Michael A. Sawyers
CORRIGANVILLE — Gary McKenzie says he will fish through a nice looking pool on some wild native brook trout stream in Garrett County without getting a hit.
“Then I’ll look back and see Dad in the spot I just fished and he is playing a trout. Sometimes he’ll catch two or three behind me and holler to me each time, ‘Didn’t you want this one?’”
Jim McKenzie, 92, doesn’t fish quite as often as in decades past. During a conversation in his Corriganville kitchen, though, it was obvious that he enjoys it just as much as ever.
“He’s the best fisherman I know and definitely the best fly caster,” said Gary, the youngest of Jim and Bessie’s five children.
“There are only two flies you ever need to catch trout,” Jim said. “The black gnat and the McGinty.”
Jim most often fishes those flies on a size 12 hook and always fishes them wet.
“No dry flies,” he said.
The largest brown trout ever caught by a family member is Jim’s 23.25-inch, 4.5-pounder that now lives on his kitchen wall. It was caught in 2004 one day after his grandson landed a 19-inch brown.
Where were they caught?
“Garrett County,” the McKenzies chime.
“We weren’t going to fish the second day, but Dad had just bought a new pair of glasses and he left them on a rock at the stream,” Gary said. Upon returning to the stream, Jim quickly recovered his specs and shortly thereafter hooked and landed the big brown.
Jim’s growing-up years were in Mount Savage and he remembers the winter when his father spent the 1928 trapping season near Glencoe, Pa., and sold three months’ worth of pelts from raccoons, mink, muskrats and foxes for $4,000.
“We hunted everything,” Jim said. “There weren’t many deer. One time somebody looked out the window and said there are deer in the field and everybody rushed to see three deer standing there.”
Jim had 10 brothers and sisters.
“When my father worked for the WPA (Works Progress Administration), the rest of us made moonshine,” he said. “Good moonshine.”
The family had a 2-acre garden and Jim remembers that his mother canned 700 to 800 quarts of vegetables yearly.
Turkey hunting is Jim’s favorite and he learned to call using a bird’s wingbone. Although only fall hunting for turkeys was legal in his early days, Jim has enjoyed success in spring hunts once they began.
“Sometimes in the morning my dad would shake my leg to wake me up and say ‘There’s a good tracking snow. You don’t have to go to school today,’” Jim said. “We’d go fox or rabbit hunting and I would be the dog and chase them all day trying to get them to circle back for my dad to shoot them.”
“He’s amazing,” Gary said. “He sounds just like a beagle. In fact one time I thought other hunters had moved in on us, but it was Dad barking.”
“In those days you could get a $4 bounty for killing a gray fox and sell a red fox pelt for $25,” Jim remembered.
Fly fishing for trout, though, appears to be the McKenzie family glue.
“We’d always say that if we didn’t catch any natives in a nice hole that there must be a big one in there,” Gary said, as he shows videos on his laptop of a recent trip. Jim can be seen deftly dropping a fly in a small run or hole and then hooking and playing a brook trout.
There was a time when many of his black gnat and McGinty flies were tied by Vince King at his tackle shop on Virginia Avenue.
“One of the reasons Dad always outfished everybody else is because he put whatever amount of split shot on his line that was needed to get the flies down to the trout,” Gary said.
One of Jim’s favorite tricks is to pluck the small caddis larvae in wooden cases off the submerged rocks and impale them on the end of his fly. He calls them stick worms.
“Dad prefers not to fish near other anglers,” Gary said. “If he sees a footprint in the mud or a wet rock where somebody stepped he’ll say, ‘C’mon, let’s go farther up the stream.’”
Jim McKenzie will turn 93 on Dec. 25. Anybody wanting to buy him a birthday/Christmas present might consider a black gnat or a McGinty.
Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.