Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Bill Baird was an Outdoorsman. Born in Pine Valley, Oregon, in 1913, he began fishing and hunting to help feed his rural family when he was still a boy. This way of life suited him and he could tell story after story about the deer, the pheasants, the trout, and the salmon that sustained and nourished him both physically and metaphysically.

During his last years in the field with us, Bill tried to get into the spirit of catch-and-release. Kill-and-eat remained his mantra, but he indulged our younger-generation ethics graciously. He knew, far better than us, I'm sure, that times had changed. Bill died at 93 and he is the reason I started to fly fish.

One time when Bill was down from Idaho to visit his son, Larry, he pulled me aside to express a concern. "I'm worried about my boy. He's not going fishing nearly enough." Larry is my friend. He was also my professor and a professional colleague. Larry had asked me if I was interested in fly fishing many times over the years but I wasn't quite ready for the quiet sport.

Then there I was in Larry's kitchen with Bill. "Take my boy fishing," he said. "He needs it." How could I refuse?

Ten years later, Larry and I are experiencing a particularly, even by our standards, unproductive day of fishing on the Lower Yuba. Flows are high and it's hard to tell where a fish might lie, especially a feeding fish. I suggest we rerig to fast-sinking polyleaders and strip streamers, and Larry agrees. Rerigging also offers us the chance to pull a couple of river-cold Black Butte Porters out of our stash spot. We sit down on the cobbled bank.

A pair of nesting Osprey call out. The sky goes from clouds to sun then back to clouds. There's a light sprinkle of rain. And the sound a river makes. You know the sound.

Larry chooses a "pimp" from his streamer box, a fly Jason Hartwick turned us on to earlier this year. We try to come up with a tagline for an ad. Lines like, "my pimp swings for steelhead," and other boyish things. The beer goes down smoothly.

Thanks, Bill, for bringing me to this moment on a river with your boy.