Uncle Jack didn’t look like your typical fly-fisherman, with all the latest matched clothing, gear and gadgets.
He usually wore a faded pair of blue jeans, a T-shirt with a funny saying of some sort and a cap. One that read “Tullamore Dew” was a favorite I recall.
He kept his battered fly rod and tackle box in his car trunk when traveling. You never knew when a roadside stream or pond would pop up with a few minutes to spare.
Uncle Jack, my mom’s brother, taught me the lifelong passion of fishing when I was a little kid, a valuable gift and life tool that did indeed keep on giving. He was one of my all-time heroes for many reasons, a wonderful man filled with kindness, laughter and quiet passion.
There were many times when he didn’t have to take me along with his older pals, or patiently explain this or that on casting and catching … and enjoying the special moments and sweet settings.
I would do the rowing in the early morning mist on the glassy surfaces of lakes in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois or Wisconsin, where he bought a cabin with the love of his life, my Aunt Lori. We both were born and raised in the gritty steel mill neighborhoods of Chicago’s South Side, so these trips or family vacations were more valuable than a sack of gold.
No, Uncle Jack didn’t look like a fly-fisherman who just strutted out of Cabela’s, but his work on the water was that of a tuxedoed maestro.
You could almost hear the tap-tap-tap of a baton to start the symphony as he swished the heavy line with the fly attached at the end over our heads, pulling line with his other hand until the little fake bug floated through the air and landed right at its target, next to a weed bank or lily pad. A perfect cast. Fishing poetry in motion.
A few flicks from his wrist sent little waves onto the water and the bug was too tempting for a fat, shiny bluegill. Slurp … Uncle Jack would keep the rod tip tight while reeling the small fly rod handle and soon he would be holding up his flip-flopping prize.
A million moonbeams lit up his face. Uncle Jack was a kid again.
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Uncle Jack so sadly died in 2001 at the age of 68, leaving behind my favorite aunt and enough precious memories to build a castle. Since my early days with my idol, I have been so fortunate to fish for bass, catfish, bluegill and crappie in the Midwest, huge largemouth bass in Florida, snapper and bonefish off the Keys, walleye and northern pike in Canada, hundreds of striped bass from Lake Mead and Lake Powell, mahi-mahi in Hawaii, albacore off of San Diego and trout in Utah and Colorado. The list goes on and on and I am currently blessed to live in Pinedale, Wyoming, where I have caught my biggest rainbow, brown and mackinaw lake trout at spectacularly beautiful Fremont Lake.
There are too many awesome fishing friends to mention in one column, but they had the same traits of generosity with their time, boats and equipment. They shared their incredible knowledge and love for fishing, along with their unending respect for the landscapes and waterways and of course the fish.
Often the recipient of their love for fishing was a young boy or girl, many out for their first time. And I cannot emphasize this enough because it is so true: If you take the time to take a kid fishing, you are an instant hero. You could very well be saving their lives or improving them dramatically along their often-difficult path. Sounds corny, to get a kid or teen hooked on fishing instead of alcohol or drugs, but it’s so true.
Moab and the state of Utah have great places to start a kid fishing. Ken’s Lake is right up the road and has such a beautiful backdrop of mountains and red rocks. It also has a variety of catchable fish, especially rainbows. Make it a fun day full of mechanical and safety tips, of course. But try to catch some fish, too, and watch the little faces glow with excitement and delight.
Fish Lake is a great fishery and only a few hours away. Rent a boat or fish from shore and you could land anything from a huge mackinaw to tasty cutthroats or even perch.
The important part is to do it. Take a little boy or girl fishing. You might be saving their lives and opening years and years of healthy fun and pleasure.
Just like my beloved Uncle Jack did for me.
Mike Fitzgerald is a freelance writer who used to live in Moab. He can be reached at Revfitz22@aol.com.
“If you take the time to take a kid fishing, you are an instant hero.”