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The Tale of the Orange Body

"Imagine yourself a fish--a salmon in the estuary, a Gillaroo trout in Lough Melvin, or an ordinary brown trout in the river--and looking up to the sky. The water is like air to the fish, pumping it in, pumping it out. And in the sky there are thousands of Mayflies, hundreds upon hundreds skimming the top of the water, and scores upon scores all within reach of your mouth.

"You've been eating them for a week solid, now. You're a bloody connoisseur of Mayflies. You don't want to touch the skinny little, skimpy little, weeshy-washy young 'uns with no meat on them. You want the nice, plump, fat ones.

"And that," said old man Rogan to the young boy watching him, "is where I come in. Rogan's hand-tied Mayflies. Sure there isn't a fish in the River Erne, in Lough Erne, in Lough Melvin, in any river anywhere in Ireland or Scotland, can resist them."

The boy watched the old man's fingers handling the tiny pliers as he tucked the last piece of gossamer fluff snugly under the bottom of the hook, twisted once, and sniped off the little piece of gut hanging from the knot.

The old man placed the finished lure beside eleven others, a special order for Colonel Moore and his Romanian countess whose antics had the whole town talking for the previous week. Countesses were not everyday encounters, and Romanian countesses even scarcer. Although, thought Rogan, there was a time, in his grandfather's day, when all their livelihood as rod makers and fly tiers depended upon the nobility and the gentry.

The boy was glad that the old man had finished the Mayflies. Mayflies might be all right for those with hand-made rods and money for expensive fine lines and even finer casts, but what he wanted was an Orange Body, two of them, one for his father and one for himself, and time was passing. Another hour and the evening rise would start.

Old man Rogan could feel the boy's impatience. He glanced at the boy from under shaggy eyebrows. Young and impatient, but a fisherman just the same. Eleven years old, maybe twelve, probably with a hand-me down rod that had been used by his older brothers, maybe by his uncle who had died twenty years ago and consequently had no further use for it. He himself had probably made it for the uncle, when he was still making rods. A Rogan greenheart it would be, a rod renowned wherever anglers, real anglers, met and talked of such matters. A rod good for generations, if properly cared for.

"Two Orange Bodies?"

"Yes," said the boy.

"And you think they'll work?" asked the old man.

"My dad swears by them."

It was a ritual by now, the same questions, the same answers.

The old man's fingers sorted through feathers, bits of wool, shiny silvery pieces of wrapping wire, and started to weave his magic into the tying of the flies.

"And where will you be using them?" he asked. "Up by the weir?"

"No. Below Cathleen's Falls. There's a spot my Dad and me know--" and fearful he had said too much, the boy stopped. No fisherman shared his favourite spot with another. The next time he went there, he might find it already occupied.

Old man Rogan understood. He knew the spot well. It had been one of his own favourites, and he too had guarded it jealously.

But there was no need for the boy to be so reticent. The old man's fishing days were over. His legs would no longer carry him over the stone walls and along the slippery river bank to Cathleen's Falls, either above or below it. Now the spot belonged to the boy and the boy's father.

As his fingers moved, twisting, tweezing, he pictured the pool in his mind's eye, remembering every current, every eddy, every swirl of foam where the river entered the rapids, and the black surface of the deepest part of the pool. And into each of the flies he wove one skinny snippet of silver thread. It was not standard material for an Orange Body, but the old man knew the pool, knew the darkness of the water, and knew no fish could help but notice a flash from the silver thread.

The old man liked the boy. He wanted him to have good fisherman's luck.

"That will be one shilling," he said, placing the two flies on the counter. The boy paid him, thanked him, and left quickly.

The old man watched him leave. Fifty years of experience had gone into the tying of the two flies. Fifty years of patience and craftsmanship, and of lore handed down from his own grandfather and father.

That evening, half an hour after the rise began, the boy rose, struck, hooked, fought, and caught a two-pound brown trout, which his father landed in their net, in their pool below Cathleen's Falls. And the memory stayed with the boy all the days of his life.

I was that boy, more than fifty years ago.

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