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> > The gift of age and the wisdom of a river

KroilFebruary 27th, 2008, 6:49 pm
Coastal NJ

Posts: 34
I never cease to be amazed by the Gentlemen in our midst’s,

Early May, 2005

11:00 am

It was the beginning of the season. The mountains were still bare and finding rising fish was the trick.

We had driven many miles along the river on those unimproved roads hoping for a break. Hoping for a glimpse at a surface feeding fish.

We saw the truck in the distance. We thought he was broke down.

Joe slowed to a stop on that gravel road and you could hear the rocks pop in the tires.

And there he was. A man and his dog.

All I can remember thinking was that he had to be a hundred years old.

Grey and lanky, he was slumped on the bed of his very old flatbed Ford, feeding his old setter a bit of his sandwich.

“How are you, Sir?” Joe asked.

“Just fine.” he said shortly, “No reason for you young peckers to worry.”

It was clear he wasn’t interested in company.

“No disrespect sir, we just stopped to make sure you were ok.” Joe replied.

“Well hell yes I’m ok and I don’t need no young upstarts to askin’ me anyway.”

He seemed as ornery as a porcupine in heat.

“Well, Ok mister” Joe said, “We’ll just be movin’ on, sure your OK?”

“Yeah, I’m just as right as a rose.” He snarled.

But, somehow, we knew he wasn’t.

“Ok” Joe said, “We’ll be on our way, nice talkin’ to ya.”

“ERRR, Uhh, wait up there boys,”…” Can you help me out of the bed here, seems like I’m havin’ a real go at getting’ out”

Joe pulled the truck into the weedy shoulder and we hopped out.

“Danged dog will only eat in the back of the truck.” He complained.

Joe is a large and powerful man.

He hopped into the truck bed and scooped that old guy up like a puppy and sat him on the edge of the bed.

“That a little better?” Joe asked.

“Yessir.…thank you son.” He replied.

His dog just laid in the bed looking at us with those bluish black eyes that old dogs get.

His breeding was unique.

Not Ryman or Llewellyn.

Something much older, almost hound like.

But pure setter.

“You gonna be Ok?” I asked.

“Yeah son, why don’t you boys sit a spell and have a talk here on this fine day?”

“My name is Jacob,..Jacob Miller” as he stretched out that withered old hand.

As we exchanged greetings, I was amazed at his transformation from a grumpy old cuss to that of a courteous elderly gentleman that had traveled this very road long before Joe and I were even a forethought.

You could tell from his still leathery hands that he was as tough as nails.

Very old, but tough as nails.

His voice was as smooth as buckskin.

It took only a few words from his mouth to realize we were in the company of a Centenarian.

A Centenarian that still fished for trout .

We were in awe.

Utterly speechless and in total, confounding awe.

Every thing about him was old.

His coat was of canvas and double breasted,….. his boots, the old rubber type, well patched and well worn, and that fly rod… struck me as an old Leonard or maybe a Payne.

His hat was an old weave of plaid. The plaid I remember on those old Currier and Ives pictures. His thermos had a worn cork stopper.

We chewed the fat about birds and dogs and flies and trout and the gentle pool he was parked at.

“Some years” he said, “The trout were so thick, we had them nest with our chickens. My kids had a few as pets,” he went on jokingly…

“Shame you boys never saw that.”

And he showered us with tales of his youth and his life in the Catskills.

The good years and the bad. Of his family and the wars.

And the trout .

Turned out that Jacob was born in 1904.

It was more interesting than any novel I have ever read.

“My wife, Emma, passed on few years back and I m just buyin’ my time now…. Still love to fish those riffs though.” He said.

“We know the feeling.” Joe responded.

“Not crazy about all the new fisherman in my pools” he added, “But I can spare a few spots for the likes of you two.”

“Thank you Jacob” Joe replied and I nodded too, in thanks.

It was close to noon and Joe said “Well Jacob, it has been a pleasure, we’re gonna head down the valley and hit a few more spots before dark.”

“Thank you boys, for your help and your time.” He said.

We shook hands and I distinctly remember feeling at a loss for leaving him.

We fished a lot that weekend and I could not get Jacob off my mind.

I kept thinking about Jacob having wandered through “our” pools and runs some thirty years before we were even born.

Just think about it….. here was a man that was born at the turn of the century.

He had witnessed the vast technological breakthroughs of our age. The ones we take for granted. Like cars and electronics, smokeless powder and space travel.

He had weathered wars, the Depression and unimaginable loss.

And he was still fishing for trout.

Still trout fishing.

Alone, no less.

Our little part of the Catskills is a rugged one on a good day.

There is nothing flat, the hillsides are usually wet and slippery and the footing can be treacherous . We had taken plenty of spills ourselves over the years.

And yet, there he was…… A man and his setter.

Sharing a sandwich after a tromp in the river.

With a century of life in tow.

And still burning with the unbridled passion for swinging cane and chasing fish that fed on the surface.

I can’t help but think that it is our passion for our sport that keeps us going.

Apparently it keeps some of us going a very, very, long time.

I’m almost fifty years old.

I can only wish for the good fortune of being able to tromp in my coverts fifty years from now.

Fifty years from now.

Just think about that for a second.

Fifty years from now. And still fishing.

We haven’t seen Jacob since.

A big part of me hopes he is still at it and I would give up one of my seasons if that could somehow give him one more.

As I write this, and you read this, I am aware that I am in the company of true sportsmen.

In the company of a true Sportsman. A Flyfisherman.

It doesn’t get ANY better than that.
When I found the skull in the woods, the first thing I did was call the police. But then I got curious about it. I picked it up, and started wondering who this person was, and why he had deer horns. - Jack Handey

Al514February 27th, 2008, 7:10 pm
Central New York

Posts: 142
Awesome story.
TroutnutFebruary 27th, 2008, 8:55 pm
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2737
Great story! I wonder how many fish he caught that day.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
MartinlfFebruary 28th, 2008, 6:11 pm
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3233
This is the best thing I've read in weeks, and I've been reading Chaucer on a regular basis. OK, stop laughing and rolling your eyes, everyone. Thanks for sharing this tale--I've recommended Fred Chappell to Len, and now I'll make the same recommendation to you, Kroil. If you don't like his stuff send me the books and I'll eat 'em. I know Fred a bit, and will bet he'd love your tale, anyway.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
LenHFebruary 29th, 2008, 6:14 am
driftless area

Posts: 58
KroilFebruary 29th, 2008, 7:11 am
Coastal NJ

Posts: 34
Wnat to read another story?
When I found the skull in the woods, the first thing I did was call the police. But then I got curious about it. I picked it up, and started wondering who this person was, and why he had deer horns. - Jack Handey

LenHFebruary 29th, 2008, 7:43 am
driftless area

Posts: 58
many if they are like the one above
KroilFebruary 29th, 2008, 8:02 am
Coastal NJ

Posts: 34
Well, this is not fish related, and i hope Jason allows this, but it does speak to our fraternity of sportsmen.

This is not a post for everyone.

For the rest of my loving, caring and compassionate

hunting friends, this is a chapter of my life about a gentle young man.

Its called "Twas the night before Christmas/Saint Nick

This took place roughly four years ago:

My local gun club is a warm and friendly place.

We have good equipment, lots of room and a great little guy named Nick.

He would ride his bike to the club every day and he kept the place spotless.

You could tell from his bike, his coat and his shoes that he was not from a family with money.

He was a clean cut, well mannered kid that always had a smile on his face and a big wad of gum in his cheek.

He was responsible for keeping the machines full of birds, sweeping the skeet fields, taking care of the litter, hulls and clay target boxes. Nick was about sixteen and hustling for enough cash to buy his first car.

He was the club’s “go to “guy if you needed help. He made minimum wage but we would always tip him a few bucks and the odd pocket knife or what ever.

I knew his mother.

For some unknown reason, Nick and I seemed to click. He was thirty years my junior and it made me happy just to have him around.

Some of the members treated him like a an employee, some treated him like a maintenance guy. I always treated him the same way I would my kids.

Ever get attached to a particular kid?

Typically, I would let him shoot the last box or too in a flat of shells after the other other members left for the night.

Nick loved to shoot.

I hadn’t been to the club for about a month given the holidays and business.

It was a warm early march evening that we were shooting skeet under the lights. The high house machine was shattering birds and I whistled to Nick to check it out.

I thought he climbed the steps a little slower than his usual spry, wiry gait and I went into the high house to see if I could help.

He was working up a sweat as he loaded the machine and cleared the arm that was full of clay pieces.

“Got everything under control bud?” I asked.

“Think so” he replied and he took off his hat to wipe the sweat from his brow.

His little head was shaved and there were the missing patches of hair that shook me almost to my knees .

I said, “Hey little buddy, let me take care of that, besides you probably should be scootin’ home by now. It’s getting’ late and I suspect you got some home work”

I reached into my pocket and gave him the few singles I had and said, “Hey Nick, let me give you a ride tonight”

“ No... I’m OK, see ya next week?, oh thanks .” He replied.

Yeah, uhh, OK Nick, see you next week”…. I barely blurted out and he was gone like a flash.

The ride home from the club seemed longer than usual that night.

I returned to the club the next Tuesday and Nick was there. I cornered him by the bird shed and asked.

“Hey Nick, what’s goin’ on with you?”

“Ahh, I have something wrong with my Pancreas, but the doctors tell my mom that things are goin’ along like they expect”

I bit my bottom lip and said, “That’s good Nick, hey, why don’t we take off outta hear a little early, I’ll buy ya a burger and you can get home early tonight?”

“But what about my job here? I mean, uhh if I leave early I might get in trouble, ya know?”

“Don’t worry Nick, I got ya covered on this one.” I said.

We went to a diner and had a cheeseburger and talked about shooting and hunting grouse, and Toyota trucks. Nick was fascinated about grouse.

“Think you could take me grouse huntin’ some time?’ he asked.

“Sure Nick, I’d love to”

That spring and summer was a character building exercise for me as I had a few more burgers with Nick a saw him get skinnier and a lot slower at his duties as our “go to” guy at the club.

I remember the call on the first Friday in October.

“”Hi Dave, its Jenn.”

“Hi Jen, How’s Nick doin’?”


What’s up?” I inquired.

“I need you to do me, or I mean, uh Nicky a favor”

“What Jen?, I’ll do anything. What do you need?”

“He want’s to go hunt those grouse things,…it seems really imortantant to him,… and I was wondering if you could help me?”

“Sure Jen, uhh, hey let me call you back, OK?”

My pillow was soaking wet when my wife snuggled in to bed with me.

What’s wrong babe? She whispered.

“Its Nick, he wants to go hunting…. with me”

“So take him Dave, it would probably be good for him”

Good for him? I thought.

“Sweetie, I’m afraid of taking him, he is uhh, uhh, I mean he looks very weak and I ohh, I don’t know what to do…”

“We’ll talk about it in the morning” she said softly and all I can remember was a peck on the cheek.

I called Jenn the next morning and told her that I was apprehensive, given his condition to take him to a mountain camp to hunt those “grousebirds”

She replied “ I’ll give you his doctors emergency number but I don’t think there is anything to worry about, just keep him warm and fed and the both of you will be back in three days, right?”

“Right,’ I replied, “But Jen…”

“Hold on she said, “Nick wants to ask you what to pack”..

I have to admit that I was on edge about the whole thing.

I went to the club the next night but Nick was not there.

And that worried me. I was a vulnerable ball of nerves that night.

I was shooting my second round when I heard some overweight slob say,

“HEY, where’s that little creep that’s supposed to keep these machines working?”

I am sure he never saw it coming.

I know this as I was the one who gave it to him square on the nose. And I suspect I may have beat that fat f++k within an inch of his life if I wasn’t shaken back to reality by a few other club members.

Rumor has it that he cried like a baby and bled like a stuck pig. I have no regrets on that one. None.

Ironically, I knew I was heading down that same road too.

Our three hour drive to camp was a constant conversation about how to hunt and how to shoot those “grousebirds” interspersed with a fuel stop and our traditional “cheeseburger talks” which were mainly about Nick’s new car. Nick wanted a Tacoma.

I wanted to buy him one at that very second.

I was nervous as hell.

My best friend, Joe, was to meet us in camp with two shorthairs named Woody and Ginger. We kept a simple camp that weekend in case Nick had any problems and we needed to leave fast.

Nick was in great spirits that night around the fire. Its funny how dogs attenuate to kids, and the elderly. And the terminally ill.

They bathed Nick in love that night, and I was somehow content in the whole melody of life that took place around that fire ring. But I could see the tendons in his hands and those hollow eye sockets.

I didn’t sleep much that night.

We wolfed down some wild apple pancakes the next morning and dressed Nick in his first set of chaps and a game vest.

He looked so frail in those hand-me-downs.

As far as the hunting went that day, we had a hard time moving birds but Joe managed to fold a big old male just before dark.

We gave Nick that bird and he preened that birds tail fan around the fire into the night.

Nick was slobbering at the mouth like “ole yeller” at this point and wanted to shoot one of those birds. Bad.

I wanted nothing more in my life than to make that happen.

The next morning was threatening rain and we hunted early.

Joe shot another bird as soon as we had entered the orchard and he dumped it in my game bag. And winked at me.

Nick shot too.

We had hunted right out of camp and had gone about three hundred yards,…. a juvenile bird hopped up on a low limb and stared at us.

“Nick”, I said.

Nick was hypnotized.

“NICK! I hissed


“If we back off a bit, that bird will probably flit to the ground and we can hunt it up and maybe you can get a shot”

“OK” he creaked.

And we backed off and the grouse gods shined on us as that little female jumped back down to the wet leaves below her perch.

“OK, ready Nick, were just gonna move up slowly and when she busts, just swing on her and slap the trigger, Ok?

I could see those little yellow hands shaking.

We got about thirty yards from the tree and Ginger locked up.

Get ready Nick, remember to push off your safety too” I whispered… and BBBBBBRRRRRRRRRRRR

Out she went and I heard a shot nearly in my left ear.

“Did I hit it?’

“I don’t think so Nick, but we’ll check. ...GINGER! DEAD BIRD, HUNT “EM UP “ I barked.

But it was not meant to be.

Nick and I sat on and old wet rotting log and just soaked up the moment.

He was shaking with the same excitement that each and every one of us has felt on that first thunderous flush when we first pulled the trigger.

We shared a couple of root beer barrel candies I had in my vest.

He was sitting next to me and I couldn’t help but see how frail and thin and creamy pale he looked.

He leaned into me and I put my arm around those little shoulders just to keep him a little warmer as the drizzle started to fall.

I could tell Nick was exhausted from the walk and thought it best to get back to camp.

Its is a feeling you get when you have kids and have seen them when they are dog tired.

Before we stood, I said, “Hey Nick..”


I’m pretty sure that you killed that bird that Joe shot at….”

Yeah??” he inquired with that “hoping I was right” tone.

“Yeah” I said and I pulled that half stiff Ruff out of my vest, …“Yeah you got him and we are gonna cut his fan off for you to keep and cook him tonight and you are gonna eat him , OK?..... And I might let you have a few sips of my beer if you want”


“Let’s get back to camp.”

The ride home was and still is a blur for me.

I know we stopped for gas and had a cheeseburger.

I do remember seeing that kid run up his front stoop with his duffle bag and his tail fan. I hadn’t seen him move that fast since last march.

He turned and smiled an ocean of thanks at me when Jenn opened the screen door.

In memory:

Nicholas (Nick) Streuer met that beautiful white light on December 24th, 2003.

He succumbed eventually to a disease that we know little of and can do nothing about.

He was cremated with his tail fan and his Toyota hat.

His ashes grace our little mountain camp nestled in the Catskills.

Every time I preen a fan I think of Nick

And every time Nick thinks about me, I believe I get to preen a new fan

I remember an aching in my soul as I opened gifts with my six year old daughter Sarah and my ten year old son Justin the next morning.

If you ever have a chance to give back to this world more than you take, find the time to help a child or a young adult.

It is by far the most difficult thing you may ever do.

And it is worth every second of your time......

Hows that Len?

When I found the skull in the woods, the first thing I did was call the police. But then I got curious about it. I picked it up, and started wondering who this person was, and why he had deer horns. - Jack Handey

LenHFebruary 29th, 2008, 9:12 am
driftless area

Posts: 58
thank you
Al514February 29th, 2008, 2:43 pm
Central New York

Posts: 142
Simply amazing stories.
Shawnny3February 29th, 2008, 3:07 pm
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Thank you, Kroil, for posting these stories. I've only read the first one (I'll read the second one later when I have more time), and it was wonderful. It really takes me back to when my grandfather was alive. He was a much better fisherman than I'll ever be. I was just beginning to flyfish around the time he died, and I only got the chance as an adult to fish with him a few times, times that are etched deep in my memory. I've written a freewrite about him before, but you may have inspired me with your story to write something more substantial. Thanks for sharing.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
MartinlfFebruary 29th, 2008, 3:14 pm
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3233
Another great story.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Shawnny3March 1st, 2008, 7:43 am
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Just read the second story - awesome. Brought a tear to my eye. Thanks for sharing, Dave.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
WbranchMarch 13th, 2008, 6:00 am
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2733
Wonderful story that made me weep.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.

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