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by Phillip D. Yearout | Oct 12, 2020 | FISHING, FRESHWATER
The Intruder

And then, one day, there he was — a guy was standing by MY lake, and what the…he had a fly rod in his hand!
It wasn’t much as waters go — probably a couple acres at best. I’d passed by it many times always on the way to somewhere else. It lay a few hundred yards off the road, nestled up against the back edge of the old cemetery. I suppose to most people it would be a pond. Wikipedia says it takes five acres to qualify as a lake, and I doubted this would make it. But like most fly fishers who are trapped in the central time zone where waters are precious, I tend to romanticize or even exaggerate them. And besides, it seemed to be fed, at least now and then, by an intermittent stream the source of which I did not know, and it had an outlet that on occasion allowed water to flow on downstream to undetermined destinations. So it seemed more like live water, which to me made it more than a pond. I decided to stick with the lake terminology. I even named it, somewhat tongue-in-cheek: Lake Whitetail, after the upscale housing development that seemed to threaten the area from the other side of the road.

For a pocket of water in a primarily urban setting it was more intriguing than many. It looked pretty clear, was partially encircled by a pleasant stand of willows and cottonwoods, but with plenty of room here and there to make a decent cast. A part of the water was sheltered from all but the most aggressive prairie winds by a rise of land around the inlet side. It looked to be quintessential panfish water, and I often fantasized about the dinner-plate-sized bream and even bigger bass that I imagined were serenely passing their time there, dining aggressively on the plethora of insects and other creatures in their neglected little paradise, and quietly and discretely growing fat and sassy, all the while being totally ignored. There was even a stone bench in the shade of a gnarly old elm, and I could see myself there, sitting in the shade and relaxing with a cigar after catching and releasing a succession of heretofore uncaught — or even unfished for — monsters.
I thought about it often, and I planned just how I’d fish it and what I’d use. My eight foot 4 weight seemed about right, and it would be fun to see if they’d take something off the top — a foam hopper, maybe, or even a dry. Hang a nymph dropped if those didn’t work, and if those bass were there and it got into 6wt-and-streamer territory…well heck; a guy can dream, can’t he? I had no idea whose property it was, but I figured the worst that could happen was that someone would come along and tell me to get the hell off. It had happened to me before — I ain’t no virgin, as the saying goes — and nothing would be hurt but my feelings.

So day after day I drove by, thinking about it and meaning to stop or come back when I had more time, and like we often do, just never getting around to it. And then, one day, there he was — a guy was standing by MY lake, and what the…goddam it, he had a fly rod in his hand! You know that feeling you get when you’ve thought about buying something but just couldn’t quite make up your mind, and then you decide you want it but when you get there you find somebody else has already bought it, and then you REALLY want it? Well, this was that feeling. Sonuvabitch was fishing MY water and catching MY fish! CRAP!

Well, that settled it. I was determined to take that lake back. It was mine; I was convinced, by God, that I had seen it first! I was consumed by the thought of it, but it was the weekend before I was able to get back out there, fly rods stashed in the back of the 4Runner. But when I drove by, the guy was there again! In fact, I went back three or four more times over the next few days, and every time the guy was there, sometimes fishing, sometimes just sitting on the bench. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I parked, got out of the truck and headed down to the water. I’d take a look at what I found there, see if the lake was big enough for two fishermen (though I wasn’t much into sharing). Or maybe he wouldn’t be into sharing either, and if he saw that somebody else was interested, he’d move on. I left the rods in the Rod Loft; didn’t want to play my hand just yet. I could always go back and get one if things worked out.
I sauntered down, circled around the other side where he’d be sure to see me. He lifted a friendly hand and I tossed off a nonchalant little wave. Don’t want to appear too interested, I thought. He didn’t look like he was planning on going anywhere soon. I watched him for a bit — an average caster with what I figured was probably a cheap outfit. I saw him catch and release a couple of regular-sized ’gills. Finally he reeled in, walked over and leaned his rod against the bench, then took a seat. I was still beating myself up about my world-class procrastination, and, justified or not, still more than a little miffed at him, but I decided I might as well get a feel for what he was about. I walked on around.
He looked up as I got closer; he was about my age, a little paunchy, with a salt-and-pepper mustache and goatee, wearing an old ball cap. I’d been wrong about the rod; a nice Winston 8-footer with an Orvis reel was leaning against the bench. “Howdy,” he said. “Come down to check out the water?” “Nah,” I lied. “Just taking in a little air.” “Well, it’s not a bad spot,” he said. “A few little ones in here. Bluegills, mostly, and I’ve caught a couple of small bass. Not much for serious fishing, but a nice way to pass the time, and a pleasant little spot, for sure.” He stood, politely. “Paul Yeager,” he said, sticking out his hand. I took it – what else could I do? – and gave him my name.
“I’m not much of a caster,” he said. “Luckily you don’t have to be to fish a little hole like this. But I enjoy it, and it is relaxing. Takes my mind off things, you know? I’m not super-serious about it like some guys; I don’t take big fishing trips and stuff like that. I just stay around home and bother these little spots; in fact, this is about the only place I fish anymore.” No kidding! I thought to myself. “I like to come here and fish with my son.”

Now that’s funny, I thought, I’ve seen you here three or four times now and you’re always alone; never seen anyone else. Maybe the boy spends his time down over the rise, out of sight from the road. That’s where I’d be, anyway.
He went on. “I saw this place quite a while ago but it was a long time before I could bring myself to fish here.” I know what you mean! I thought. “But then I thought ‘Jake will enjoy it,’ so I started coming. I guess it’s good for me too.”
I’d had about enough of the chit-chat. I really didn’t want to hear the guy’s life story, or about his fishing companions, nor was I interested in starting up a friendship. What I really wanted, if the truth were told, was for him to leave, and get the hell away from my water. It didn’t look like that was going to happen, though, and I was about to give up and head back to the truck when he started taking down his rod.

“Guess I’ll head out,” he said. “Nice talking to you. Enjoy your walk, or whatever you call it. And if you ever think you might want to try the fishing, go for it. If I’m here you sure won’t bother me, and anyway, I think it’s plenty big enough for the both of us.”

I don’t think so, I thought. But thank God you’re leaving!

I figured I still had an hour or so, and if he hadn’t put the fish down by thrashing the heck out of the water, I might get a chance to see what was in here at last. I watched him walk up the path, put his rod in the back seat of his car, and drive off. As I turned to go get my rod I caught the glint of something shiny out of the corner of my eye; the stone bench had a brass plaque on it. You’d think even someone as slow as I would have figured it out, but I didn’t, until I read:

In Loving Memory
Jacob London Yeager
July 16, 1975 – July 7, 2009
Tender son, friend and fishing partner.

I sat on the bench for a while, just looking at the water. It was nearing sundown, and a couple of fish rose and rippled the surface of the lake. I watched a while longer but those two were the only ones I saw. Then I paid my respects to Jake and walked back up the path.
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