At the last Cincinnati tackle show, I was fortunate enough to come across a great vintage glass fly rod: a two-piece, 8' Heddon Mark I. The amazing thing about this rod was that it was brand spanking new -- it even had the original Heddon sticker on the grip denoting its original sale price as $17.95.
The question I posed to friends of mine, and on the neat Fiberglass Fly Rod forum, was whether I should fish the rod or not. The answers came down about 50-50. Some people argued that a rod this pristine should be kept on the shelf, as they are very rare and should be preserved in original like new condition. Others noted that, after all, it is a fishing rod designed to be used, and that it would be a shame that it would never see water.
I thought long and hard about this; I wanted to give my older brother a great glass rod to use, as he's partial to new composites and I wanted him to feel what a well made glass rod feels like. But did I want him to use this? Did I want to use this? Should I just go out and find a used Mark I and use that one instead?
Weighty questions. After all, we would never take a brand new #740 Heddon Punkinseed in Yellow Shore Minnow fishing, although the same arguments apply to it as apply to vintage rods. But there is something about vintage rods that simply BEG to be fished. In perhaps an extreme case (some might say of insanity), I have a friend who fishes a vintage bamboo rod over a century old and worth at least $10,000.
At what point does our tackle become too valuable to fish? This particular model was a half century old, and although thousands of this particular model were made, how many exist today in unfished condition? Is there a cutoff date for retiring our tackle?
At least for me, the temptation was too great. Like a luxury car buyer who knows that the first mile out of the dealership depreciates the car by 20%, I took the rod north to take it fishing. Maybe I would even change my mind...after all, I would only have a few short days before my conference began. Perhaps I wouldn't even have time to take it out...
Well, the weather is very cold here in Northern Wisconsin (dropped to mid-30s last night). Today as I prepared notes for the conference, the boys decided to take a trip into town. I would have about three hours to myself. I began to think, if I was going to give to rod to my brother, at least I should break it in for him, right? We are creatures of expediency who make justifications to fit our mood.
I strung up the rod with a Martin fly reel, a sinking line, and one of my hand-made balsa fly rod minnows. For those of you who have been following the blog, you know that I have taken to fly fishing with fly rod lures I have made myself.
Unlike summer smallies, in the fall in this part of the country bass feed deeper, following schools of minnows up and down the drop offs as the water temperature precipitously falls. In cloudy weather I find the best time to hit them is between noon and two p.m.. I like to use minnow replicas like my Balsa Fly Rod minnow, about 3/4" long, made with a big white swan tip for a tail. I feel the big tail helps attract attention, and makes the lure look like a bigger minnow than it actually is.
Although the Balsa Fly Rod minnow works fine as a surface bait, in the fall I like to use it with a sinking line, letting the line go down to the bottom where the balsa will float the minnow up away from any snags. Fairly rapid stripping makes the minnow dart. I was hopeful for a quick hit, as I was standing in waist deep water on the end of a bend and the water was chilly, to say the least.
What about the rod? The Heddon Mark I cast like a dream. After a bit of adjustment it shot the sinking line out perfectly, and although I definitely am a "dry fly" surface kind of guy, not being able to see the hit is certainly a great thrill in and of itself. In the middle of the north woods, with no one else in sight, on a crisp fall day with a new (old) fly rod in my hands. The stress and strain of everyday life melted away, detritus blowing in the crisp fall wind.
What could be better? A fish, that's what. Nature is a cruel mistress, but this time she did not deny me. Stripping the minnow up a gradual incline, about 15 feet in front of me, something hit it like a freight train. One minute I'm stripping air, the next I've got solid weight on the other end--a bronze streak of lightning that hit like Ray Lewis on a rookie halfback. Built like a football, I could see it had put on winter weight already and could barely get its body out of the water. He made one run, another, a third. The line sang off the fly reel; five glorious minutes that make life worth living. Too soon he was lying in three inches of cold water.
Taking photographs while fishing alone is always a huge problem. I set the no longer new rod down in the shallow water, laid out the fish next to it, and snapped a few photos with the digital camera.
I did manage to drop the camera in the sand, so although I caught two more, with my hands as cold as they were I didn't trust that I would be able to keep the camera out of the drink.
And there we go. The Heddon Mark I was no longer a new old rod. It admirably accomplished what it was built for -- catching fish. I'm sure I damaged its value as a collectable. But as I sat back and watched that beautiful bass swim quickly back into the black depths, monetary thoughts were the furthest thing from my mind.
To fish or not to fish? That is the question. At least in this case, I got a fairly definitive answer.
-- Dr. Todd from Northern Wisconsin