A sort of big story among all the little stories that move us anglers has been the changing fortunes of the R.L. Winston fly rod company that began in San Francisco in 1929 and has recently had such a turbulent time of it--ending up in Montana, and I decline to mention elsewhere.
Well before the dreary excesses of glass, carbon, and boron, the craftsmen in San Francisco developed a way of hollowing out the lower reaches of a bamboo fly rod, leaving a rather stunning, fluted-hollow interior, preserving all the near miraculous dynamics of the bamboo while reducing the over-all weight of the already fabulous rod.
And on such a hollow-built Winston fly rod hangs my tale.
With a GI Bill bachelor of arts, a new car, and both of us at the ready, Betty and I departed Boulder on September 1,1950, wondering already where the next fifty years would see us…. We were off to Powell, Wyoming, way up in the northwest corner of the state to begin life as a school teacher—and to fish those excellent waters.
But, as non-residents, unable to afford Wyoming licenses. We contented ourselves on weekends prowling about upper-Wyoming, lower Montana, and outer Idaho, all gathered around the wonders of the Yellowstone country. We searched the waters and laid plans.
I particularly wanted to see Henry’s Lake in Idaho, just over the west side of Yellowstone. We got there, at the Howard Creek inlet, one mid-Saturday morning. Pulling up on the lake shore in a old campground, we were immediately struck by the sight of a lone angler, sitting low in the water in a proto-float tube, casting what must have been a nymph, casting more beautifully and masterfully than I had ever dreamed possible. He was rolling out casts of 60 to 70feet with such relaxed ease, his back-casts so elegantly high in the air behind him, those exquisite curves of silk line rolling up and out to begin to fall at the precisely right moment, to drop his nymph in a dimple, into the obscurity of a pocket in the willows—I would not have thought such casting possible. We even got to see a huge brook trout swirl beneath his fly, take it and our angler for a free ride up the inlet.
So, he came ashore with his big brook and walking past us to his car, gave us a pleasant good morning. I ventured to comment on the beauty of his casting. That stopped him. He turned to say that it was not so much his ability as it was the work of this particular rod, this hollow built L.R. Winston 7 ½ foot cane rod of some 3 ½ ounces. He let me hold it- a living thing of something near to perfection.
And so we came to know about Winston rods, way back then, in the beginning of a sort of golden age of fly fishing, never imagining that it might come to the sadness of the present moment.
Our master of the fly then drove away, leaving us standing there, as they say, with our teeth in our mouth, wondering what to do next on Henry’s Lake….
Walk its shoreline to see what we could see-- where down the way was this disaster of a two-man tent, fallen in and, lo and behold, two old guys on their hands and knees crawling out from under the mess. One tried to stand and instantly collapsed. They tried to help each other, but could only thrash around helplessly amid all their old gear. And they saw us and were, I guess, what you would call “abashed”. They began to giggle and wonder what we thought of their helplessness, so terribly hung over from last night’s drink. Like the caster’s casting, this was being hung-over the likes of which we had not seen.
They wanted to make a pot of coffee fast and for us to join them. A beat up old Coleman camp stove appeared out of a pile of equipment, got pumped up, primed, coffee set—a match struck, and the whole thing went up in flames- exploded burned up that old stove to its very cremains.
That did it. Rolling on the ground, peels of near hysterical laughter, the funniest thing in the world, wasn’t it? before the bottom began dropping out, and more than half sick, they had to begin heaving their stuff into their pick-up for a get-away. But not before—and they insisted on it—we looked into their gunny sack at two limits of 3 and 4 pound brooks they had taken the night before and then celebrated with that glorious bout of drinking that this morning had laid them so low.
And they were gone. And we had scouted Henry’s Lake. And were determined to return in the spring to do our duty by these great fish.