When is a willow as good as graphite or boron?
Answer: When a Spokane Valley fly fisher shows up on the St. Joe River without his fishing rod.
Dan Carpenter had already driven a couple hours to the St. Joe River for an early-season trip and was packing the drift boat before he realized he’d forgotten his fly rod at home.
“I had all the gear for an overnighter, all the food, extra clothes, everything for the boat, boxes of flies, my reels — but no rod,” Carpenter recalled. “I felt sick.”
Instead of stewing in chagrin, Carpenter took the misfortune as a challenge.
“I could have borrowed a rod, but I got to thinking how my dad used to talk about fly fishing instructors who’d come to West Valley High School and demonstrate fly casting with a tennis racket. The point was that fly casting is all about managing the line and letting it generate the forces that do the work.
“I remember Dad saying that a good fly fisher could do the job with a stick.”
Sitting around the fire with his fishing partners, Jim Boyd and his son, Daniel, the talk of anglers spending $600 on custom rods sealed the quest.
“I cut a willow from the bank and I had everything else I needed in my truck,” he said. “I used duct tape to fasten my Pflueger Medalist (reel) to the stick and did the same with paper clips to make the line guides up the stick. That’s all there was to it.”
The product was more function than style.
“It was about 5 feet long and pretty stout,” he said. “I’d rate the action as being something like a 19- or 20-weight rod.
The trio launched the drift boat in the lower St. Joe and Carpenter proceeded to stick it to the river’s fabled cutthroats.
“I was actually able to get the 7-weight line out there,” he said. “The line slipped the guides pretty well. I could even mend with it.
“There was a hatch, and I tied on a Quill Gordon, ginger, No. 12.
“I got it laid down and the fly was floating nice when a big body came right up and scooped it.”
Hooking a fish with a stick is only half the battle. With the fish pulling to the depths, Carpenter felt the limits of his low-tech tool.
“Being in the boat and drifting along with the fish, I was able to play it,” he said. “But if I’d have been on shore I don’t think I could have horsed it in without breaking the tippet.”
With Jim Boyd on the oars and Daniel capturing the event with a camera, Carpenter brought the nice 14-inch cutthroat to the boat, netted it and celebrated the moment of stripping the sport to its elemental level.
“It was fun,” Carpenter said. “And I learned something:
“Now, when I’m packing for a fishing trip, I always put the rods in the truck first.”