I quickly tied flies with de-barbed hooks onto their lines before I set my focus on one person at a time. Maureen was the first of the three in line to help, and after casting out her crawdad fly with no luck, I quickly switched over to a popper.
“How will I know when a fish hits it?” She asked, as I handed her the rod back.
“Oh...” I chuckled, “...you will know.” A few pops was all she needed before a bass took like a submarine breaking the surface.
“Whoa!” Maureen yelled, after the bass had completely leapt out of the water.
“Pull back! Pull back!” I yelled, “it ate your fly”. Maureen brought her rod tip up, but the fish had shaken the fly off by then.
“Don’t worry, we will get another one.” I reassured her, and casted her fly back out. Boom! A bass took and Maureen’s rod shot to the sky. I showed her how to strip in her line, but with the fear of losing another fish Maureen did the one thing she knew would work: she ran backwards.
Her fly rod was doubled over with the weight of the fish, but Maureen didn’t let go. She continued backwards until her fish was completely landed screaming, “I got one! I got one!”
“Well, that’s one way to do it.” I laughed, running over to grab the fish. Maureen was right beside me and ready for a picture.
“Okay, this thing is going to kick, but hold it tight so it doesn’t flop out of your grasp.” I said, handing her the fish.
“Okay.” She said, and held up her fish for a hero shot.
“Okay, keep fishing. I’m going to help Patty.” I said, and ran over to Patty before she could hook herself in the face with her wild casting.
“Mind if I cast it out for you?” I asked, after replacing her fly with a popper.
“Not at all.” Patty said, handing me the fly rod. With a quick flick, I sent the popper flying out into untouched water.
“Okay, give it a few pops.” I instructed.
“What kind of fly is this?” She asked,
“Well, it’s named perfect.” She said, after bringing her fly back in.
“Let’s go over here.” I said, walking a bit further away from the main crowd and casting her fly out again. Patty had good popping technique, and the commotion her fly was producing looked delicious. KA-BLAM!
“Ahhh!” Patty screamed, setting the hook fast, and running backwards.
“You have a huge bass on!” I yelled excitedly, getting the attention of her colleagues. We all watched as Patty brought in her bass. Patty was beaming with the kind of smile seen in toothpaste commercials.
The bass was landed, and it took two hands for me to grab it and keep it under control.
“Ready for a picture?” I asked.
“Hell yeah.” She said, grabbing the fish without hesitation.
Patty placed her fish back in the water, and with one huge kick the fish took off, leaving us shielding our faces from the splash of water.
“Okay, keep on fishing, I’m going get Lachelle into a fish.” I said, then ran over to Lachelle and quickly tied on a popper.
“How have you been doing over here?” I asked.
“I think there is something wrong with this line, it’s not going out very far.” She said, as I clipped my forceps back on my lanyard and gave her a smile.
“You’re going to tell me it’s not my line, huh?” She asked.
“Casting fly line takes more practice than what we have provided for you today. How about I cast it out for you?” I asked.
Lachelle handed over the fly rod to me, but reluctantly. I could sense that she was not ok with me casting for her... She wanted to cast and catch a fish on a cast that she, and only she, performed. It takes one to know one, I thought. The look in her eyes, the hesitation to hand over the fly rod, the drive or need to do it yourself... She is the real thing, whether she knows it or not, Lachelle is a angler.
“Okay...” Lachelle said, realizing that it was not me wanting to take away her experience, but simply the cards that we were dealt today. “... okay, as long as I catch a fish and Richard doesn’t!”
“Who is Richard?” I asked.
“He is our leader, and everything is a competition to him.” She explained.
“Well let’s get your fish then!”
“Hell yeah!” She said, and I casted and handed her the rod.
“Set! Set!” I yelled, after a fish grabbed her popper from the surface.
“Whoa, whoa, you’re gettin' all technical on me. I don’t know what ‘set’ means.” She said.
“Sorry, it means pull back and set the hook.” I said, casting her fly out again. She took the rod back, and this time she nailed it.
“Aaaah, I got a fish! I got one!” She yelled, as her fish grappled to free itself.
Lachelle’s rod was dancing like a night out at the club, but she had everything under control. I got down to the water as fast as I could, and lipped her bass as soon as I could reach it.
“Yeaaa!” She yelled, as I held it up for her to take.
“Oh... I’m not sure about this part...” She said, reluctantly extending her hand and grabbing the fish.
“It’s not so bad.” She said, referring to the experience holding the fish.
“Naaa. Ready for a picture?” I asked.
“Yeah, this one is for you, Richard.” She laughed.
“Ok, you can throw it back.” I said, wanting a pleasant shot of her releasing her fish. That is not what I got. She took the word “throw” a little more serious and flung her fish out as far as she could.
Richard ended up not catching a fish that evening, and I could hear Lachelle casually saying, “Hey Richard, it’s okay... Sure I got one, but it’s not a competition.”
“How did you guys do?” I asked, as I sat with the rest of the volunteers.
“One lady hooked herself.” Darren said.
“Yep. John had to come over and get the hook out.”
“Tell him what John did!” Trent, Darren’s buddy, said.
“Well.” Darren smiled, “John came over to do the push the eye down and pull from the bend of the hook thing, and when he went to pull the hook out, the line slipped from his hand, driving the barb deeper.”
“Oh, God!” I said, covering my eyes.
“Yep, her eyes got huge, and we had to get her a full glass of wine to help calm her down. John did it again and this time got the hook out. ” Trent said, to finish the story.
It was getting dark, and the HP team was heading towards the bus. Maureen, Patty, and Lachelle thanked me before they took off, and the volunteers and I broke down all the fly rods to end the day. We all stood around as we shared success stories of the evening that were filled with smiles and laughter. I can only hope the HP team is doing the same thing right this moment.