A Birthday Present

A vintage Thomas & Thomas Paradigm 8-foot five weight rod reclines on the grass after meeting my Hardy Bougle. Requiring the sacrifice of another favored rod to acquire, this piece of bamboo perfection arrived in time for my annual celebration. Another year of drawing breath each day and angling Catskill rivers begins. I couldn’t be happier!

There has always been something special to me about a Thomas & Thomas fly rod. They were the first to catch my eye in print, and their catch phrase “The fly rod you will eventually own” stuck in my mind. Yes, one day I thought, as I eyed the unobtainable in my local fly shop, The Fisherman’s Edge in Catonsville, Maryland. The marque stood for taste, craftsmanship and quality, both in graphite, and in their very, very special bamboo.

Twenty odd years ago I was able to aquire a few of their graphite rods, including two of their Paradigm models, the pinnacle of rodmaking. Coming from a background crafting equisite bamboo rods, the firm had a clear vision for how a fly rod, a trout rod, should feel and handle. Fly rods are supposed to bend! Thomas Dorsey understands that. It is said that the Paradigm rods bore his favorite taper. Though many rods have passed through my hands in the past twenty years, those Thomas & Thomas Paradigms are still the rods I reach for when conditions favor fishing with graphite.

The equisite pleasure of fishing an original Paradigm in split bamboo is, well, something earned through a lifetime of hard work, and an appreciation of bright water, pure mountain air and wild trout.

Ah yes, wild trout… the first ones I glimpsed were bright flickering shadows darting through tiny Rock Creek! I had begged my father to take me trout fishing, something magical and far removed from the environs of suburban Maryland. He picked up the guide book that accompanied fishing licenses and read of another handbook, one about trout fishing in the state. I treasured that little volume. Trout were fish of the mountains, but a small, fishable population of wild brook trout existed in Rock Creek Park. Try as I might that wonderful day, I could not catch one of those bright little shadows. My rudimentary angling skills were no match for their wildness, but they left an indelible mark upon my soul.

It has been a busy week, keeping up with my much younger companion on fire from his first vision of our Catskills, and the Paradigm arrived on the last evening of his visit. Fatigue outweighed my anticipation if you can believe it, and the looked for package wasn’t even opened until the following morning. Refreshed, at least partially by a good night’s sleep, I was out in the yard after sunrise, fixing the Bougle to the uplocking reel seat and making those first gentle casts. The rod’s feel was smooth perfection, just as I expected. There was but one place to fish it.

Bright sunshine greeted me, the forested mountainsides full of the uncanny flaming chartreuse blush of spring that lasts but a moment. All I needed was a mayfly and a rising trout, a tall order for the day as it turned out. The wind that was forecast to be down rose with vigor, and blew far more pollen and leaf fragments onto the crystal currents than insects. I let my frustration with the gale make me struggle to find my rhythym with the new rod, the old tale of power where finesse is called for.

I am no stranger to waiting along rivers, and I practiced that skill once again on this blustery afternoon. Hours later a calm spell offered respite, and I scanned the surface of the river for signs of life. The day betrayed only a few, here and there during fitful intervals of calm, trout cruising and sipping. At intervals a meaty March Brown dun would join the prolific vegetable matter in the drift, but none of these drew the attention of the cruisers. The only other signs of insect life were the occasional shad flies, and I imagined one here and there lying spent, hidden from my eyes in the mass of buds, leaves and pollen. They were not hidden from the roving sippers.

A March Brown dun finds a quiet resting place on the swelled butt of my Paradigm. The trout did not find him and his scattered brethren appetizing at all. A puzzle.

A moving target offers a special challenge. That is why bird hunters choose a shotgun with hundreds of pellets to pursue their game. A fly rod and dry fly offers no such coverage of the field. You cast to the rise knowing the fish may no longer be there. They offer no clue as to their course, it appears random. Hope for success lies in a quick, accurate delivery and the quarry hesitating nearby after his rise. It came together once.

A sip, then a dorsal fin wavering in the film for a second, and the cast is made. The long line rolls out, turns over sixteen feet of leader and the size 18 dry fly, yes I feel it now, let the Paradigm work… The take comes in slow motion, and the nerves are steeled to respond in kind, with a slow gentle lift that sinks the tiny hook as the water boils and he makes the reel sing!

A perfect cane rod responds to gentle casting tricks, and works fully when battling a fine finned adversary. The deep bow in the Paradigm is unequaled, the exquisite taper tuned to the task. This fellow gave it a proper workout, giving his all to break free from the tiny spent caddisfly that bit him back! He was bright and golden there in the net at last, flanks heaving, struggling still to jump clear of this springy mesh. A single twenty inch wild brown trout is a worthy opponent to christen a new favorite fly rod, worthy indeed.

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