fly fishing and fly tying has connected me to many memorable moments on the river and behind the vise. It’s an honor to continue those traditions on behalf of Dick and Rick, those supplies will create lots of more memories. Kelly Galloup has said he likes fishing flies with a soul, I think all the flies tied with Dick’s materials should have a lot of soul. Thank you, Rick. I will keep tying and keep mending…