Off the Porch: The extraordinary Captain Rod

Jun. 04, 2014 @ 11:01 AM

The tip of the rod dipped down, almost into the water from the strike. Like the previous fish, this was a good one. I grabbed the rod and worked it out of the holder in spite of the pressure generated by the surging fish. I looked at Charlie, my grandson, “Do you want this one?”
Charlie looked tired and for good reason. In the last 30 minutes, he’d boated three fish, all bigger than any fish he’d caught in his life, the first and largest being a 16 pound striper. The last two had been hybrids in the eight pound range. His arms were tired and his stomach was sore from the butt of the rod, supported there to allow him to keep pressure on the fish. He shook his head indicating he was just too tired.
“OK, I can handle this one,” I said and started to turn around and fight the fish. Charlie watched the diving rod tip. The rod was alive with the bucking fish twenty feet deep and moving away from the boat. The drag sang as the fish made a long run and the rod tip surged down again.
I could understand Charlie’s reluctance. This would be his fourth fish; the total weight of them probably came close to equaling his own body weight. I know how I feel when I catch a fish that weighs a quarter of my body weight and landing four that equal my weight in less than an hour would be tough.
Charlie and I take a guys-only trip every summer and this was our last day. We were fishing Boone Lake, just northwest of Johnson City, Tennessee, and the fish were there. Our guide was Rod Salyers, the foremost guide on Boone Lake, and probably top striper guide in the East Tennessee area. Ron has fished all over the world and guided TV personalities and other high profile clients including giving casting lessons to former Vice President, Dick Cheney.
Our morning had begun at 4:30 a.m. when my cell phone rang. We’d camped at the boat ramp, so we ate a quick Honeybun breakfast, and walked down to Rod’s 20 foot center console. At that time, Rod had been on the water for two hours, charging his bait tank with alewives, one of his secret weapons for stripers.
On Charlie’s first fish, he was surprised at how hard his fish pulled. I had to help him keep his rod at the right angle to best work the fish while keeping it away from the other lines. By the third fish, he was managing the rod well and keeping his rod at the proper angle to keep the line tight and the fish working. He learned to allow the fish to take drag, and was learning to get line back when the fish didn’t have the traction to take line from him. Boating a 16 pound striper on light tackle requires a lot of effort and technique and he learned fast. As the fish led Charlie and me around the boat, Rod was managing the other lines and we made a pretty good team.
I take my grandsons on trips like this for several reasons, but the main one is to make memories. I remember times when it was just me and my dad, and those are some of the sweetest memories I have. Of my grandkids, I’m more interested in spending time in the presence of quality people on these trips than how many fish we catch. Charlie is the grandson most like me. He loves to read, and I have secret dreams he’ll someday be a writer. As we fished, Charlie asked Rod how he learned to fish, how he caught the bait, and what it was like to live the life of a fishing guide. He was especially impressed that Rod had been on the water at 2:30 in the morning, catching the bait that was irresistible to the fish.
We caught enough fish that we lost count, but I estimate we boated between 15 and 20 stripers before the trip was over. Our big fish was 16 pounds and our smallest was a brown trout of about a pound. The rest were stripers and hybrids, and probably averaged about eight pounds. Charlie probably caught about ten. By the end of the morning, my grandson was worn out, but smiling. Rod tied the boat up at the dock and we all shook hands and promised to fish together again. Charlie thanked Rod for a great trip, and we carried our gear back up to the truck.
Trips like this make memories of a lifetime. I’ll remember this trip till the end of my days; Charlie will likely remember it long after I’m gone, and I know he’ll also remember his new friend, Captain Rod Salyers, for both his kindness and skill in the outdoors. Not only had Charlie caught the biggest fish of his life, he’d caught them until he was dog tired. As we walked up to the truck, Charlie looked up at me and said, “Papa, Captain Rod is an extraordinary man.”
“Yes, Charlie,” I said. “He is.”