Several years ago when I moved back East from Alaska I got a gig working at a Fly Shop near my home town. My first week I was able to meet all the guys except Gene. He was down in West Virginia in search of Native brook trout, wild browns & bows, and I think he might have kept his eye out for that big hairy guy people call Squatch (that was always an inside joke with Gene and me). When I did finally meet Gene for the first time it was an introduction I will never forget. One of the guys in the shop introduced us and the response I got from Gene was, “So you are the new guy… you know anything about fly fishing?” It was a slightly awkward first meeting, but as time went on I was able to gain Gene’s respect and build a good friendship with him.
The time I started working at the shop was about the same time that the steelhead were beginning to run. I asked if any of my co-workers would be down for a fishing trip with me, and the only person that was willing and able to go fish with me at the time, was the last person that I thought would be, good ol’ Gene. He had never been steelhead fishing in PA before, so I was looking forward to taking him on his first trip. I told him to meet me right across that State line around 5am and hitch a ride with me the rest of the way to Erie. After a nice drive up, we pulled into the hot spot and I could tell Gene was pumped for the day. A couple of days prior I had fished this area and done well, so I knew they would be plentiful and we’d catch as many as our hearts desired. I didn’t let Gene on this though, but rather I told him that the fishing had been tough and we would have to hunt for fish, but maybe, just maybe, we would get lucky and catch one today. That didn’t deter his excitement just to get out on the water, whether he caught fish or not.
We geared up and walked down to one of the first runs. Lo and behold, we saw 50 to 100 steelhead in the pool. I glanced at Gene staring right at me and what he said next was a typical Gene comment, “I tell you what brother, you are so full shit! You knew the fish were here.” Clearly he was right, but I kept my surprised face on as if I were seeing it for the first time. We made a few casts from the bank, and then made our way into the water. Since we were fishing close to where people park, I explained to Gene that these fish get more pressure, so we wouldn’t want to stay in this spot for a long time. I suggested we walk downstream about a 1/2 mile, to which he responded “that sounds great lets do it”. We worked our way downstream to find more active fish. Gene didn’t let the 30+ year age difference between us slow him down, he held strong and kept at my pace. We fished hard all day and were rewarded with some nice fish.
We made our way back up to the first hole we started at, and on Gene’s first cast he hooked a big steelhead. The fish starts running him up and and down the pool, jumping constantly to throw the hook that Gene had in him. At one point it seemed like Gene had foul hooked this fish so I shouted down to him to “Quit snagging fish!” and his response was “Listen here brother, he took that fly”. Well Gene was right and when he landed the fish the fly was in the mouth, but the leader was wrapped around the pectoral fin which made the fish fight awkwardly.
We continued to fish this pool for hours getting constant hook ups, and I could tell Gene was having the time of his life. I think the biggest kick he got out of the whole day was watching me lose my rod. I was using a 10′ 7 weight T.F.O to swing big streamer patterns when all of sudden I had a hook up like no other. The fish hit the fly so hard, and with the combination of the current, and not having a good grip on the rod handle, Gene and I watched as the fish took off upstream with my rod flying in mid-air to then hit the water and start to sink. I had my eyes on the rod the entire time but could here Gene laughing hysterically behind me. Obviously, I had no choice but to go after my rod. When I retrieved it, the fish was still on. Gene was so preoccupied laughing at me, that he didn’t even realize he also had a hook up. So there we were folks, a couple good friends with two steelhead on – that’s what I’d call a true daily double. We both landed the fish and congratulated each other on a great day on the water.
It was starting to get dark so once we both released the fish we decided it was time to roll out. We made our way to the nearest Wendy’s like I always do after a day of fishing steelies. We both indulged on junior bacon cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches. I started the drive home and began going over the day with Gene, talking about how aggressive the fish were, and how the day was such a blast. I kept going on and on, not realizing Gene was passed out asleep. So what did I do when I turned to see him snoozing? Naturally, I hit the rumble strips on the highway at 70mph, and let me tell you, that sure woke him the hell up real fast. I had to hit the rumble strips at least a half dozen times more just to drown out his snores. I’d like to think he was dreaming of all the fishies we caught. It was a great day, and one that I will not forget.
I am sad to say that we unexpectedly lost Gene last night, Friday March 16, 2012. He passed of natural causes, and while we may never fully understand why people leave us when they do, we can remember them fondly and keep them in our hearts. If I could tell Gene one more thing, it would be this, “Listen here brother, the very next fish I catch, it will be for you!”