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Friday, October 25, 2013

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: The Second Season – On The Fly

Episode 1 – The Bucket List
By Robert Yarnall

Robert Yarnall, aka Bob aka a variety of other more colorful, not necessarily family-friendly descriptors, is a native Rhode Islander (shudder) who landed in Charlestown with his wife Pat circa 1984. 

They have two wonderful daughters, Kristen and Kathryn, who reaped the benefits of growing up in Charlestown when it was a predominately family-oriented community, as opposed to the looming retirement villa motif that seems to be the preferred default outcome of certain political entities we all know & love.

Yarnall Jr. was born at Quonset Point NAS in 1950, the first of two sons of Robert J. Sr. and Jean M. Yarnall, both military veterans of the United States Navy who met while assigned to Quonset during the post-war 1940s. 

During the ’60s, career Navy Chief Aviation Machinist Mate Yarnall was assigned to aircraft carrier antisubmarine warfare squadrons based primarily at Quonset and was a member of several aircrews who utilized the Charlestown Auxiliary Air Field landing strip to practice carrier landings. Jean was also a USN Chief Petty Officer (CPO) who operated a LINC Trainer (flight simulator) to teach instrument flying skills to naval aviators. 

The 2012 Charlestown Memorial Day Parade marked the first time that both Chief Yarnalls were unable to participate in the event atop the official Veteran’s Float due to health issues. Bob Sr. is still with us, but Jean joined her shipmates on the Perpetual Sea this past April. Their complete military records, from recruitment through retirement, including duty stations, campaign medals and meritorious service commendations, are archived at the Newport Naval War College History Museum, permanently available for research by military historians and other interested parties.

Just around the beginning of our seventh decade on the planet, those of us who have not yet left the building to join Elvis realize that the clock is indeed ticking. If there’s any special place we want to visit, any unique activity we want to pursue, any blaze-of-glory moment we would like to experience, now is the time.



Aside from a grandparent gig, the last item on my bucket list is the time-honored avocation known globally as fly-fishing. The original WTF series last year featured a serialized account of the Whalerock circus, set against the motif of freshwater spincast bass fishing. It focused on the ringmaster antics of a neighborhood subset known as The Partridge Family, a not-always affable quintet of bubbly anti-turbine protagonists who managed to morph themselves into an entity with the cultural panache of a bucket of week-old baitfish. 

Now we’re told they’re back, once again freaked out, hysterical and outraged at the prospect of cataclysmic environmental impact, complete with terrorist activity, roving hordes of gypsies, and dreaded yellow tides triggered by the mass urination of thousands of concert-goers navigating a glacier of illegally parked cars.

Hey, more about nervous breakdowns later. For now folks, “…letttt’s… ggggooo….. fishhhhinnnnnn’….!!”

My father was a career sailor who managed to keep his family stationed in one place – Quonset Point, RI, Naval Air Station- for his entire career. My mother was from a large Italian family in Hartford, and she very much wanted to stay close to home. This was virtually unheard of among military families, but there was a large price to be paid for this benefit, and it involved an inordinate amount of sea duty for my father, including a pair of yearlong stints in Antarctica at McMurdo Sound, with Air Devron Six (VX-6), Operation Deep Freeze, the Antarctica  Development Squadron based at Quonset Point during the 1960’s.

When The Chief returned home from his lengthy offshore assignments, whether at sea or “on the Ice”, his go-to father-son bonding activity was fishing, a lifelong hobby he had cultivated as youth growing up in the Pacific Northwest. And since the last place he wanted to be when he was on shore duty was anywhere near salt water, my brother and I became draftees to the sport of freshwater fishing, exclusively.

My dad was strictly a bait caster/worm guy, trekking through the woods of Arcadia with kids in tow, sneaking along the banks of the Wood River, and dropping baited hooks in sneaky places under submerged branches and stumps, behind rocks, or in the calm waters just past small patches of rapids known as riffles, more often than not coming home with a creel full of native brook trout.

On nearly every trip, we would encounter one of those fly-fishing guys, and I was captivated by the fluid motion of the cast and the rabid commotion of the catch, but the style looked complicated and the gear was pretty extensive - chest waders, nets, lines & leaders hanging all over the place - all kinds of fuzzy little hook thingies (flies) stuck all over his hat and fishing vest. But I remember saying to myself, “Someday I’m gonna fly-fish…”

Decades later, it dawned on me that the fishing technique my father taught us, bouncing worms across the bottom of a stream, was basically fishing with sinking “wet flies”, the term used to describe aquatic insects in their birthing and emerging stages, under the water. When aquatic insects leave the water to hang out just above it, hovering to mate & lay their eggs and finally die, fly-fisherman imitate them  by using floating “dry flies.”

I’m told dry fly fishing is the essence of the sport. With practice and patience, the gurus on Wood River tell me I should be good to fly with dry flies by midsummer 2014.  I’m all ears to that, hoping to progress from the mostly all thumbs style common to newbies like me. (I've just begun casting the wet flies, and it ain’t pretty…)

Those fishing vests, those chest waders, how cool! My brother and I, on the other hand, were outfitted with  Goodyear six-buckle, calf-high rubber boots, navy blue hoodies (hoodies were the newest thing in fashion wear back then) and Campbell’s Soup cans chock full of “angle worms” expatriated from our home garden.

Okay, about ready to open my first can of worms, this one here, next week. Bloggers contributing to Progressive Charlestown are advised to open only one can of worms per week. More than that, you become nauseous. In fact, just thinking about what lies ahead can make you vomit.

You know what? I’m hooked on fly-fishing, I’m on my way. No need for the list.  But pass me that bucket. Quick.

Next time on WTF’s Second Season – Go Hook Yourself