George Graw and I started fishing together about two months after his death.
Although neither of us knew it at the time, George and I met towards the end of his life. We met through our local fly fishing club and got to know each other better once I joined the club’s executive. At the time I was in charge of the newsletter and eventually, the website. George, among other things, had a place for us to hold our monthly exec meetings and was one hell of a fly tyer. He led the club’s fly tying sessions and the club named a fly tying award in his honor after he passed.
Truthfully, we didn’t know each other well. We chatted at meetings and were friendly enough, but were at very different places in our lives. I was in my mid-30s with a new daughter and a career that was really starting to pick up again. George had long retired to a life of fly fishing and puttering around, and even then had started slowing down from the sounds of things.
Then it happened, George had an accident and died not long after.
It wasn’t the first death I’d experienced since joining the club. But he was the first person there that I’d actually known and it hit a little different.
The next executive meeting was a little different. Because George was the man with the room, the meeting was held at the house of another member, in a living room that wasn’t quite big enough for us. There were more people than chairs, but we managed to make it work. We all had a drink in George’s honour and shared some thoughts and memories.
After we were done, we went out to the garage to have a look at some of George’s old gear. It wasn’t unusual for people to contact the club after the death of a loved one, so it wasn’t surprising to see his gear in there.
And there it was. Among the assorted lines, rods, and gear was an older low-end Redington reel, perfect to replace the one that had broken earlier that year. I repaired the reel with JB Weld, but had lost confidence in it.
The reel itself was nothing special, but it was perfect. I expressed an interest in the reel and not long after that, George was sitting beside me in the front seat of my car as we drove home.
Not long after that, George and I went fishing together for the first time. Like most of my attempts at winter fishing, it was largely a day of casting practice. Until I hooked into a carp at the tail end of a run. George immediately screamed with delight as I went through the process of catching and landing my first carp. I posted about the adventure afterwards, so those who knew George better could see how he’d been spending his time since he passed.
From that day on, George and I were basically inseparable.
We became constant companions as I stumbled through the backcountry of British Columbia looking for trout. He saw me at my best, catching big, beautiful cutthroats on dry flies in Southern Alberta. He was there during my not-so-great moments, like when I attempted to climb a huge log jam and nearly broke a bone in the process (if I’m being honest it happened more than once and George was there, chuckling at me, I’m sure, each time it happened). He was there when I caught my biggest fish. And my smallest.
More importantly, he knows the truth. We may not have known each other well in life, but in death, George Graw knows all my secrets. If he were still around today, he’d be the one to call shenanigans on all my best stories. Laying waste, no doubt, to all my carefully crafted moments, with a well-time, “Actually…”
Anglers like George never really die, they just stop living. Their energy carries on in the gear they leave behind. It’s why so many of us hold on to old tackle boxes filled with rusty old spoons we’ll never use. It’s not because we want it. It’s because we know our friends and loved ones are still there, hiding in the stories those rusty old things would tell if it could.
It’s not always obvious, but every once in a while we look at that old fly box or net and get hit by a rush of memories, as happens when George and I are fishing together.
Some days, I look at the reel and I don’t see a scuffed, well-used piece of gear. I see George Graw, who looks pretty darn content with the fishing in the afterlife.