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On Losing A Friend and a Winston 11 Weight Reborn

Posted on March 24 2019

One of the neat things about writing The Fiberglass Manifesto is matching up anglers who are interested in fiberglass fly rods with the right fly rod and often times, the right small shop custom fly rod builder to build the fly rod of their dreams.

When Clay Bryant first emailed, he provided limited details but said he was looking for a builder who would be willing to rebuild a San Fransisco era Winston 11 weight that a friend has passed along to him before he had died.  Chris Barclay of C. Barclay Fly Rod Co. immediately came to mind as he recently done another rebuild project and I also favor his work anyways.  I sent an introduction email between the two of them and kind of forgot about the project until I recently an email from Chris with a stack of images of the rebuild.  I asked Clay if he would mind giving some background on this fly rod and was really touched touched by the story that he sent along. 

Please take a few minutes to read Clay's story and enjoy the images that show Chris's handiwork in rebuilding this very special R.L. Winston fiberglass fly rod.  His work does not disappoint.

Clay wrote...  "In 2002, my wife and I moved into one of the old Montrose-area neighborhoods near downtown Houston.  This part of town is eclectic and known for interesting characters.  One afternoon, soon after we had moved into the neighborhood, my wife was in the front yard working in the flower beds when an older fellow with a salty dachshund by his side, a beer in hand, and an infectious smile walked by and remarked to her, "I've been married to redheads.  You can get into a lot of trouble with redheads".  And, at that moment, Stephen entered our life.  

Fortunately, my wife was unfazed and that first contact grew into a great friendship between us and Stephen and his wife.  Stephen and I soon discovered that we both loved the outdoors, skeet shooting, and hunting and fishing.  From that point forward, we frequently slipped off to the skeet range and  followed those fun afternoons with home cooked suppers for the girls and by sipping good scotch to wrap up good days.  Despite our age difference, Stephen and I truly became best of friends.

After a few years, my wife and I decided to move closer to extended family as our nuclear family was growing. We settled in coastal Alabama and it was there that I was introduced to salt water fly fishing.  Pursuing specks and reds on the fly quickly became a favorite pastime and I'm now introducing my son to the joys.  

Though we were in different states Stephen and I talked every week.  In late 2011 during one of those calls he told me he was sick.  Real sick.  He was diagnosed with throat and lung cancer.  Being in Houston with its amazing medical community, he decided to give the cancer his best fight.  Following surgery and chemotherapy, he was able to capture over another year of living, though the living was arduous.  

In early summer 2012 Stephen said he wanted to do a special trip and decided to take his wife to New Orleans for a week.  His wife loved antiques and the thought of staying in the French Quarter and walking slowly along Royal Street enjoying the antique shops was something he felt he could do.  He also wanted to make a trip into the Biloxi Marsh to see if he could catch redfish on the fly.  I told him my wife and I would come over for a night and we could arrange a day on the water and then an evening of good friends and food.

We booked a guide for early September and before the trip Stephen mailed me some gear to use.  The gear he sent was comprised of two R.L. Winston fiberglass roads, a 12 weight and an 11 weight, and a Fin-Nor No. 3 wedding cake reel.  Wow.  This gear was wasn't just "gear", this was history.  This was the foundations of salt water big game fly fishing.  When we spoke after I received the gear, Stephen said those rods and that reel were now mine, and I was to use them and I was to take my kids fishing and let my kids use them and I was to promise him that this would happen.  I promised.

With our September fishing trip just around the corner, we constantly watched the weather news as Hurricane Issac came into the Gulf in late August.  We kept in touch with the guide.  Normally, a trip just after a hurricane would be scrapped and rescheduled but in our case we knew this trip needed to go forward.  The guide accommodated us and we launched from Hopedale into a blue-sky day with the 11 weight Winston paired with the Fin-Nor No. 3 on the boat.  The marsh was alive and beautiful and the wind just put a slight ruffle on the water.   But the storm had done its mischief and the water was dirty with almost no visibility.  Stephen said I was to have the first shot, and though we did see one push of about three redfish that was all we saw that day.  At mid-day, Stephen had mustered all the boat time he could take and it was time to head in and get some rest.  He never did take a turn on the casting platform.  But he smiled a lot that morning, cracked jokes, took photos, and was in his element.

The next spring Stephen moved on the great skeet range in the sky.  I'm sure he's running 25's and chasing his "Bayou Bonefish" (he would fish for mullet in the Houston bayous) with light tackle.  It stinks to lose a great friend.

Because the 11 weight rod had seen so much use, the cork was in poor condition and the guides were corroded.  I decided that to keep my promise to Stephen and assure my kids would be using that rod well into the future, it needed a refresh.  I reached out to Cameron who put me in touch with Chris and the photographs of this re-build tell the rest of the story."

To see more of Chris Barclay's work, please visit the C. Barclay Fly Rod Co. website and be sure to follow along on Facebook and Instagram for the latest shop news.

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