Full Circle

Late afternoon sunlight illuminates the last stone arch bridge over Falling Spring Branch in a photo I shot sixteen years ago. I hope the lovely little bridge is still standing. I caught some big trout beneath it!

I had no local friends, no contacts when I moved to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and opened Falling Spring Outfitters, my little fly shop in the neighboring village of Scotland. I remember Bill Ferris as one of the first to stop by and offer the warm hand of friendship. Bill was the outdoor writer for the Shippensburg News Chronicle at the time, and he helped spread the word that the area had a fly shop once again.

When I began writing a weekly Outdoors column for Chambersburg’s Public Opinion newspaper, Bill was full of encouragement, and sponsored me for membership in the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, a membership I have maintained for twenty-six years.

Some twenty-four years ago, Bill stopped at the fly shop with a big smile and a bubbling enthusiasm: “there’s something I want to show you”, he grinned. Bill had bought something he had wanted for a long time, a beautiful Sweet Water bamboo flyrod made by Pennsylvania rod maker George Maurer. We hustled outside, rigged up a reel and line, and Bill put the treasured rod in my hand. I fished graphite rods in those days, my lone bamboo being my late grandfather’s old H-I nine footer. The Sweet Water was inked “Queen of the Waters”, an eight foot flamed beauty for a four weight line, a perfect foil for our beloved Cumberland Valley spring creeks.

I cast Bill’s new rod there on the lawn and marveled at the smoothness with which it formed a tight loop and whisked it to the target. I pulled more line from the reel, and the rod easily cast it. I continued lengthening the line with the same result: wow! The cane masterpiece didn’t feel stiff or powerful like the graphite rods I used, just smooth and… willing. From that moment forward I coveted a George Maurer Sweet Water fly rod.

The years rolled on and I met Wyatt Dietrich, a young Chambersburg angler who was making some beautiful bamboo rods. As I got to know Wyatt, and cast and eventually owned one of his Dream Catcher fly rods, I learned that he was taught bamboo rod making by none other than George Maurer. No wonder I liked Dream Catcher rods so much! George had the touch and was known for passing it on.

Twenty years further down the road I reach for bamboo first when it is time to go fishing. I have several Dream Catchers, and an affinity for older cane as well. As a working man, I found a touchstone with the rods made by the Goodwin Granger Company of Denver, Colorado. A few weeks ago, another Cumberland Valley friend contacted me. Tom Smithwick is a talented rod maker, and a man with a great store of knowledge regarding bamboo and all aspects of the craft. Tom was trying to help Bill Ferris determine the value of a Granger rod he had, and knew of my interest.

We messaged back and forth about the rod, and I was sad to learn that Bill was selling his tackle. Time is catching all of us and had not been kind to our old friend. While going over the details of the Granger, I asked Tom to tell Bill that, should he ever sell The Queen, I would be interested. Always active with the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum, Tom arrived at Summerfest with both of Bill’s rods in tow. The Granger DeLuxe was beautiful, one of the highest grade models, and unfished, but the other tube Tom carried held my attention. I slid the Sweet Water from it’s tube and bag and my thoughts ran back a quarter century to that first bright morning on the lawn.

It was clear that Bill had fished the rod frequently, and fished it hard, as intended by it’s maker. A little care by expert hands was in order that it might be fished for another quarter century. I was pleased to be able to acquire Bill’s rod, and I hope that Bill finds some comfort in knowing that it will be cherished and fished by a friend now that he has chosen to pass it on.

I took the rod to another friend, master rod maker Dennis Menscer here in Hancock. Dennis works magic in his rod shop beside the West Branch every day. When I returned to the shop, the Queen of the Waters looked like new!

Yesterday I took a chance with dodging the various thunderstorms the forecasters foretold to introduce the Queen to the rivers of my heart. Obviously the grand dame holds some sway with the forces of Nature for the day turned warm and sunny by mid afternoon, with no more than a couple of two minute showers to suggest the ominous weather foretold.

I fished a favorite reach thoroughly but the trout proved uncooperative. I failed to move a single fish. I walked further, fished some faster water where an occasional Cahill was rising from the froth, managing only to prick a little brown trout that grabbed for the fly when it twitched at my pickup. Wading back upstream I spotted movement along the bank, and stalked and fished a couple of spots. Nothing. I waded back and walked out noting the time seemed right to visit a different pool.

It had been some time since I fished that reach at higher flows. Many of the lies were unreachable, so I quickly passed them by. I finally found a place to cross by hiking up my vest and wading carefully, putting myself in position to fish the last couple of hides. The Queen worked as she always has, willingly rolling out as much line as I needed with little effort. Finally, approaching the last lie, I spotted a dainty little ring beneath low branches. Raindrops from one of those two minute showers? I think not.

The cast was long and smooth, the fly alighting as gently as one of those raindrops, way back in there beneath the branches. Perfect. The drift seemed endless, caught in a moment between time, between the much younger man grinning there on the lawn as he appreciated the grace of his friend’s new rod, and the crouching older angler intently stalking a special wild trout. The take was clear, the big nose of the brown flipping a dollop of water as he plucked the offering from the surface, followed by the wide smooth arch of flamed bamboo as the great fish rushed for deeper water and freedom.

Sweet Water: I always found that to be a perfect name for a rod company that created wonderful trout rods. The Queen, that brown and I, we danced there amid the sweet waters, with the late summer sun blazing through like bright lances between the passing banks of clouds. Captured at last, the trout was thick and heavily muscled, five pounds at least, and as bright and golden as that sunlight in the waning hours of August. My salute to an old friend, and a salute to a rod maker who passed long before his time. All hail the Queen of the Waters!

Southcentral Pennsylvania’s Big Spring in high summer. Bill Ferris has been the champion of these bright waters, founding and leading the Big Spring Watershed Association, and working tirelessly to eliminate the pollution from an ill conceived State run trout hatchery. Thanks to Bill. and others who worked with him, wild trout once again spawn and grow in these waters.

6 thoughts on “Full Circle

  1. Enjoyed the story. I too have one of George’s rod. Too bad I never exchanged mail or even talked to George on the phone. It’s unfortunate he passed away so soon and suddenly. Hope to fish the rod often as I can before passing it on to the next generation


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