It’s been 30 years since one of the few times I fished with my father-in-law, Bill Johnson. He and his wife, Lois, were in Kansas after the recent birth of our daughter Lindsey. She turned 30 earlier this month.
We were talking fishing, and I mentioned I was just getting into fly-fishing, a sport he enjoyed well. Bill reached into his fly vest, pulled out a small fly box and plucked out three flies. They were all the same.
They were tiny 1/100th or 1/80th ounce marabou jigs, with equal parts of yellow and black in the feathering. He said they were his go-to fly when he fished for trout at Bennett Springs State Park in Missouri, a place he enjoyed several trips per year.
Bill died before we could fish together the following year. Several years ago I gave Jerrod, and my nephew, Brian Elliott, each one of the flies Bill had given to me. That was as close as they’d ever come to fishing with that grandfather.
Last weekend I finally made it to Bennett Springs to mix a little work with a lot of play. I took along Jake Holem, my 12-year-old outdoors partner. Back in October we’d agreed that if he could raise his then poor math grade to a B or better I’d take him on a fly-fishing trip. He ended up with an A in math and I ended up with an excuse to go trout fishing.
The first full day he attended, and I mainly photographed, a fly-fishing clinic given by Jim Rogers, an Ozark legend of trout fishing at Bennett Springs. At the end of the class Rogers handed everyone a tiny fly box with five or six recommended flies. Tiny black and yellow marabou jigs were in the selection of every box. When I asked Rogers about the selection, he said they’ve been a popular, and productive, trout fly at Bennett Springs for many, many years.
Sunday morning I shot a few photos early, then grabbed my fly rod and waded through the dozens of people and out to a spot in the stream. I caught two quick trout on a salmon egg pattern fly, then the trout went cold. After ten minutes with no takes I tied on one of the tiny marabou jigs. I caught, and released, three nice rainbows within a few minutes then grabbed my camera to take advantage of good photo light.
Monday morning Jake and I tried the angling at Roaring River State Park. It was crowded, and several times we had spin-fishermen step right up and start working the hole we were plying with fly lines. Within about 20 minutes the fish seemed to get lockjaw, probably from watching their brethren writhing, panicking and jumping after eating something in the water.
After a few popular patterns, I tied on one of the black and yellow jigs and began letting it drift down with the current, then slowly jerking it back. I had two strikes on the first cast. and caught two nice rainbows in about 30 minutes.
I’d gone into the day largely wanting Jake to fend for himself. On Sunday some kindly elderly gentlemen – and that’s an accurate description of the very polite and helpful guys – had selected and tied on Jake’s flies. He’d caught five or six trout that morning.
But Monday morning was much more of a challenge to the kid, between difficult casting locations, nasty knots his line and the finicky fish. Finally at about 8:30 I heard him say, “Hey, Mike, I’ve got one.” Looking over his fly rod was bowed and his smile was wide. Eventually he led a very nice rainbow to the net, removed the hook, held it in the current until it was strong and watched it swim away.
Half-way through the fight I asked Jake what fly he’d been using when he hooked the fish. He flashed a huge smile, and said, “The black and yellow, of course.”