June 26, 2013 —
Have you read any of the books written by John Voelker? This gentleman was once a Supreme Court Justice of the State of Michigan. If not his book, perhaps you are familiar with his short essay, “Testament of Fisherman.” In all of his writings, he used the pen name Robert Traver. He burst onto the national scene when in 1958 he wrote the novel “Anatomy of a Murder.” The book attracted the attention of Hollywood. It was made into a movie starring Jimmy Stewart and Lee Remick. The financial success of the book allowed Judge Voelker, late in life, to devote himself to writing and fly fishing. His favorite fishing place was located on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His name for this secret spot was Frenchman’s Pond. The pond and the rickety old cabin that sat beside it were made famous through his books, titled “Trout Madness,” “Trout Magic” and “Anatomy of a Fisherman.” He often wrote of “the pleasure of sipping bourbon out of an old tin cup.” I own his three fishing books, and they are great reading material. His short essay, “Testament of a Fisherman,” begins with the line, “I fish because I love to; because the environs where trout are found, are invariably beautiful; and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly.” In a one-minute reading, he sums up why fishing is such an attractive sport. Charles Kuralt, famous for his commentaries on radio and television once described Judge Voelker as, “the greatest man he had ever interviewed.” Kuralt, himself, was an expert fly fisher.
Our stay in Texas has proved to be longer than expected. First, we were here for our grandson’s high school graduation. Now it is the ongoing efforts by the oncologist to stabilize the way Barbara’s blood reacts to the medications she takes for her chronic myeloid leukemia. Over time, both of us had developed a bad case of Fishitis. The only cure for this particular malady is to go fishing. This prompted us to seek out our own Frenchman’s Pond. We did find one. It is a small pond only 25 minutes east of Trophy Club, TX. It is known that Judge Voelker’s pond contained mostly small brook trout. Similarly, our pond’s largemouth bass and brim are not exactly tackle busters. Even so, on a two-weight eight-foot, eight-inch Winston graphite rod, the bass and the brim are capable of putting a pretty bend in the rod.
You will not find this Winston rod in any catalog. In 1993, their rods were made for the Japanese market. They sold poorly in Japan. Winston allowed them to be returned and then distributed them to selected Winston dealers. Joe McFadden’s shop in Hankins, NY received two of these rods. Barbara and I liked them so much we bought both of them. This is a perfect rod for our Frenchman’s Pond.
When we fish there, we share the rod. One of us will fish, while the other sits and rests. After either a missed strike or a captured fish, the sitter becomes the fisher while the fisher sits. Occasionally our pond surprises us. One evening last week, right at dusk, it became Barb’s turn to fish. The fly in use was a yellow, size-12 deer-hair popper. The design of the bug has long been credited to H.G. Tapply. For 35 years, Tapply wrote a column for Field and Stream titled “Taps Tips.” In the 1995 January-February issue of American Angler magazine, the derivation of “Taps Bug” was thoroughly described. The article states, “For more than half a century, ‘Taps Bus’ has been used to fool bass and other fishes.”
In the fading light, Barb cast the little bug out onto the stillness of the pond. She then made a short strip with the fly line, causing the bug to make a little “pop.” The ripples this caused gradually faded away. Unknown to her, a bass attracted by the “pop” was now watching the bug intently. Aha, here were two predators, their muscles tense with anticipation, about to be entwined. Barb raised the rod tip slightly, causing the bug to jiggle producing a tiny ripple. The bug disappeared. The two were now joined, one in fear, the other in exhilaration. The lithe rod became bent in a tight arc. Moments later, I took Barbara’s picture holding the largest bass our pond has produced. Ah, that little jiggle. At 83 years of age, she still has the fishing touch of a Great Blue Heron.