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Fly-fishing in Emmitsburg

Ruth 0. Richards

Originally published in the Emmitsburg Dispatch
Republished in the Emmitsburg News-Journal

I have here before me three small plastic boxes. In each are very small fish hooks, and tied onto these hooks with invisible thread are colored feathers, yarn, deer hair, chenille and other materials ó fishing lures made to trick trout into believing a tasty bit is on the end of the line. It could be a Royal Coachman, Black Gnat, Mayfly, a worm or a caterpillar, cast in the hopes that the angler has chosen the morsel that imitates the insect hatch of the day.

My husband John was an avid fisherman and, after having read Izaak Waltonís The Complete Angler, decided to try his hand at tying his own flies. Using hand-tied flies in the cold mountain streams of Frederick County was far different from casting a night crawler into the muddy Missouri.

I often went with him and sat along the stream and watched birds, looked at the flora, and just day-dreamed, moving as he moved either up or downstream as his luck or lack of luck took him. I had the feeling that John knew all of the good trout streams of Frederick County, from Turkey Run, a stream that empties into Toms Creek near Annandale Road, to all the branches of Hunting and Owens creeks in Catoctin Park.

In the Ď40ís, trout season opened on the first day of April. In the spring of 1942, I got up early with John on opening day to be with him at the stream. I believe he had caught nothing and was ready to go home when a man with a camera approached us: "Fishing?" he said to me. "No, only watching." "I came out here to get a picture of a woman trout fishing. Would you do me the favor of posing?"

Eagerly I agreed, not really knowing what was expected of me. What was expected was to put on all the fishing gear ó everything from hat with the flies stuck in the brim, jacket holding all the equipment of lines and more flies, net, creel hanging from the waist, and waders. And of course the fly rod in my hand.

Into the stream I went. I stepped on a slippery rock and fell feet up, flat on my backside, fishing rod flailing in the air. "Lovely," said the camera man. "Now, would you do it again so I can get the picture?" Vanity, vanity ó I did do it again, in pretense of course, and a few days later found a Washington newspaper in our mailbox with a picture of me on the sports page.

I soon tired of watching John fish and decided that I too must cast a line and have the pleasure of success. I got a rod, and John, teacher that he was, made sure that I would cast correctly. Fly fishing is a bit more tricky than just putting a bait in the water and waiting. A spot must be selected. and the angler must aim for that spot, hoping that trout would rise and take the fly. That is the dry fly method. A wet fly takes a different skill. The spot is selected, but the fly must be under water to fool the fish into thinking the bugs are there.

I did learn to cast, and then we went to Hunting Creek above Thurmont to try my luck. John went upstream, while I stayed below him, standing on a flat rock that slanted down to the stream, as I had no waders. I cast several times, and then, POW! A hit on my fly! I fixed the hook and with racing heart let the fish tire a bit and then landed him ó a nice, 13-inch brown trout.

"Now what do I do?" I had that trout safely on the rock slab but had no idea how to kill it. That had not been included in my fishing lessons. John was too far away to hear me even if I had wanted to call. So I found a small log and hit the trout on the head.

I could hardly wait for John to see my trout. He was pleased for me, but more so, he was in disbelief that I had resorted to such an extreme to assure myself of having a fish to show.

On one of our trips to England, we were at a bed-and-breakfast in Shropshire, and during the course of a conversation, John told the hostess that he would some day like to fish for trout in England. One evening on returning from Stratford, our hostess took us into her lounge and introduced us to two couples, both of whom had estates nearby. As the conversation progressed, one of the gentlemen raised his arms and pantomimed an angler casting a fly for trout. John returned the pantomime. A bond had been formed. John was invited to fish in this manís private trout stream. Joy! But it could not be. We were to leave for home the next day.

I didnít fish at all after we had children. When John died, I saved his fine fly rod, wishing I could go to the mountain and catch a trout, reliving a memory or two. I finally "realized" that I simply couldnít do that. I sold that fine rod. I donít need it to keep my memories alive.

Read other articles by Ruth Richards

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