The Legend Of Shorty McFane
Next time you see a kid showing a little interest in what you love to do stop for a moment and carefully show him or her how you become involved. Even with your own flaws, the experience could make a difference in their lives.
By Doc Knoll.
It's mid winter and instead of telling you how to oil your fishing gear or some other aspect of winter angling I thought I'd just write you a simple story.
Shorty really should have been named "Stretch" or "Lanky" because he stood close to seven feet tall. He was a preacher by profession but that only lasted a short while. I remember he told me, "my parishioners got stiff necks just trying to speak to me. That's when I decided to give it up." But Shorty was a die hard fly fisherman in a time when fly fishing was something that was often discussed, laughed at, but certainly not considered a worthy pursuit.
I met him one day on a trout stream in the "hunt country" of New Jersey. I was all of eleven or twelve years old. I didn't notice him at first because he sat with his back against a big oak tree. He was reading a book on entomology and another on the American Revolution. As I moved unknowingly closer to his position, I steadily cast my light spinner ahead of me. Fish after fish was fooled, landed and released before he finally spoke out to reveal himself.
"Be sure to leave a few untouched for me," he said as his thunderous voice boomed across the water. The harsh breaking of the forest's tranquility nearly sent my young body careening into the water. I certainly didn't expect to hear a voice this deep in the woods. However Shorty waved a harmless hand at me when I turned to see who had been watching my actions.
"Hello," I said shyly. I wasn't exactly in my home neighborhood and for me the meeting of new people was still a fairly new experience. Except I was soon to learn that if you were to meet a new person, Shorty would certainly be a good one to meet.
On that day I quickly learned that he was a preacher who had returned to farming in a land where farmers didn't really exist. Sure the farms and estates still looked as though crops were grown on them but it was just for the tax write offs. Shorty fit comfortably in these prestigious circles and the "fancy" books he read seemed to emphasize it.
I also found out that the woods and the creek in which I fished was part of his estate and his first love was fly fishing. He said that he enjoyed fishing alone in places that people wouldn't look at him as a freaky giant. Since I was all of four feet and then some, his height really didn't matter to me. I had to look up at nearly everyone and as far as I knew this land and stream couldn't actually owned by someone. To me Shorty was just a big guy with a long wooden fishing pole that had line on it that would certainly scare anything from the water.
I guess all the clerical training from Drew University paid off because Shorty certainly knew how to begin a conversation with a young kid. I didn't know it then but on that day he took my small brain in his lanky hands and began to mold a portion of it into a fly-fishing angler.
Shorty was a nymph fisherman. His great height and reach coupled with a nine foot Tonkin cane rod enabled him to drop nymphs in some highly inaccessible parts of the creek. But that was were the fish were and I quickly found after a brief demonstration, that there was actually something to this hobby of fly-fishing.
I think what really convinced me to continue my interest in this hobby was the dry fly. Sure I had slipped a few grasshoppers on my hook and floated them down a creek or cast them upon a pond, but to watch Shorty catch fish after fish on a feather wrapped around a hook was truly amazing. I also learned something else on that day that shaped my life.
You see, Shorty had a rugby injury he received while attending Drew. Since I lived near Drew's campus I knew what a hard and physically demanding game it was. But his injury to his shoulder wouldn't allow Shorty to cast his fly rod in the conventional "overhand" manner which we all have witnessed. He had to cast side armed. I believe this unconventional manner of casting is why he enjoyed dappling a nymph through a pool or run on that little creek. . It also told me that you make do with what you have and you need not fit the "standard" to be successful at anything in life and trust me I do not fit many standards..
So on that warm summer day in the middle of an oak forest, I began my education on fly fishing and some of the simple pleasures of life. Many of these values I still carry with me. The shame of it is now that I raise genetic hackle and have a fly fishing products business, I really wish that I could send Shorty a few good feathers for tying up some dry flies and a pocketful of nymphs to help pass time on his creek but I cannot. Shorty died some time ago. I don't know when but I know he's gone. Age has a natural way of doing that.
Shorty taught me a lot during our brief period together. His side armed cast I still use in certain situations and because of his injury I have never looked at casting within a standard form as a necessity. In fact it kind of irks me when instructors are insistent with their students on form, form, form. To me it's all hogwash. Dappling a fly on the water like I first saw on that day in 1960 will still produce fish and those books he was reading... I read them. I also read a bunch more. Thank you Shorty.
So next time you see a kid showing a little interest in what you love to do stop for a moment and carefully show him or her how you become involved. Even with your own flaws the experience could make a difference in their lives. It's the only way to continue the cycle and maybe some day when you're gone a young kid will bring you back to life in a story if only for a moment.