I met my friend Ray for the first time about four years ago on the Bow River. I remember fishing by the 22X bridge when an older fella came sauntering down the bank to say hello. Ray is in his late 70s now, and in his earlier days he was an Atlantic salmon fishing guide. He wears an old fishing cap covered in pins and he always fishes with his 9 foot 9 weight fly rod.
I would mention the fish I would get using a strike indicator and weighted nymphs but he couldn’t care less because the only way for him has been casting big streamers. Big flies mean big fish and if a trout is less than 20 inches I don’t think he cares that much.
I always call him “ol’ man Ray” to other fishermen but I have never said it to him. It may have caught on because I will hear the odd story down at one of the fly shops that some old timer caught a massive brown trout down in Fish Creek Park. Then someone would reply, “Oh, you mean ol’ man Ray?” I guess so, how many guys are there pushing 80 years of age slinging a heavy nine-weight all day long?
I have seen him do it several times on the Bow and other streams too. A bright silver rainbow 22 inches long will smack one of his articulated streamers and he will finesse it in with grace and a smirk on his face. He can’t wait to show me the fish and then releases it back into the river.
A bigger joy for him is telling me about the fly he just caught the fish on. “See this here Jake, these trout love the way these feathers move in the water. They can't resist it.” His flies truly are a work of art and he has done a few presentations at the big Fly Fishing Expo every January at Spruce Meadows.
With old age can come a slight crankiness, and Ray has it. I can see his sour look if there is someone in his fishing spot. He really gets upset if they are standing there for hours too. “Gee whiz, can’t they move or try someplace else?” Ray explains.
I have had some funny experiences with Ray, but one in particular still makes me laugh. We were out with his clumsy yellow lab on a small creek deep into the foothills. The old man was fishing for migratory bull trout and I was just above him trying for cutthroat trout using dry flies.
His dog seemed like he was always going in the wrong direction or just not paying attention at all. It didn’t help matters that he had the same name as me. So, every now and then I could hear Ray screaming for his dog to get his butt over to him. “Jake! Get over here! What are you doing?!”
There were some expletives sprinkled through some of those outbursts for flavour but I couldn’t help but think if he was mad at me or his dog.
Don’t get me wrong, he is a good guy. Some of that temper flares from having only one operating lung and using a colostomy bag. I figure it is from his days as a firefighter back in Nova Scotia. I would probably be on edge sometimes too.
But all that seems to diminish when he is on the river. Fishing has a way of doing that to someone. It has worked for him and me as well.
There was a time when Ray moved the biggest bull trout we have ever seen in that small stream. You had to be there to believe it but it was close to 40 inches. Ray didn’t hook it but the excitement in his eyes was all worth it. “Gosh darn, did you see it Jake?!” he would say over a heavy breath.
If there is such a thing as legends in fly fishing “ol’ man Ray” certainly deserves to be amongst them.