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Zorro, Roses, and a Split-Cane Rod

There is still a great deal of the kid left in this aging body. The excitement of opening Christmas presents is still with me.

Excitement at opening one particular Christmas present is still palpable over 60 years later.

The muted glow of the oiled and varnished split-cane fly rod, as I pulled it from cloth rod-bag, was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, barring perhaps Imogene's red hair.

The shy, stumbling, ineffective pursuit of Imogene, was placed on hold, as I concentrated on learning to ease the magic out of this wand.

Zorro illustration

Dad's friend, my fishing mentor and donor of the rod, "Uncle" Norm, by patient tutoring, had built my skills to the point where I could cast a reasonable length line, sufficient to fish the smallish water around Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand.

Until now I fished with gear borrowed from Norm, but borrowed gear has none of the charm of gear that is your own. Constantly using your own rod builds acute familiarity with its characteristics, and the best ways to elicit the responses required.

Over the next three years, the rod and me were constant companions on the rivers. Most often I was on my own, cycling or riding a bus, to the rivers near Christchurch. Occasionally, Norm or my parents were persuaded to take me further afield, to the Waimakariri Gorge, or the Waitaki River.

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Over time, I began to regularly catch fish. Simple laws of mathematics, accounted for most.

If you spent as much time as I did fishing, the chances of eventually placing a fly in front of a fish, increased dramatically. Throughout this period, I fished with this one rod. It was my most treasured possession.

Every year under Norm's close guidance, the rod was stripped of its varnish, lightly oiled, allowed to dry, and then re-varnished. The cork handles were lightly sanded, and pits and holes filled with a paste made from the cork dust and varnish.

By now I had learned to use a matte-finish varnish, so the rod did not flash in the sun and alert fish to my presence. The brass guides were removed and soaked overnight in cold tea, to turn them a dull, non - reflective, brown. The guides were rebound with a dull brown thread.

We spent a lot of time making the rod a dull denial of the bright-gleaming rod pulled from it's bag that Xmas day.

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At age seventeen, my family moved to Auckland, and the rod moved to the back of my closet. New school, rugby, surf lifesaving, surfing, diving, saltwater fishing, and the lack of easily reached trout fishing water, left the rod languishing in the dark, behind my clothes in a wardrobe.

A burgeoning career in advertising and marketing, marriage, children and a rapidly increasing number and size of mortgages, left the rod in the closet.

Even a two year stint in England did not encourage me to take the rod.

Mind you, the closed shop fishing scene I discovered to be the norm in England, did nothing to encourage me to try fishing in England. Paying to fish, was an anathema to this angler, used to roaming free on New Zealand rivers.

Back in Auckland, and finally settled into a new home, fly-fishing took a back seat to the mammoth task of returning a walled garden to much more than its former glory. Under my ex-wife's firm guidance the 'Roseraie' was born, and the first planting of what became many hundreds of roses began.

My rod ended up on a rack in the garage.

At the time, our most effective blackmail to gain some semblance of compliance with reasonable requests made of our three boys, was whether they could watch Zorro on television. The sword-fighting skills of Zorro, held my boys in awe. My oldest son, then aged around ten, seemed particularly taken with Zorro's skill.

One day, in mid - November, toward home time, I received a tearful phone call from my then wife. "You won't believe what your son Mark has done," she wailed.

"What on earth has he done this time," I asked.

"I am too upset to talk about it, you can deal with it, he's your son, you can sort it out......"

Further discussion seemed pointless so I hurried the few miles home.

What had been done, was all too obvious the moment I turned the car down the driveway.

The driveway was littered with the flower heads of roses. It got worse. As I turned the corner into the garden proper, the evidence of the carnage increased. Flower heads littered the garden. Branches of the rose bushes and other plants were bent, battered and broken.

My ex was pacing up and down, staccato outbursts of, "How could you.... why... what got into you....my beautiful roses....." and the like, were directed at my cowering son.

It was only then I noticed the two items in my ex's hands. In one was the tip section, in the other the butt section, of my rod. The ends flayed out.

Young Mark's affection and admiration of Zorro had defeated all reason. My rod had become the sword, the flowers and rose bushes the enemy. With a skill borne of too much time spent in front of TV, slashing havoc descended on the garden.

The garden, and my rod had borne full brunt of Zorro's skill.

It took newly found levels of self control, not to apply what remained of my rod to Mark's nether regions. I feared that the ferocity of Zorro's attack on the roses, would have been well and truly outdone by an attack on his bum.

I cannot now remember much of what immediately followed, but I do know that Mark's interest in Zorro dropped to zero, and to this day he has little interest in fishing, or gardening. I also know that even now, the sight of a split-cane fly rod evokes in me a mixture of emotions, mostly sad.

Viva wet fly

Article written by Tony Bishop


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