Around the time I was 15 or so George decided to teach me to fly fish. A few years earlier I killed my first deer with him (I still have a hunter’s orange ball cap that reads “I Killed My First Deer With George P. Mann”) and caught fish in the ponds on their property near Society Hill. I had heard plenty of stories before about their adventures in Alaska. He promised that when I was old enough he’d teach me to fly fish and we’d catch salmon in Alaska one summer.
Fast forward a few years later and I was invited out to George’s ponds for several lessons on fly fishing. I wasn’t allowed to go to Alaska until I had turned at least 18, but his thoughts were that I could always start learning well before we went.
He had several small ponds on his property and one, in particular, kept catfish. These fish were on a schedule. They were fed at the same times every day by an electric fish feeder. The scheduled time would arrive and dump out handfuls of floating feed, and like trout sipping mayflies on the surface, the catfish would rise, sip, and go back down. There were a few times the feeding would turn frenzied, but these fish hadn’t hatched yesterday. They were calm cool and organized. No muss no fuss. Everyone gets to eat, that is until I showed up on Saturday to receive my first fly fishing lesson.
“I turned the feeder off yesterday knowing y’alled be coming down today. Let’s see how hungry they are,” George said.
“Here, let me tie this on for you. If you wanna catch a fish then this is the fly to use. It’s my special pattern that I call a ‘Grab-a-Hold’ and it’ll catch anything,” he instructed.
I walked out onto the metal pier that protruded towards the middle of the pond and received my lesson. George went through the techniques and I did my best to imitate them. I’d wave the rod around and fly line would pile up on top of itself on the water’s surface. The fly then proceeded to land somewhere near it, often on top of the fly line, and then “SPLASH!” all of the fly line went taught and a large bend set in the rod. I had a fish on my line after my first cast!
When you’re 15 you don’t pay particular attention to most things, and George’s fly didn’t strike me as anything notable at the time. Then again, I’d never fly fished before so what did I really know anyway. Looking back, I can see it exactly for what it was. The fly was brown yarn tied on a hook that was clipped to resembled a small round floating ball. In other words, it was meant to look exactly like a fish feed pellet.
I know what some might be thinking, and believe me I certainly have my own thoughts on fishing over fish pellets or chummed up water. When I look back on it though I realize this isn’t what George was trying to do. He had a lot of experience introducing young children to the outdoors. As I mentioned before, he took me hunting to kill my first deer, and I know he had done the same for many others. He knew what he was doing, and he knew the best way to get a young boy outdoors to catch fish was to help facilitate the catching part of it as much as he could. I believe his greatest legacy will not be the trophies he bagged, but rather the many young people, like myself, that he helped introduce to the outdoors.