As it is with people, the life of a fishing rod can terminate in a variety of ways. Some live long and prosperous lives, beating all odds and avoiding the many pitfalls of life, while others less fortunate fall victim to the vagaries of accident or disease, their lives claimed before their time. It can be as sudden and inglorious as a traffic accident, or perhaps carelessly broken in a car door or trunk, or worse still, trod upon by a careless friend, or maybe even fall victim to a low ceiling fan with an insatiable hunger for rod tips. On other occasions, it can also be in the blazing glory of battle, under the weight of a large fish, when an overexerted rod has a sudden coronary and the graphite explodes into an aneurism of fibers unable to maintain their corporal integrity. But no matter how the death occurs, as it is with people, there is always a deep sense of personal loss. There is nothing as obvious in life as that which has been lost.
On several occasions, it has fallen upon me to lay several rods to rest and each time it has proved difficult, realizing that like an old and trusted childhood friend that had recently passed, it could never be replaced by any newer model. There was a comfort, a mutual trust, a history built over the years, a confidence in each other that couldn’t be replaced by a quick over the counter purchase.
The first broken rod was a steelhead rod, a ten foot GLX noodle rod that despite my ineptitude, always managed to find a sweet spot in those wild rainbows of the Niagara River and somehow managed to control their attempts to return to Lake Ontario. Its parabolic bend, like a ballet dancer or a gymnast in full stretch, was a combination of both grace and power, strength and flexibility through the marriage of physics and space age composite materials, which possessed a life of its own. With properties capable of detecting the minutest strike, light as a feather yet strong enough to tame a tyee salmon, it had been in my comany for decades and was a most trusted companion. Ironically, its demise came about not as a result of a fish but basically of human stupidity, probably the root cause of all rod mortality. Without elaborating on the details, suffice to say that fishing in a small creek with a rod a few feet longer than the creek is wide is not recommended. So my ten foot wand gets circumcised six inches off the top, and although still somewhat functional owing to a surgical tip replacement, the feng shue of its anime has been thrown off kilter and the damn thing never felt right since that fateful day. But I stubbornly refused to discard it, or even redeem the lifetime guarantee because in the intervening decades since my original purchase, the company had been bought out and no longer manufactured the same product anymore – only a reasonable facsimile, now outsourced to China, that they deemed to be an equivalent model. Besides, when I finally relented and called their customer service department, the polite lady at the other end of the line, unaware of the magnitude of my personal loss, instructed me to break the rod into eight inch pieces to facilitate transport.
“Excuse me – you want me to what?” I responded mortified at the thought. Breaking it once unintentionally had mortified me – now they expected me to break it into another twelve pieces? The mere thought of doing so reminded me of a gangland style disposal of incriminating evidence, hacking off appendages with a chainsaw to facilitate disposal.
“You mean, you want me to break it more?”
The thought of causing more damage to my trusted rod seemed morally untenable, as reprehensible as the desecration of a dead body. Who knew what fate awaited it back at the factory, if it would be melted down and recycled into another rod to serve again or would just end up in a garbage bin. After much deliberation my decision was to keep it close to me, where it enjoys the honor and respect so rightfully deserved through decades of dedicated service, now holding a permanent resting place in my office where every so often I can pick her up and reminisce as I run my fingers over her still smooth and strong blank. She is the Eva Peron of my fishing rods.
The second rod laid to rest was a fly rod given to me by my father. He had bought it from his friend, a fly tier of some renown who also tinkered with building rods and needed some Guinea pigs to test out his new products. Paul was a great fisherman and he put so much of himself into his rods, as he did with his flies, that the sum of its components was always greater than its constituent parts. The rod had a spirit and life of its own, only satisfied when bent into a large arc. It was a nine foot eight weight, which basically meant that in my unconventional world of fly-fishing, it would serve well for everything from bluegill to barracuda. Thousands of fish were beaten up on that rod, from the inland lakes of Northern Quebec, mostly fishing for large pike, to the backcountry of the Everglades fishing for small tarpon. This rod taught me how to cast and fight fish, rewarding me richly when the secrets of its properties were learned. But everything has its limitations, particularly graphite, and sometimes envelopes are pushed too far. Such was the case several years ago, wading for ghostlike bones and permit in the Keys, flinging beaded Crazy Charlies in the stiff winds. The heavy fly kept whacking my rod on the forecast, possibly creating a hairline stress fracture along the graphite blank for on the next hookup, the rod bent and snapped as the bone headed for Cuba. It was a clean break, midway between the handle and the ferrule. It was a long walk across the flats back to shore. The rod was a complete write-off. A thousand miles away from home, having soldiered so valiantly for decades, it deserved a better fate than its unceremonious disposal in the dumpster behind the Bayside seafood restaurant. The only reminder I have of this rod, other than fond memories of course, is the cork butt extension that sits new on a library shelf, as I never once got around to using it. But the rod ended its existence doing what it was made to do and fulfilling its ultimate purpose, which at least made its exit a little more tolerable, although I still harbor suspicions that my poor casting and those heavy Crazy Charlies had something to do with it as well. Perhaps the worst fate of any rod, like that of any man, is to lack purpose and remain unused to gather dust in some corner, until they die of old age.
The last loss was perhaps the most intolerable and tragic, as unacceptable as the life of someone whose youthful promise was suddenly snatched away by the angel of death before their time. It was an unnecessary end, the result of both inattention and a ravenous fish. While there are no statistics compiled to bear truth to the following statement, as most victims are too probably embarrassed to come forward, there is strong reason to suspect that many rods have also suffered a similar fate. It’s the type of thing that is actually funny in a slapstick sort of way, blooper funny, but like a pie in the face or slipping on the ice, usually when it happens to somebody else. We had been hanging around forever, me and Senor IMX, a feathery one piece, six-foot fast action meat stick that was equally comfortably horsing out intransigent bass from thick cover as breaking the will of fifty pound sturgeon in open water. Its hook setting power was infallible and once hooked, the fish was almost always landed. The first time using this rod on the Ottawa River, I hooked over sixty bass and only lost one. It was a magical wand. For years we traipsed across the countryside searching for large fish and it was always equal to the challenge, and very versatile no matter what was thrown its way – Muskies in Georgian Bay, steelhead in Superior, bass in Quetico. We did it all.
Our history came to an end several weeks ago while fishing for musky, those crazy, enigmatic creatures of a thousand casts. I was twitching sucker minnows off a deep weed line when suddenly feeling the irrepressible call of nature. The action had been steady all morning and the fish were hot, landing one and losing another with a few curious follows in between. I laid the rod across the tubes of the inflatable boat, the minnow still seductively dangling a few inches under the water, and turn to do my business. The next second my partner yells out “fish on.” Because I didn’t have a rod in my hand, it only seemed logical to assume that the fish was on his rod, until when turning to see the commotion and peeing all over the boat in the process, was instead horrified to catch a final glimpse of the butt end of my rod, now several feet beneath the clear water trailered by an angry musky disappearing at light speed down into the depths of the lake. It was like a hit-and-run accident. There wasn’t enough time for either of us to react and besides, the water was too cold to go overboard after it. It was an expensive sacrifice to the fish gods. While we tried snagging it off the bottom but to no avail. While the location of its watery grave has been marked in the g.p.s. of my mind, there still remains a faint glimmer of hope that one day we might still be re-united gain. In my mind, perhaps as somewhat of a consolation to my unwillingness to let it go, that rod is not considered dead quite yet, just in limbo, comatose, missing in action, or a P.O.W.
And in the end, usually because we have no other choice, as the clock never turns back and the past can never be fully reclaimed, and because our lives continue despite all suffering through all conceivable categories of loss, both personal and material, we do eventualy wind up making new friends and replacing our old rods. But it is never the quite the same again, which I suppose in the long run, is really the way all things are meant to be.