The End of Ole Faithful

By Jim Parks

The Bible says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” I feel the effects of a good dose of that medicine every time I grab a rod and step into the cool waters. I feel a calmness in my heart, where the troubling thoughts of the world fade away. TV advertisements have shown “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat,” and more than a few times I’ve experienced both while chasing trout, sometimes on the same day. These two sentiments have driven my mind and emotions during many hours on the water.

I’ve also pondered the similarity of fishing with playing the one-armed bandits at your favorite casino. By nature, most fishermen are optimists as they possess a belief that next pull on the handle or next cast with the rod will reward them with the big one. There are hundreds, if not thousands of other phrases that can and do cross the minds of anglers, some good, some bad, but all with some level of accuracy and truth. A not too recent incident still weighs on my mind, revealing the good and the bad all wrapped up in one, and when I release my wondering mind, I come up with not one, not two, but three observations about the incident that cover the full range.

It all started about twenty-five or so years ago when I was in the market for a fly rod. Let me start by saying that I am not a “gadget guy” who “NEEDS” a lot of equipment. I’ve always preferred keeping things simple; thus, I was adding a new fly rod, the second in my arsenal. Specifically, I was looking for a four-piece, nine foot, four weight rod with which I could cast further but still high-stick nymphs, as well as toss heavy streamers and dry flies. So, I drove down to the nearest “fly shop” which was Wynn’s Outdoor Store in Sevierville, Tennessee. Wynn’s has long since gone out of business, but the man working the fly-fishing section, Ted Myers, was a man who knew his stuff. Like me, he was old-school, but he possessed tons of experience.

I was a regular customer and when I walked in, I told Ted what I was looking for as I asked him to gear up some rods for me to cast in the parking lot behind the store. I didn’t want to know any prices, thus eliminating my natural frugal self from the decision-making process. After casting four or five rods, I particularly liked the way one rod fit my casting stroke. I had read somewhere that “The rod should fit one’s casting stroke, not vice-versa,” and this one did. It felt like going to the animal shelter and picking the one dog that just “clicked”. It wound up being a G-Loomis GL3 for a then moderate price of $175.

For nearly twenty-five years, I terrorized many trout and an occasional smallmouth on the local streams, tailwaters, and ponds with that rod. The rod became what I can only characterize as an extension of my arm. Together, we caught some very nice fish, losing some nicer ones, but wow, how good that rod felt. There was never any thought going into my cast, whether long or short. My eyes pinpointed the spot, my arm/rod put the fly there. It was like an old, reliable friend with whom I’d shared tons of good times. And it wasn’t just me.

On a camping trip to the Smokies, I chose to use a six-weight version of the GL3 that I had purchased several years after the four weight. Where many are downsizing to three weights or smaller, I went to using the six weight in heavier water conditions and when “hunting” for trophy-sized trout. I had recently been schooled by a thirty-inch brown with my favored four weight when the monster got into the branches of a fallen tree. Though I believe I could have landed the mighty brown if not for the tree, I wanted something a bit “beefier” for this particular weekend and for this trip, I wanted more backbone. Walking in with the two rods, my fishing buddy asked, “What are you taking two rods for?”

“You never know” I answered. On the second day of the trip, my fishing buddy broke his rod. He walked back to camp to pick up “Ole Faithful”, my four weight. The rest of that trip, he demolished me! I swore from that day forward to forever keep them separate!!

A few years later, on another camping trip, it rained constantly, or as I call it, PERFECT fishing weather, with the caveat that the creek didn’t overflow the banks with chocolate water. On our last day as we broke camp, I broke down “Ole Faithful” to place it in the rod case for the hike out. It had been assembled for the three days we were there. Uh oh… I couldn’t get the two middle pieces loose. I tried every trick I had heard and still no luck. Arriving home hand carrying “my precious”, I still had no luck even with chilling the pieces. Finally, I took it to a friend and rod-builder. He said it was the worst case he’d ever seen. After failing at several methods to separate the pieces, he had one other thought but said it was risky and could damage the rod. I begrudgingly said “ok”. I felt like I was handing my favorite pet over to the vet for a perilous procedure. Fortunately, it came apart. We were back in business!

A few months after that, I was back on the stream with the “Ole Faithful”, and all was right in my aquatic, mountain paradise. Fishing my way up on a tail out of a long shallow pool, I had that “fishy” feeling perhaps a signal from the rod to me, but I had it. I cast one of my Jim’s Grampus flies and BANG!!! The fight was on. It was a nice, though not huge brown that I guessed at about nineteen to twenty inches. It wasn’t that hard of a fight as my fishing buddy took out his smart phone to video the action. It’s a funny video to watch as while I was working the nice trout into my net, my rod came apart.

The look on my face was priceless as I realized the pieces had separated. It’s happened a few times before and is always a bit embarrassing. I probably eased up a bit on connecting the pieces so that it wouldn’t get stuck again. But now I had a wild, nineteen-inch brown heading downstream and my rod had come apart. As I grabbed the two separated pieces, the video shows me trying to reassemble them only to realize “Ole Faithful” had broken on the third piece from the butt, right where it was gripped when getting it unstuck. The removal a few months earlier had indeed weakened it. Miraculously, the trout was still on as I used the remaining pieces to bring the trout to the net.

Reflecting on the process, saying I was distraught at losing “Ole Faithful” is a minor understatement. Because of where it broke, it could not be repaired. The rod and I had made so many memories over the years from the Smoky Mountains, to Montana, Wyoming, Arkansas and other trips, and now it was gone. I felt like a major league slugger who had broken his bat and was losing his mojo. So here come the three perspectives of the incident:

I was sad for the loss and now having to look for a replacement. I REALLY hate shopping for new things. “They just don’t make them like they used to” rings true to my experience. I’m the type of person who would rather have something old and reliable, than new and untested. Second, on the flipside, I was happy because I had caught another nice brown in the Smokies.

As I walked away from the stream that day, I knew I had lost a friend in that fly rod. But in retrospect, some semblance of a smile appeared as I thought, “What a way for “Old Faithful” to go. It went out in style.” With that, I felt some sense of satisfaction in knowing it went out on a high note! I hope someday when my maker deems my time is over and he’s pulling me into the net, I too go out on a high note!

Jim Parks, a native of Newport, Tn, has spent over forty-six years fly-fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which he considers his home waters. Jim has written articles for Fly Fish American and The Angler Magazine. He works with and gives talks on fly fishing to various civic organizations. Jim is the author of “Tails of the Smokies”. For copies, he can be reached via his Instagram page at “TailsoftheSmokies