I’m not sure where these things come from, these convergences. But I know that my life has been filled with them for as long as I can remember.
Is it any great wonder? Waters converge. They seek each other out and, in their unification, become greater than the sum of their parts. Water has cohesion. It has capillary action. It goes from where it is, to where it is not.
People are like that. Like water, people move from where they are, to where they are not, but only along very specific channels. Over the years I’ve been fly fishing again I’ve met such people, most especially my fellow Louisianians Larry Offner, Catch Cormier, Pete Cooper and Ron Begnaud.
Not so many years ago, I was writing a column for a fly fishing website, FAOL. I got a lot of praise for that column, and it was gratifying. But one of the most special was from someone who went by the moniker Flats Dude, a.k.a., Gary Henderson of Florida.
The parallels in our lives were uncanny, and we seemed to see the world in the same way. Wasn’t long before we had a phone conversation going and, wasn’t long either, before we had known each other all our lives.
He expressed interest in writing and he’ll tell you I mentored him along, but I was really just a gardener tending a very hardy plant: It needed little to nurture into a bloom.
Time was when Gary, myself and Dave Micus were the cat’s meow on FAOL. Yeah, I’ll say it with all humility, and those were good days. Those days ended when a brutal insult to my integrity and my ancestry was carried out against me and I left the web site in severe bitterness.
Gary followed suit, against my protests. "Nobody going to treat a friend of mine like that," he said, and much as I protested, his writing career at FAOL ended as well. Micus moved to Montana, and grew estranged.
Lesser friends might have grown estranged as well, but if anything, Gary and I grew closer. I sent him Jitterbees to fish for bluegill and he sent me gold bendbacks to fish for redfish. Neither of us have caught a dadblamed thing on either!
He decided that since I’m too big a wimp to make a thirteen-hour drive – I’m prone to motion sickness – he’d have to come to Louisiana. That finally happened last weekend.
It’s a little nerve-wracking. I mean, you been knowing a guy for three years online and by telephone, but do you really know ‘em? I’m sure he felt the same way, but then, he got in the truck and drove all the way to Louisiana. What if we couldn’t stand each other? What if one of us was an axe murderer? What if – horror of horrors! – one of us was an elitist???
Gary came in on a Thursday afternoon and had a little trouble finding my office, so I went out and found him. I motioned for him to follow me to the Reservation and a few minutes later we were meeting in person for the very first time, and a few minutes after that it was like we had known each other all our lives and a few minutes after that, of course, we were in the yard casting each other’s fly rods. What could be more natural, eh?
Five-weights, eight-weights, bamboo, graphite, reels, lines and leaders switched and rotated and the Dude impressed me with his casting. I asked him to prove to me he could cast the entire line, and wham, bam, Thank You Ma’am, he did it. My neighbor came over a few minutes later, he had been watching all this fly casting business by me for years, here in a part of the world where fly fishing is almost unheard of.
"Golly, Rog," he said. "I didn’t know a fly line was that long!" We got a good laugh out of that, but by the end of the weekend, Gary had helped me with my casting quite a bit. In an area nearly devoid of fly anglers, it was the first time I had ever had someone who knew what they were doing spot me.
It was Café Bayou at Cypress Bayou Casino, the establishment owned by my nation, for supper and first thing Friday morning to Polito’s Café in Franklin where Gary got introduced to my daily breakfast crew. Introduced as a "Florida redfish and speckled trout fly fisherman" he was an instant hit. The crew regaled him with questions about fly fishing for reds, an endeavor I’ve attempted but without success so far. One of my pals mentioned that, if the weather cooperated, maybe we’d go out sometime Saturday.
The Dude hung around the office until I got off at noon when the newspaper was done, then off to lunch with the Banner-Tribune crew at the local restaurant, where I introduced him to Abita Amber beer and crawfish four-ways on the menu. That evening, I had a book signing scheduled that I dragged Gary to for my newest, a collection of short fiction entitled "Chasing Thunderbirds." It was a bit of a private, upscale membership, but he weathered the event well, and cleans up pretty good for a fisherman. It happened at one point that the Dude, my illustrator for the book, and two other local residents were all chatting in the hall and I realized all four of them were named Gary. It was kinda spooky!
Come Saturday morning, Gary and I headed out to see some things. It’s really special for me to bring someone to the places that make my world unique, and two of those were Cok’tangi, named Grande Avoille Cove by the Spanish, the ancient religious center of the Chitimacha Nation, and Sheti, Lake Fausse Pointe by the French, from which we took our name. We went in the replica mahogany outboard runabout I built five years ago and I showed the Dude places I had written about but, as is often the case in such convergences, he knew them nearly as soon as I opened my mouth to say their names. By truck later in the weekend I showed him the relic village site of Ama’tpan na’mu, now used as a boat landing. We went to an inshore pond where dark storm clouds often bring erudition.
Between and betwixt all this, of course, we talked a lot about fishing, fly rods and things "old timey" that mean so much to so few anymore. About noon my friend Lamon Miller called and said he thought the wind would lay down, and would take us to the bay if we wanted. We certainly did!
We took a trip ten miles south of Burns Point, La., to the remnants of a shell reef spared by the dredges that invoked the calamity of destroying and removing Louisiana’s version of barrier islands for the value of their clam and oyster shell. The Dude and I got no hook ups, but our host caught one speck on bait shrimp, missed one, and got two sail cats. No matter, wading on the reef was relaxing and fun. We fished another reef farther out, with no results, but we were treated to a spectacular sunset on the way back to the Point.
Sunday was a low-key day. Gary had brought tons of fly tying material, rod building parts and more owned by his late friend Terry Friedrich. He brought what he thought I would appreciate, after Terry’s widow asked that Gary find good homes for it all. We spent a lot of time going through all that, and I really thank Gary for thinking of me, as well as Terry and his memory for paving the way. These convergences, as I mentioned, behave like water: They go from where they are, to where they are not.
Supper was at RikRak, the Asian fusion restaurant at my casino, and Gary ate some of the raw stuff while I turned up my nose. We had three different Asian beers and fabulous Teriyaki and Schezwan steaks. The evening was – like all the others – capped off on my patio with my Lab, Daisy, at our feet. The Dude puffed on Camels and I on Punch London Clubs.
Monday morning, and Gary had to head for home and I for work. We said our farewells and he pulled out of the driveway to make the thirteen-hour trek home.
Gary has the advantage in these stories: He went from where he was, to where he was not, while I was already here. While this narrative will read more like a chronology of events, I was in my familiar surroundings…Gary will see this all with fresh eyes, and a fresh spirit.
But one thing is certain: Gary left behind more than some rodbuilding parts and hooks and flies and a couple rods we traded off. He left behind a new brother. Brothers don’t necessarily come from the same womb, but they do come from the same spirit.
And in time, like water, they inevitably move from where they are, to where they are not, to shake hands and cast fly rods and in the stark fire and blue of a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, confirm circles and convergences in both lives.