Until he was eighteen years old young William did not know his biological father even existed. William had thought his stepfather, the only father he had ever known, was his real father. His mother, pregnant with William when our next door neighbor shipped overseas for a tour in Nam, had divorced Mike and remarried and never bothered to tell William differently. The truth that his real father was alivefinally revealed during the acrimony of a second divorcewas devastating. From that moment William was determined to meet and build a relationship with Mike. For his part, Mike was as delightedand nervousabout their meeting as was his long-lost son.
Neither man need have worried. Mike had served his country honorably and returned to build a life as a decent and hard working husband to his second wife. He was not a druggie or alcoholic as, tragically, too many of our returning veterans had become. A likable man and a valued neighbor.
For his part, William was a fine young man: a natural athlete and accomplished guitarist, an "A" student then in his senior year of high school in Oklahoma City. William apparently was popular with his peers, had a special girl, didnt do drugs or consume alcohol and regularly attended church. In short, the son Mike or any father could justifiably take pride in.
As Mike quickly learned through letters and over the telephone, William had two overriding passions: hunting and fishing. And it was the latter which prompted our meeting almost from the moment he arrived from the airport. In an attempt to ensure that Williams visit to California would be more interesting (Mike neither hunts or fishes) he had, so to speak, "primed the well"; let slip that his next door neighbor was "an outdoor writer and fly fisherman."
And so it was that one evening there was a knock on our door. In stark contrast next to five feet six inch tall Mike, stood a well over six foot tall, rawboned, long-faced, blue-eyed blonde, a soft-spoken young man whose slow drawl was apparent with his acknowledgment of our introduction: "How do, mistah McKim. Im William. Ive sho heard a lot about you."
Sometime during the next ten to fifteen minutes Mike excused himself and William an I were left alone in my office. I found myself asking rapid fire questions, somewhat nervously trying to fill in the silences, trying to find common ground. "Mike tells me you like to fish, William."
"Yessir, ah do."
"Are you a fly fisherman?"
"No sir, I haven't tried thet yet . I mostly use a spinning outfit."
"Well," I offered, "you can fish a fly very well with spinning tackle rigged with a plastic bubble and a fly. Here, Ill show you how to rig it." I grabbed a notepad and rapidly sketched the basic rig. "This sort of outfit works great in high wind conditions where a fly rod and line are hell to cast."
"Yeah," William agreed, "Ive seen that method shown in a coupla magazines. Actually," he went on, "I have fished with a fly for crappie with my spinning rod, using a bubble float with a fly suspended below it weighted down with a couple of split shot. Worked great."
We went on like that, discussing types of tackle, the relative merits of the kinds of fishing available in our respective areas, and the species of fish we admired most. I said I enjoyed catching almost any kind of fish from bluegills to trout. Im not a puristIll use live or dead bait, lures, anything thats appropriate to the kind of fishing Im doingbut given the choice I prefer the sheer pleasure and feel of the fly rod with a fly. Furthermore, if I had too choose between fishing a small chalk stream with a dry fly for brown trout or casting a saltwater streamer or bucktail to Sarda lineolata, the California Bonito, Id be hard put to make the choice. "William, you would not believe how hard a bonita charges!" The one act I do despise is the killing and wasting of fish. "Unless, Im keeping a fish to eat," I said, "I turn all fish back alive and I hope you feel the same."
William allowed as he felt the same way.
"You know," I went on, "one of my personal favorite ways to fish is from a float tube. Real popular with fly casters out here in the west. Ever seen one? Ever tried it?"
William got a strange look on his face. After a pause, he said: "Yeah, Mistah McKim, ah know what youre talkin about. Ive seen pictures of em in fishin magazines. Fact is, I made one of em ..."
"You did?" I interjected, before he could continue. "Me too. The first tube I owned was one I made from a truck inner tube and some seatbelts I bought for twenty-five cents apiece in a garage sale. Worked real well until I could afford the store-bought tube I have now."
Yeah, I made it pretty much as you just described," he went on, "and it worked, too."
"Whered you use it?"
"I took it out to a local impoundment a few miles from home. I didnt have any of those fins you put on your feet, but I was able to make some progress with just my legs anyway. Course, the water there is pretty warm in the summertime so I didnt need waders; just went bare legged in shorts with a tee-shirt and a straw hat to keep the sun off my face."
"Howd you do?" I pressed. "Dya catch any thing?"
"Oh, yeah, sure did!
"What kind? Whatja use for bait."
"Crappies ... some BIG crappies! Matter of fact, I hooked and landed eight of em before I felt kinda like I was into some big weeds. I was fishin with a regular yellow crappie jig and it was red hot."
I waited for him to continue.
"Wall, Id just hooked another big two pound plus crappie and was fixin to add it to my stringer when you know what?"
"When I lifted my stringer up out of the water there was a cottenmouth moccasin hanging from ever one of those eight crappies! I figured right then that the weeds I was feelin were not weeds at all."
"GOOD GOD, WILLIAM!" The image of eight writhing deadly snakes vivid in my imagination. "Whatd you do?"
"Wall, Mistah McKim," he said without so much as the trace of a smile, "I dont quite know how it happened but the next thing I recall was me standing with one foot on one side of the tube and the other foot on the other side rowin as hard as I could to shore with my fishin pole."
"Did you ever try float tubing again?"
"No suh, I dont think ah wont to.
Copyright 1998, John F. McKim