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Today is October 4, 2022


The Reel and the popping bug

By Tony Kinton

The Reel and the popping bug

The reel was growing old. 

And so was its current owner. 

Its original owner had long passed from the ranks of fly-fishing dukes. This story came to me without request, and since such bonuses are often rife with intrigue,  I listened carefully. I shall tell the tale as I heard it.

It was my grandpa’s reel. Not the first among automatics I’m sure, but still old. Daddy said his daddy, my grandpa, got it maybe in the early 1950s. Grandpa was so enamored of it that he could hardly talk of anything else. He was a hard-scrabble farmer, wore overalls, and plowed two mules. Pleasures were scarce and extravagances maligned in his day. Still, my grandpa bought this reel. “The fishin’est thing you ever saw,” I remember him saying. Daddy also remembered such hyperbole. Grandpa was proud of the automatic reel.

I recognized several years before my grandpa passed that such a contrivance would not be the premier selection for fishing dry flies or nymphs along the Madison, Yellowstone, or Watauga. Not first choice when seeking big browns in valley streams of New Zealand. It was not that the automatic was ineffective; it was simply that the artsy-smartsy manuals were overflowing with class. Lefty Kreh and Ernest Hemingway used them. Grandpa didn’t know Lefty Kreh and Ernest Hemigway. He never saw the Madison, Yellowstone, or Watauga. He likely didn’t know that New Zealand even existed.  

Grandpa’s world was small, his streams basic, and often turbid. He walked from home when he went fishing. A creek for the most part, across a dirt road, and pasture east a half mile. He fished for whatever took his offering. That offering was always a simple popping bug. He disliked dry flies and nymphs. He walked the banks and executed roll-casts or slingshots to place that bug under dangling limbs or along steep bends. Lefty’s graceful and signature back-cast was not an option. Grandpa caught fish. Bream primarily; he liked them best. “Ole trout tore up my best popping bug on the creek,” he would sometimes opine. Of course, it was a bass. There are no trout in Mississippi creeks. But we knew what he meant.  

This old automatic still works. I tried it in the backyard a few weeks back. Guess I should take it to a creek or pond and catch some sun perch with a popping bug. Grandpa would be proud. He was a simple and solid man, you know.

The storyteller’s tale complete, he nodded and walked away. I smiled. I had enjoyed his discourse. It prompted me to contemplation. I concluded old reels — automatic or manual — creek banks; pleasant memories; and simple, solid old or young men are entities of great value.



Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. He lives in Carthage and is a Central Electric member. Visit for more information.

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