Fly Fishing and Loss

There is something serene to me about standing knee deep in a flowing river with a fly rod in my hand. The steady trickling of the river, chirping of the birds, and even the buzzing insects all contribute to a feeling of joy.

I love watching the river as it twists, turns, runs and burbles along. I became enthralled with the sport of fishing as a young boy scout. We went to a lake to camp for a few days. I brought my father’s tackle box and a mostly unused fishing pole along with me and intended to attempt to catch a fish or two.

Standing on that lake shore casting and recasting for most of the day, I imagined what it would be like to feel the tug and jerk of a fish on my line. As I stood there one of our leaders came up and put his small boat in the water and rowed out a little ways with his son in tow. Within minutes his rod was bent over with the weight of a trout on the end of his line. I looked on with envy and amazement. I had caught fish before, but it was rare. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong but I knew I needed to find out so I could catch fish as easily.

I had a strong desire to be a fisherman because of stories my father told. Although he had taken me a few times, he was not a fisherman, but he told stories of legendary fishermen he knew growing up in Idaho. He told me about one of his friends who had a rifle rack on the back window of his truck that held his fly rod instead of a rifle. Driving along through back country roads outside of Idaho Falls, he would pull alongside a stream or pond and hop out and catch a fish or two. He had the ability to catch a fish wherever he went. He knew exactly the right fly that was needed. This man, though I had never met him, was a legend to me. He would not have been any more amazing to me had he been able to walk on water.

When I moved to Idaho for school, I remember thinking that I had moved to heaven. Those places my dad had spoken of were now right in my back yard. I was a poor college kid but I saved up my $5.25 per hour salary to buy a set of waders. I had a cheap fly rod and a reel that was once my grandfather’s. Every chance I got I would go out to South Fork or Henry’s Fork and drop a line in the water. Not knowing what I was doing and being in the pre YouTube generation, I didn’t do very well. I still loved it though. One time I was standing in waist high water and an eagle scared me half to death with a surprise nose dive into the water about 15 yards to my left. He then flapped and sprayed as he rose out of the water with a huge trout that he took off somewhere to enjoy. I was in such awe. I remember thinking, “Well, at least someone has caught something today!” I actually managed to catch a couple fish that trip, my first ever on a fly rod. They measured about 12 inches … if you lined them up nose to tail fin, 12 inches total that is. Poor baby fish had no idea I was a terrible fisherman, they just wanted to eat that bug, really badly apparently.

Over the years, I have become a better fisherman, through mentors and friends who have been willing to teach a city slicker like myself how to fool a fish or two. One of my favorite trips was when my boss told me I was doing a good job and he wanted to take me on a guided fishing trip. We traveled up to the South Fork Lodge and spent an idyllic day catching about 40 fish each under the guidance of a trained professional. I thought I had arrived!

Over the next few years, I was able develop my ability and much of that improvement came through a salesman from Anglers Den on Riverdale Road named Lance Heninger (pictured above). This was a man who knew fishing better than anyone I had ever met. He was friendly and kind. He taught me how to tie knots, what bugs would catch fish and where to go for the best chance at an epic day. In fact, I am fairly certain that he never let me down, every trip I took with Lance’s guidance was a success. My best trip under his tutelage was last summer when my son wanted me to help teach his friend how to fly fish. They wanted to take off for a full Saturday of fishing and I wanted them to hook up with some fish. I knew exactly where to go and Lance delivered once again! It cost me a few bucks in flies and equipment but it was well worth it. He let us in on one of his favorite spots and we had a great time. We caught some on top with dry flies and some under the surface with nymphs. What a great day!

Just a few weeks ago, I was getting the familiar itch that happens about every three days or so for me. I wanted to go fishing and I was going to go visit with my friend at Anglers Den. I happened to go on Facebook and I saw something that broke my heart. There was a message from Anglers Den on their Facebook page, Lance Heninger had been killed in a boating accident at Flaming Gorge. At far too young an age, he had been taken back home. I didn’t know Lance well but I sure appreciated the part he played in my life. In fact, I knew so little about him that I had no idea that his mother was my neighbor living only a few houses away. Sometimes it is a small world.

Lance was well known and a great friend to many in the community. Anyone who fishes knows of his prowess with a rod and his uncommon knowledge about all things fishing. There are some who make life harder and there are others who seem to make life easier and better for those around them, Lance was one who made life better. Thank you Lance, for the great times.

Within a few weeks of Lance’s death, we also lost someone close to us. My wife’s dad (pictured above) passed away after a nearly two decade battle with cancer. I have also heard of several other loved ones of friends passing. I don’t know why July seems to have taken so many that we love on to the next life but it made me ponder the challenge of losing someone. We hope that those of you who have lost someone you love will feel grateful for the time you had with them. I am so grateful to those I love and though I miss them, I am happy for them. To my father-in-law, I hope you enjoy the horseback rides in heaven and to Lance, I hope you save me a spot on the boat. Until next time.

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