From time to time avid anglers who lovingly indulge in piscatorial pursuits, from the tiniest trout to the spectacular bars shimmering silver that we call steelhead, will occasionally discover their old fishing pole may no longer be trendy or up-to-date.
For the most enthusiastic and fastidious of fishers this will generally mean an introduction to the time-honored tradition of acquiring a custom-built rod, one that's just right.
Sometimes fishermen will add their own little quirks and peculiarities to these perfect rods, making them the proud possession of the original owner. Sometimes they have their names and initials of the builder fancily written on the blank, to remain forever. Sometimes the bond between fisherman and rod is so powerfully-strong they keep these rods for the remainder of their natural life...and sometimes beyond!
This strange tale began one gloomy winter's day not so long ago. Cabin fever had pretty well set in around our house. The kids were getting just a bit cantankerous and my wife had begun to give me the evil eye. And, come to think of it, I was feeling just a little cranky myself. When my wife suggested we get out of the house and go for a relaxing drive it sounded like a splendid idea. Within a matter of minutes, we were all in the Chevy pickup and heading eastbound on highway No. 7.
The scenery, with vistas of the ruggedly beautiful and snow-capped Cascade Mountains - combined with the area's gentle rolling farmland - was a soothing stress reliever in itself. We decided to explore some of the sparsely populated farm country on Nicomen Island and took one of the old meandering side roads. We hadn't traveled far when I noticed a sign nailed to a fence post at a seemingly abandoned farm. The sign read, "Farm Sold - Everything Must Go - Enter and Offer." Not giving it a second thought, we continued on, but we hadn't gone far when it seemed something, or someone, was beckoning us to return. We stopped and stared at each other for a long moment, saying strangely that the feeling was definitely mutual. Somewhat reluctantly, we backed up and proceeded on into the farmyard.
As we neared the ramshackle house a door opened and we caught a glimpse of a ghostly-gray old woman dressed in black. She seemed to be expecting us and soon joined my family and I at some tables that contained things like an antique phonograph, canning jars, knick-knacks and, to my surprise, a beautiful custom-built steelhead rod - complete with a rare Hardy Silex reel.
A certain twinkle came to the old woman's steel-black eyes as she watched me staring irresistibly, at this fishing rod that appeared to be just right! With a quiver in my voice I politely asked if she would mind if I picked up the rod to inspect it and she readily agreed. In a quiet voice, she asked if I enjoyed fishing. I hastily replied that I loved and almost lived to fish - and in the same breath - asked what she would consider taking for such a fine rod. She stared at me for a long moment with a far away look in her eyes and appeared to be at a different place and time. Then, with what sounded like sadness in her voice, she said quietly that the rod was mine for twenty dollars, if I could afford it. I'm sure I looked silly with a dumbfounded look on my face, while scrambling to get the money out of my wallet. But had I known what was in store, I would have put that beautiful, custom-built steelhead rod back on the table and walked quickly away.
Later that day, after arriving home, I just couldn't wait to inspect my bargain-priced fishing find-of-the-year. The original owner's home, Big John Peddamore, was fancily written in gold colored ink on the blank - as were the initials WJ, under the builder.
The rod itself was like new, without so much as a blemish, except for what looked like a layer of strange looking, gritty dust. The reel needed a thorough cleaning, and upon taking it apart I couldn't help but notice it had a heavy accumulation of what appeared to be river silt. I didn't give it a second thought, I just cleaned it up and gave it a very light coating of oil, and soon it was spinning in true Silex fashion - almost perpetual motion.
After getting the rod and reel sparkling clean and changing the old brittle backing and monofilament mainline, this custom work-of-art was finally river-ready. In my den, I sat back in my easy chair admiring the perfect new addition in my rod rack.
Soon afterwards things started to go bump-in-the-night around our house. Why, the very next morning at the breakfast table, my oldest daughter casually mentioned that she had heard me up working very late in the den, clanking and banging around and keeping her awake. She also asked where in the heck I had gone in the middle of the night, staunchly claiming she had heard our patio door open...then quietly slide closed. I laughed to myself and let it slide, thinking that she was simply having a dream.
Upon entering my den the next day I was struck by an ominous cold feeling that chilled me to the bone and a dank, musty smell that filled the room to the brim. The rod that I had placed in the rod rack now laid propped and leaning in a corner and the Silex reel was shimmering under a coat of dew, like the wet side of shining steelhead. The carpets and scatterrugs in the den and down the hall leading to the patio door had wet foot tracks, almost like somebody had walked on them with felt-soled boots. Slowly, the thought came to me that either the new rod had a night life of its own, or this was an elaborate practical joke perpetrated by one of my crazy fishing buddies. Somehow this just didn't seem like a joke.
Curiously, I began to inquire at local sporting good shops about whom WJ, the builder of this perfect rod, could be. It wasn't long before I discovered the builder's identity as Whonnock Joe, a renowned rod builder now living in semi-retirement in the Fraser Valley. I called Joe and asked about the rod and its owner. He fondly remembered Big John Peddamore and his custom-built fishing rod. Joe claimed that Big John was an unforgettable, happy-go-lucky, giant of a man. Apparently, he was the most discriminating sportsman Joe had ever had the pleasure of knowing, clearly a man ahead of his time - practicing catch-and-release on his cherished steelhead when wild stocks abounded and most fishermen thought the supply of the classiest gamefish in the world was endless. Big John was conceivably forewarned of the fragility of sensitive river systems and how pollution, mining, logging and over-fishing by net may eventually lead to the demise of the steelhead - conclusions we are now finally beginning to realize today.
It is thought that Big John Peddamore slipped on some slime-covered rocks while tussling with one of his beloved steelhead on the Thompson River. He drowned and his body was never found. However, a fellow angler who knew Big John, hooked and recovered his fancy custom-built rod some time later and returned it to his grieving widow.
From time to time, on cold, crisp fall nights, when the steelhead return home to the Thompson River - I occasionally hear strange, rustling sounds from down the hall in my den. I spring upright in my bed, wanting badly to run down the hall, but for some reason I always seem to hold back and simply say ... "Good Fishin' Big John ..Good Fishin'."
Last modified on January 23, 1998
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