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One of my good fishing buddies recently put together a short essay about some of his memories of a legendary fly fisher - Mel Krieger.

Thanks  Brian!

 

 

Was chatting earlier today with a fishing buddy, and we were talking about casting.  Talk eventually turned to instruction, and from there to great casting instructors.  Bringing up that subject with me will reliably elicit mention of Mel Krieger.

I thought the world of Mel.  He was one of the brightest shining stars in the fly fishing constellations that dominated my days and dreams growing up.  I admired his energy, his exploits, his technique, and his no-nonsense instruction skills.  I remember making a minor hajj to the Golden Gate Casting Ponds on a long West Coast summer swing late in college, hoping perhaps I’d find him chatting amiably with Steve Rajeff and then I’d....I’d....well, I didn't have a clue what I’d do.  Ask for autographs?  No, no, not right.  Stare?  Probably.  Stroll up and chat?  Maybe.  Ask for tips?  Ugh.  Pray?  Yup.

They weren't there, so it didn't matter.  But I did meet him years later at the International Fly Tackle Dealers show in Denver, must’ve been in the late 90s.  My Dad was working at Ross Reels, and I’d weaseled my way into a show pass and a semi-regular gig talking trash at the booth.  Got to meet Joan Wulff and Lefty Kreh, watched AK Best tie, hung out with Brad Befus, took home bags of swag and saw all the new gear.  Fun, right?

They had two big casting ponds and a fairly serious distance competition on Saturday night.  I wasn't brave enough to enter, but I was fresh back from a long steelheading trip and feeling pretty good about my stroke.  Off in a back corner some rod dealer had built a simple casting game with a timer and pizza boxes.  The boxes were staggered at 10’ intervals on either side of a narrow aisle out to 100’ or 110’, as if they were unusually squarish boulder pockets in an exceptionally straight stream.  They’d rigged a couple 8wt rods with a yarn fly, and you had to hit each box within 90 seconds -- or maybe it was two minutes, can’t remember.  Simple, but good fun.  Easy to replicate at home, too.

I took a break from our booth during a quiet period and found that the pizza box casting course was likewise empty.  I picked up a rod, stripped out and stretched a pile of line, set the timer and started casting.  I hit every box out to 60’ on the first try, and I was feeling pretty good about myself.  It took me two tries to hit the box at 70’, and I missed the 80’ box on my first throw.  Plenty of time on the clock, no stress.  I stripped in some line and worked back into my stroke, double-hauling like I’d been born doing it.  I looked back over my shoulder to watch my backcast -- still textbook -- and saw Mel Krieger standing about 10’ behind me, arms crossed with a stern look on his face.

Oh shit.  I missed the grab on my backcast haul and dropped 80’ of line on the floor behind me.

Oh shit.  Mel’s watching.  He’s not happy.  Scrambled to pick up the slack.  Started flailing with too much line out, couldn’t load the rod.  Stripped in more line.  Short cast, mangled the plane, threw a pathetic tailing loop, stripped in aga----BUZZZZZZZZ.....thanks for playing, you lose.

Oh God, what a mess.  I was red and sweating, my shattered pride coiled in knots on the floor along with my loops.  It was like missing a layup with Michael Jordan watching.  BECAUSE he was watching.

I’m not sure what he saw that he didn't like.  Could’ve been the burritos, who knows?  He was all smiles when I looked back again.  He chuckled and ambled over, chucked me on the shoulder and said something like, “Pretty good there....for awhile.  What happened, son?”

I shuffled and stammered, finally mumbled something about him scaring me.  “Little ole’ me, scare you?  Hahaha...”  Didn't really make me feel better.  But then he asked where I was from and who I knew and started an amiable little chat.

10 minutes later I floated back to the Ross booth on a Dickensian Cloud:  it was the best of times and the worst of times, simultaneously.  My hero had noticed me, even conversed with me.  And I had made a fool of myself.  Uff-dah.  But I still thought the world of him, and I’ll never forget that encounter.

I looked up his bio today and discovered, sadly, that he passed away in 2008.  Here it is, four years later, and I didn't even know.  I feel chagrined, out of touch with what was once a familiar realm.  And yet, his star in the most rarefied of my personal constellations will never dim, no matter how infrequently I manage to look to the sky these days...or to the water.  RIP, Mel.

Brian Clark

Josh Rinehart joins us today with his side of the gar saga - as the fishing buddy along with me for these memorable trips, I asked him to lend his perspective to the best day we had - easily over 40 gar between us, plus his two surprises. Thanks Josh!

 

I will attempt to convey the awesomeness of a time spent on the water in an endless pursuit of self discovery, being in awe of nature’s beauty, breaking gear and the ever driving force of a personal best.

As we turn off a nameless country road nearing the destination conversation, previously un-interrupted, has gone out the window along with musty smell of what every fishing vehicle should smell like. There is a hint of some food item lost under a seat from some time during the Clinton administration and a salty musk smell emanating upwards from the floorboards.

Ahhh….this is going to be a great day.
Why? Because we know they’re here, not there or there, they are here. Armed with knowledge from previous endeavors, we are ready for a war. To label this ensuing adventure as a battle would be a gross understatement.

Pop the rear hatch and thus begins the rigging process. Rods assembled, lines threaded, new leaders, triple checked knots, it has begun.

It has all been building to this day. Previous R&D trips have filled us with a sense of confidence erring very close to the cocky side, if not perhaps a tad over the line. This sense of certainty does not come blindly. No, it comes from time on the water and tying bench gaining the knowledge and finely honing technique and gear. Off we trudge, battle-sticks in hand. From the fly to the backing, these are finely tuned instruments that will provide personal bests. Today is the day.

Terms such as “finely tuned”, “honing technique” and “a perfectly developed and assembled fly pattern”  can make visions of clear mountain streams, dip nets and creels come to mind. None the less all this effort, time, sweat and a little skin and blood are dedicated for the pursuit of THE gar.

Longnose Gar Tail

What?!? Why!?! Now……wait….WHAT? Are you out of your rabbit a$$ mind? Go ahead, ask someone where you can target alligator gar and carp on the fly. You will instantly have complete strangers caring about your sanity and mental health, all the while giving you a good looking over. You live 5 blocks off the bay and yet you drove over an hour to catch carp and gar. Oh how it makes the “purists” squirm.

 

Purist – One who practices or urges strict correctness, especially in the use of words.

Well maybe we're not purists, but hardcore definitely, no matter how misguided or delusional.

 

We head off down the trail straight for the combat zone. Such walks normally included a pause, pleasant conversation or even a photo opportunity, not today. I say “walk” but what I mean is a pretty quick trot edging on the hint of a lope. As we break through the tree line the silent communication going back and forth between us is screaming.

The anticipation and excitement bring back feelings of a childhood Christmas Eve. Heading down the bank littered with ankle-grabbing wild grapevine is further complicated by trying to keep focused on your footing all while the animalistic part of your brain commands you to look for the roll of a garasaurus.

Gear bags down, everything triple checked and now all focus is on the water. For those of you who have never seen a monster alligator gar roll, well, it will send a man back in evolution about 4 million years. Fitting, as the gar has virtually gone unchanged for about that amount of time. In awe of such a sight grown, educated men are reduced to grunting and pointing. You try to speak but somehow that part of your brain vapor locks. You, the reader, may chuckle to yourself, maybe laugh, either because it has happened to you or it hasn’t and you don’t yet understand.

Thus begins one of the most awesome days I have ever experienced. Missed hook sets, fish in hand, broken line, cut leader... we quickly lost count of it all. The ever-present thought in the back of my mind, did I have enough flies? What how does that even happen to us? Not out of the hot pattern, out of flies?!? Whew, found the second spare fly box in the bottom of the gear bag.

Great longnose Josh caught that day.

New fly, leader, tippet chug a bottle of water half time is over. Half time, who am I kidding? I am almost slap wore out. With the fishing as hot as the Texas sun beating down, fourth quarter push.

 

At this point in the game catching is not a cause for concern. The time has come to hunt for the monsters. The recipe includes heavy lead eyes and half of a banty rooster worth of feathers and patience. Casting such a herculean creation with tired arms and a slight crosswind is interesting in itself.

Cast....countdown………………………………….strip…pause………………………………strip…..pause……...………………
…..strip. You get the picture. The almost time stopping countdown employed hopefully allowing the fly to get down past the small fish. Did I just call 2-4 footers “small”? Why yes I did. About mid-trip you become accustomed to the manner in which the different species of gar take the fly and how they fight.

Pause………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..strip.

THUMP!!! Here we go. Stay connected. Stay connected. Stay connected.

The beast on the end is not jumping. Cool, not a long-nose or a spotted gar as they typically do their best tarpon impression once they feel the steel. Could this be the alligator that haunts my dreams? Austin sees the bend in the rod, the slow methodical pulsing of the tip, got an alligator? My mind racing; I have been fortunate enough to hook large fish before, this is a big one.

As I have not yet caught a “big” gar, I am left to believe that at the end of is THE beast. The fish is making short powerful runs as I try to keep the right amount of tension, turn the fish and anticipate the next run. For what seemed like an eternity, no visual, come on show yourself.

A catfish!!! Come on! Where’s the massive gar that I put the steel too?

It is a beautiful blue cat. Well, at least we have something for the freezer. Austin assists in some photos and the catfish is secured for later culinary enjoyment. As I do not regularly target catfish, it felt big and looked big so win – win.

Back at the house I grab an adult beverage of choice as Austin expertly removes four large slabs of tastiness from two blue cats. Yep, I caught another before we left. While the first was considerably larger they will eat well. That’s that and they are in the freezer.

Game plan for tomorrow you ask? Time to replenish the fly inventory, we are heading back tomorrow. Tying and conversation, we both know we can break some records. Ok, let’s look up the numbers for the gar so we can get our names in the book.

WHAT? REALLY? We had destroyed four records that day. That’s ok we will get it done tomorrow. Remember that previous statement about getting cocky?

As I survey the other fly-caught Texas records I am suddenly hit with an odd feeling in my stomach. Following a short session of talking in tongues, did I really do that? The current state record for a blue cat is 8.45 pounds and 27 inches long. As I so cleverly and quickly meat-hawked a beautiful 30.5 inch big-bellied blue cat. Was it my ticket to get in the book? I believe so with all my inner fisherman.

So, there it is. Take it with a grain of salt.

It’s not about getting in the book. I did it, you did it. We know we did it. That’s all that matters. Go ahead and keep telling yourself that, I’ll be staring at the ceiling at 2 a.m. shaking my head.

Well at least we got some meat in the freezer and 9 personal bests between us in one day.

Brother Tucker!