There is an old saying which claims that behind every successful gentleman, there remains a very tired lady. Over the course of the past week, I had the good fortune to observe such a situation.
The roles were reversed, however, which should come as no big surprise. Over the years, I've spent a fair bit of time with lady anglers, so I kind of knew what to expect. Lee Wulff was a renowned fly caster, but it was his wife Joan, a petite and unassuming lady, who owned the fly-casting distance record for years.
In my experience, woman's technique always trumped brute strength in the gentleman's game. So, too, does a woman's patience. Although men tend to muscle their way through the gentle art of angling, women rely more on skill, which is truly a woman's touch.
Jillian Schiffman of Dartmouth, N.H., right, and Phyllis Foster of Key Largo, Fla. apply their skills on Lower Saranac Lake.
(Photo — Joe Hackett)
I discovered this while fishing near Elizabethtown recently in the company of Elizabeth Lee, a guide out of Westport.
Although new to the sport and fresh out of the stable just that same morning, she took to it like a bad habit. Within minutes of introductory casting lessons, she was laying out gentle casts with a delicate touch that spoke more to her natural abilities than to the skills of her instructor.
Later in the week, I had the pleasure of hosting Jill Schiffman, a highly skilled angler who has been pursuing bass on the Saranacs since she was 5 years old.
Of course, she was tutored in her early adventures by the likes of Saranac Lake guides Old Bill Allen and George Umber. Both of these fine gents functioned in the role of guides and caretakers at Sol Greenspan's Camp Bandana, a state camp located on Halfway Island. Mr. Greenspan was Jill's father.
I accompanied the crew of Jill and husband John, along with Phyllis and Mike Foster, for an early morning trip up the lakes. Before we even passed the Lower Locks, the ladies had already boated the two top fish of the day.
Their husbands watched all the action from a safe distance and they rarely raised an eyebrow. I suppose they had witnessed it before. Later in the day, one of the gents eventually lowered his eyelids as the lack of luck drove him to dreaming.
I was fortunate to learn about Camp Bandana many years ago, when I accompanied Mr. Arthur Spiro on fishing excursions on the local lake. Mr. Spiro was a longtime guest at Camp Bandana.
Although I functioned as his guide, it was always evident that Mr. Spiro was much more familiar with the lake than I could ever hope to be. He knew the locations of the shoals, big underwater rocks, fallen trees and the stump dumps. Of course, at the age of 81 his memory was fading. But his angling skills never faded.
So it was with the ladies as they fished in traditional style, casting live hellgrammites with an old fiberglass flyrod. Cast for cast, they easily outfished the gentlemen, who took the trouncing in good humor. Obviously, it wasn't a first-time occurrence.
As we motored down the lake to finish up the day, I steered the boat to Halfway Island and Jill described the lay of the land.
"The old dock was right there," she pointed out. "The dining hall tent was here, and the big rock. Over there was the outhouse, where you hung a bandana to indicate it was occupied."
So that is how the camp got its name.
Like many others, the old camps remain only in the fading memories of the original campers. But bitterness also remains and it is tangible.
"You know," Jill explained, "the worst part about losing our camp occurred when I had to make a reservation to return. I grew up there during the summers and with family and friends we had enjoyed the site for over 30 years. And here I was giving my credit card information to somebody at Ticketron, just so I could go back to our camp."
As Halfway Island slowly disappeared behind us, I could see the sadness in her eyes. However, it was masked by the memories she had shared and sheltered by the moments of angling pleasures, which had surely allowed her to recapture a precious piece of the treasured past.