I have no problem admitting that I have lived a very blessed life, including that portion associated with fishing. My grandfather, Bill McEwen started me along the path, introducing me to fishing as soon as I was able to walk and sit in a boat. For those that don't know, my grandfather was the originator of Strike King Fishing Lures; a company that he started in his garage, in Memphis, TN. I was fortunate that as life happened, it would have us move in with my grandparents, move to Florida, get a boat at the age of 9, and take up fly fishing at the age of 15.
I started down the fly fishing road because of a show I watched, on a rainy Saturday morning, while I really wanted to be fishing. The show featured Flip Pallot, fly fishing for redfish, in my home waters. I had never seen fly fishing in saltwater, but that day I decided I wanted to do it. My grandfather and grandmother made sure it happened. That afternoon I was taken to the local fly shop, The Fly Fisherman, located in Titusville, FL. I walked around mesmerized for a long time, looking at the rods, reels, flies and tons of other equipment. That day, for my 15th birthday, I was presented with a new fly rod outfit and a few flies. Fast forward the time line, several new rods/reels, a new career, and becoming a guide, and I actually became the manager of the very shop that got me into the life. I thought the circle was complete, but I was wrong.
A few weeks after taking over the shop, I was rearranging some stock when I heard the rumble of a motorcycle pull up to the front. I kept concentrating on my task at hand until the front door opened and I went to give my greeting, like I did with every customer that walked through the door. It took me a few moments, but then I realized I was looking at the very man who had introduced me to fly fishing, Flip Pallot. Flip needed a few items for an upcoming trip and had heard the shop was under new management. We spoke briefly, he made his purchases and off he rode. In my previous job I had met a lot of important people: Presidents, television and movie stars, athletes, and more. But, none of them had ever had such an impact on my actual life. I won't say I was in awe, but I was happy that he had come in to meet me and introduce himself.
A few weeks passed and once again I was at the shop, completing some task. I heard the rumble of the motorcycle as it pulled in and a few moments later, Flip walked through the door again. This time I was quite happy to have a longer conversation with him. I rigged a line for him and while I was doing it, he sat there and listened to my story of how I got into fly fishing. He knew the exact episode of the show and we talked about making the episode. When I got done and he went to check out, I told him that I would be honored if he would ever allow me to push him around and fish. He looked right at me, smiled that Flip smile, and commented a now very familiar response, "I can't go until tomorrow." I was taken aback for a moment, commented that I couldn't go on Sunday, because of family, but that I could go Monday. So, we made plans to meet Monday and he left.
One of my prized possessions is this reel Flip gifted me!
I got home that night and felt like a kid the night before Christmas. I don't know what my wife thought, but she listened to my excitement that day and throughout the following day. When Monday came, she told me to have a good time and wished me luck. I can't remember if I slept much Sunday night, but I remember being ready to go early the next morning. I had prepared everything at least three times, wanting to make sure nothing went wrong.
I will not lie and state that I remember every single detail of the trip, because I don't. I do remember it was a sunny, calm day and that I felt like this was perhaps the single biggest guide day in my life. I also remember it didn't feel like work, just a lot of fun. I know Flip caught fish and that I was impressed by his ability to see, listen and actually fish; not just cast, but actually do it all, proper casting, reading the fish's reaction, fighting the fish, all of it. Then came the most surprising and perhaps the most intimidating portion of the entire day. Flip looked back, reeled up his rod and stated he wanted to take the poling platform and push me around. There was only one person I would be more nervous casting in front of at the time and that would have been Lefty Kreh. Well, you don't tell Flip Pallot no (at least I didn't back then) so we switched positions.
I had put us on a flat that was covered in beautiful seagrass, with very visible potholes. The flat typically held redfish and seatrout, but on this day, it was better than normal. In every single pothole we saw, and visibility was good out beyond 100 feet, a big seatrout was laid up. I began preparing to make my first cast, thinking about not screwing up and probably more nervous that I had ever been. I made my cast and to my relief, it went exactly where I wanted it. Cast after cast was made and I was quite happy they were going where I wanted them or where Flip directed me to place them. However, cast after cast was met with a complete refusal by the fish. We spotted a bigger seatrout in a pothole about 60 feet away and I made a perfect shot; now I was pumped. I began stripping the fly, expecting the same refusal. To my surprise, she bolted forward, crushed the fly and I stood there, trying to take in what was happening, as she just as quickly spit the fly out and swam back to her resting point. I hadn't even tried to set the hook! Seriously, one of my idols just put me on what at that time would have been my biggest seatrout on fly, and I choked! I was horrified at myself. I knew I was about to take an absolute verbal bashing. I'm just waiting when I hear, in a very flat tone, "That one wasn't big enough"? UGH! That was even worse that being beat up! I looked back and Flip has a smile on his face and just says something about setting the hook. I couldn't say anything other than I surprised that the fish had eaten.
There was no complaining by Flip about wasting his time poling, no screaming about me not being a good fly angler or blowing a perfect opportunity, nothing other than that little bit of a sarcastic statement and then him continuing to pole me to another shot. Fortunately I was able to redeem myself later in the day and catch a fish, proving that I wasn't a complete idiot. More importantly, I was able to make a connection with someone that has become a long time friend and mentor. Since that day, we've shared the boat hundreds of times, watched each other catch tons of fish and also observed each other make the same mistakes that every angler out there makes, resulting in some incredibly funny misses.
Memories in the making with Flip
While we don't get to spend as many days on the water together as we used to, I still cherish every day that I do get to spend with him. We laugh, we cuss, we catch fish, we miss fish, and sometimes we just spend the day running around and enjoying what Natural Florida has to offer. Like I said, I have been blessed and I thank God for opportunities like this and for all of the other opportunities that life has afforded me. I hope that you also get the chance to live a blessed life and enjoy some time with a person that inspires you.
To Flip, my Grandfather and my Grandmother: THANK YOU for leading me down this path and this incredible life! To God, THANK YOU for blessing me with such wonderful people!