(Listen to the radio broadcast – click here)
Eighteen dollars and fifty cents. That was all. Most of it was in quarters and dimes, saved one at a time by bargain hunting the tackle stores for hooks, and fishing line and the other essentials for life on the river. Bella and her husband, Raybob lived on a plunking bar along the lower river. They had moved there to go fishing but it was snowing too hard. Bella looked out onto the gray river under a gray sky and knew that they’d be broke for Christmas. RayBob was a fishing guide and nobody was going to pay to go fishing in a blizzard. Bella counted the money three times, had a good cry, and then powdered her cheeks with some egg cure Raybob had left on the kitchen table. They had met while fishing on the river. Raybob had given Bella a fly he tied himself.
She cast the Dungeness Special as smooth as maple syrup, clear across the river without a ripple on the water and snagged a big spawned out Bull trout right in the pectoral fin. The enraged Bull trout tore off downriver like a runaway shopping cart. It bent Bella’s fine bamboo rod nearly double, and stripped the drag washers off her reel. If there was one possession in which Bella took pride, it was her fine bamboo fly rod made from Tonkin cane her daddy brought back from the war. It was such a fine rod that if Bella and the Queen of Sheba ever fished on the same river, Bella would out fish her ten to one using dull hooks.
And if King Solomon himself ever showed his face on the river with all his fancy fishing tackle, he’d be humbled by Raybob. He fished the Ray bobber. Raybob had been named after the Ray bobber. It was the best steelhead lure ever invented. No longer manufactured, the Ray bobber could only be found out on the river, after it had been lost by another fisherman.
Raybob had the largest collection of Ray bobbers in the country. The trouble was he had no place to put them. What Raybob really needed was a tackle box.
Eighteen dollars and fifty cents, it was all the money Bella had for Raybob’s Christmas present. She took her fine Bamboo rod down to a tackle store with a sign that said “We buy Gear.” She sold her fine bamboo rod and bought a fiberglass tuna pole with a roller tip. With the money left over she bought Raybob a gift, a tackle box for his ray bobbers.
Until now Raybob had kept all his lures in a five gallon bucket. It was humiliating watching him empty it out on the beach every time he wanted to find a lure and tie one on.
By 7 o’clock the hot buttered eggnog was ready. Raybob came through the door. There were holes in his rain gear. He had leaky hip boots. His eyes settled on the tuna pole.
“What happened to your fly rod?” he asked
“I sold it to buy you a present. Here, it’s a tackle box on wheels. It’s big enough to hold all your Ray Bobbers.” Bella said. “It might even help you walk upright.
“That’s a nice present,” RayBob said, “but I sold all of my Ray Bobbers so I could buy your present. Here, it’s a brand new fly reel.”
People give gifts at Christmas to commemorate the Magi giving gifts to the Christ child. The Magi were wise men. Nobody ever said fishing guides were wise. But they still give the best gifts they have.