I went to the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing and Film Show in Carlisle Saturday morning for the purpose of giving some exposure to Father’s Day Creek in the commonwealth of the book’s setting. I was fortunate to be assigned a vendor table near Ye Olde Colonial Angler. While I’m sure I would have spotted him no matter where on the floor the organizers installed us, the arrangement allowed me the rare pleasure of spending a few hours with a period re-enactor who carried a fishing rod instead of a musket. Ye Olde Colonial Angler was a bearded and bespectacled man of not quite 70 years, dressed in a summer shirt, dark cravat, striped vest, white breeches and brown stockings. Above all, he wore a large, round straw hat. And in his hands was the longest fishing pole I have ever seen. Ken Reinard is his name. In real-life, he worked as a tackle retailer, fished on the fly and held long fascination with Colonial history. About 30 years ago, he was dressed in Revolutionary War garb and visiting colonial Williamsburg with fellow re-enactors. They were walking along a canal near the governor’s palace. “Ken,” one of his buddies asked, “how’d they fish in the 18th Century?” Ken shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. So he went back to Pennsylvania and plunged into understanding how it was done in Izaak Walton’s time in England and, 100 years later, in the time of the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution. Ken learned about the tackle and techniques of the 17th and 18th centuries, and he emerged from his studies as Phineas Reinhardt. That’s his stage name, so to speak, the identity he assumes when he dons waistcoat and breeches to become, as his colonial calling card says, “noted Angle Fisherman, Author & Tacklemaster, whose Angle Rods, Artificial Flies & hand-forged Hooks, have attracted Favorable Notice from the most Discriminating Clientele.”
The man, as Joseph Campbell might have said, followed his bliss, and it took him way back to the 1600s. From Walton’s Compleat Angler and its updates by Charles Cotton, he learned about the ethical methods of a gentleman angler and the creation of flies worthy of trout, salmon and grayling. He went even deeper into the history of angling, back to the 15th Century and the fly recipes of Dame Juliana Berners, whose treatise on fishing with thread and feathers is considered by some historic, by others mythic. Either way, flies of long-ago Western history adorn Phineas Reinhardt’s display cases. The flies are all hand-made, of course. So are the hooks. Ken, whose father was a blacksmith, fashions hooks from period sewing needles, using heat, hand tools and a small anvil to bend and shape them. Because 18th Century needles did not have eyes, Phineas goes to some trouble — the same trouble our fly-fishing ancestors took — to wrap-and-tie his braided horse-hair leaders to the flies. The short fly leaders are then connected, loop to loop, to the longer horsehair leader attached to his 20-foot fishing pole.
The pole is an impressive instrument: The butt end is made from ash, the mid-section from hickory and the tip from willow. The rod comes in pieces, with light metal ferrules. It’s known as a “carriage rod,” made to be transported to various fishing holes. There’s no reel, and no casting, as we know it. In the old days, an angler merely directed the long pole to a spot where he suspected trout would rise and engaged in dapping — or, as Walton described the method more than 350 years ago: “Let no part of your line touch the water, but your fly only.”
Phineas assembled the pole and placed it in my hands. “Now,” he said, “tap the end with your fingers.” I did as instructed, lightly drumming on the butt end with the fingers of my right hand. “Watch the tip,” Phineas said. And, as if an electric current had passed through the wood, the leader started dancing. I could imagine how one of the old flies would come alive as a colonial angler played it on the surface of a creek or pond.
I presumed this method eliminated the need to wade into streams to fish. So Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and the other signers of the Declaration of Independence — if they fished at all, they did not have to get their breeches wet. “Why go about wading the streams when the rods back then were half the distance of the streams we wished to fish?” Phineas Reinhardt/Ken Reinard says. “However, if a gentleman were to wade, he’d role down his hose and he’d be advised not to wade above the fifth button of his waistcoat.”
Ken Reinard published a book about the fishing of long-ago: The Colonial Angler’s Manual of Flyfishing and Flytying
Father’s Day Creek: Fly fishing, fatherhood and the last best place on Earth was published in May by Apprentice House.