This is a story about a man and a rock.
Actually, this is a story about a man, a boy and a rock — and also some fish.
But it’s mostly about the rock.
When Joe Humphreys was a kid, he pedaled like crazy from his house in State College down to opening day at Fisherman’s Paradise.
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It was a simpler time — you know, aside from all the paperwork — and little boy Humphreys had to wait line behind some 3,000 other anglers to register for the badge that would grant him passport to the Promised Land.
As it turned out, the Promised Land is a lot like Disney in the summer — hot and crowded with limited parking.
Being the enterprising young fellow that he was, Humphreys spotted an elderly man fishing off of a precipice situated along the stream.
“There was a slanted rock and I knew that he’d give out in time, so I just sat down behind him and finally he got off the rock and I jumped on — and that’s how crowded it was,” Humphreys said.
That appears to be one of the problems we’ve licked here in 2017. When I met Humphreys and fellow angler Holden Price by the same stream on a cool morning in July, the waters were practically deserted aside from a small party of fishermen taking a breather at a nearby picnic table.
Early on, right away, I recognized ability and you see what the kid’s doing and he was so into the game and he listened to what we were talking about and he was really trying. … So I said, ‘This kid’s going to make it and he’s going to be all right.’ And here he is.
Quiet is good though, both for fishing and for thoughtful conversation — which is something you’re actively trying to provoke when you assemble two talented sportsmen working opposite ends of this big body of algae we call life.
In one corner there’s Humphreys, an 88-year-old man who is full of stories and fresh off a gig in Portugal coaching the U.S. contingent of the FIPS-Mouche World Masters Fly Fishing Championship to bronze-boasting success.
A couple decades or so behind him is 18-year-old Price, of Port Matilda — polite, bashful and by now well on his way to Slovenia to compete in the World Youth Flyfishing Championship.
Price has been a rod-carrying member of the U.S. Youth Fly Fishing Team for about a year now but just found out that he’d be joining the traveling squad for a coveted jaunt to Europe a few months ago.
“We’ll be over there for two weeks. We’ll get over there 10 days prior to the competition and we’ll probably spend maybe two to three days fishing and the rest scouting beats, different sectors,” Price said.
I asked him how he was feeling in the days leading up to his departure, expecting to hear something about nerves or the virtues of preparedness. Instead, Price countered with “ambitious.”
Humphreys has mentored the young man on and off at various clinics and realized his talent pretty quickly.
“Early on, right away, I recognized ability, and you see what the kid’s doing and he was so into the game and he listened to what we were talking about and he was really trying. ... So I said, ‘This kid’s going to make it and he’s going to be all right.’ And here he is,” Humphreys said.
Watching them work the stream at Fisherman’s Paradise amounted to what I imagine was a pretty standard jam session for those two guys. They each caught and returned a small school of fish.
Once I age out of the youth team, I’ll probably attend the clinics still and try and teach the younger kids.
Leavened in between were tips on nymphs, dry flies and the constant, roving energy a fisherman needs.
This, Humphreys tells me later, would probably not have happened when he was a boy. The elder statesmen of the day were reluctant to share their secrets — and their fish— with fiery young upstarts.
The old men didn’t want to be pushed off their rocks.
“Now we have so many more people in the industry. ... At one time we had a few hundred good fly-fishermen. Now we have thousands,” Humphreys said.
“Thousands” sounds like enough for a marketplace, eyeballs for how-to books and television shows all seeding and feeding a demand that bestows value on only the secrets that are willing to be told.
And so why not share? Why not give the next generation — or heck, even the person standing next to you in the stream — a leg up?
“You never have this game mastered. You have to keep your mind open. In Portugal, I really learned some great insights on fishing lakes,” Humphreys said.
For his part, Price doubts that there will be many tips flying fast and furious in Slovenia. This is still a competition after all, and he’d very much like to win.
Not to worry. Back home, there’s always more room on the rock.
“Once I age out of the youth team, I’ll probably attend the clinics still and try and teach the younger kids,” Price said.