Category Archives: Last Retrieve


with guest author, Mark Cudney

British Columbia and its lakes Minnie, Stoney and Corbett. The Douglas Lake Ranch and “world class fly fishing.” Where the deer and the free range cattle roam beyond the quintessential ranch gate that greeted us after driving miles of gravel road through a mountainous grassy landscape. We came from Whistler over the pass where there was snow on the peaks the first day of June and a mud slide blocking the road. There were five in our party: Dick Draper and I in one truck; Rob Pomroy, his young retriever Hurley, and John Alexander in another. Both trucks and the boat that Rob was towing were packed full of camping and fly fishing gear for our week long stay at the yurt on Minnie Lake.

This was the last leg of my journey which began driving the dirt road from my rural home in Western New York to a stop over at my son’s home near Buffalo. He and his family then drove me to Toronto, Ontario where I caught a non-stop to Vancouver and a rendezvous with Dick, John and Rob. It was a journey begun, oddly enough, by my vicarious sharing of a poignant moment with two men and a dog. A few degrees of separation with common ties to Western New York figured into my role in the event, as the artist commissioned to recapture that moment in paint. The dog was an aging Labrador Retriever called “Sedge” and Rob was his owner. The event took place while hunting ducks near Vancouver. It was a threesome that morning¾Rob and Sedge and Dick¾waiting in their blind for that special mallard to come within range. Sedge was in the twilight of his days; Rob and Dick’s purpose was to allow him an opportunity, one last time, to retrieve a fallen duck. The moment happened and what resulted so moved Dick that he contacted me the next day and I agreed to begin work on the painting paying homage to Rob and Sedge. (View the painting and read Dick’s full account of the event at under “Sedge’s Last Retrieve”).

Dick and I had not met but we had been corresponding via email, sharing a mutual interest in creative writing, fly fishing, and the out-of-doors experience in general. Our degrees of separation were founded in Dick’s friendship with my cousin Jim, going back to their days of being roommates at Cornell and in the fact that Dick had grown up near Hamburg, New York not very far from my boyhood home. Jim had sent Dick a gift of a print I had produced along with some of my writing samples and so, our correspondence began.

Once the painting was finished and received by Dick in Whistler, BC, he then arranged for me to join him, Rob and John at Minnie Lake. “We’ll send you your round trip tickets. All you need to do is get to Toronto and WestJet Airlines. Rob and I will see to the rest,” Dick told me in words to that affect. Now, I’m known among my family and friends as one who avoids travel as much as possible, that it takes some prodding to get me “off the hill.” Especially during the prime spring time fly fishing season on my home water. But this time I was easily persuaded. When the words “British Columbia, fly fishing for rainbow trout and camping in a yurt on the Douglas Lake Ranch” were used to convince me, the phrase “no-brainer” came to mind. So I set to the task of making a gear list and happily shopping, during the months beforehand, for those items necessary for my trek to BC.

Journal Entry: Arrived at the ranch around one p.m. Chilly. Intermittent rain. Unloaded gear at the yurt and went fishing. I learned quickly that with these guys, there’s no dawdling when you could be fishing. I was still absorbing the scenery¾the vast stretches of open range surrounding the yurt¾and trying to organize my gear. With haste, we readied the trolling motor powered boats as it began to rain. I joined Rob and Hurley while Dick and John manned one of the ranch’s skiffs. We were hardly underway when, trolling a sinking line, Rob had a fish on. ‘Already?’ I thought. ‘Wow! This looks good!’ It leapt forty feet or so in front of the boat and Hurley, inspired to retrieve, leapt off the bow. He swam toward the splashes while Rob did his best to maneuver the boat and control his line. Thanks to Rob’s angling and boating skills, a meeting of fly line, dog and trout was avoided. Rather than try to heft him over the gunwales, Rob made Hurley swim alongside the boat to shore where he was able to come aboard unassisted. We then set off again and trolled sections of the lake with Hurley on watch in the bow. Thereafter, he maintained his cool and stayed in the boat, although he needed to inspect every fish brought to net. All of them that day caught by Rob, I might add.

J.E.: I thought it odd to troll with a fly rod and found it awkward to cast, when it was necessary, a sink tip line sitting in a boat with a dog. Lots of fish jumping. I was having trouble finding my rhythm and felt clumsy. This was a whole new world of fly fishing, having spent my time wading the streams of New York and Pennsylvania dry fly fishing for brown trout with an attitude. I hadn’t fished, trolling from a boat, since my childhood. Rob was getting hits left and right and netted a few of those rainbow trout while Hurley and I sat in the bow, waiting for one with my name on it. After all, trout were jumping wherever you looked! Undiscouraged¾rather enjoying the catching and releasing by Rob, the leaping trout and just being there in British Columbia¾I remained ready for that first fish. Hurley, on the other hand, eventually became bored with the inaction up front, dismissed me with an air of disdain and went aft to be near Rob and further close encounters with fighting fish.

J.E.: Not off to a great start. Got my line entangled in the prop. Struck too quickly at trout hitting the fly. Unfortunately the former was to become repeated “burr-under-the-saddle” moments for me over the next couple of days, during the time we spent trolling. Rob actually had to disassemble the prop at one point to untangle my line. Now, Rob is an exceptional young man, an exuberant fisherman, a lover of dogs and the outdoors. Easy to know. You couldn’t ask for a better fishing guide and companion. He wanted me to do well. Throughout his experience with me in the boat, he exhibited the patience of a saint. However, there came a time when I believe that he may have wished me overboard and swimming to shore, so that he and Hurley could fish unencumbered. Maybe it was the latest prop incident or my missed strikes. May have been the time I managed to coax a trout close to the boat only to break it off before the net. More than likely it was the time, when using one of his favorite “hot” flies, I mis-played a beautiful rainbow and it broke off under the boat, taking that fly with it. No, it must have been the morning we were fishing Corbett Lake, near Merritt, BC.

It was our second to last day of the trip after we had left the Douglas Lake Ranch to drive to a cabin on Corbett Lake. There was the promise of some dry fly fishing to be had during afternoon hatches, not to mention some hot chironomid fishing. I was looking forward to not trolling. The pair-ups in the boats remained the same. I think Dick was happy to leave me to Rob since he too had experienced one of my prop mishaps the one time we fished together: a windy day on Minnie Lake with whitecaps, when we also lost motor power and had to row back to the yurt.

Rob and I had anchored near shore first thing in the morning and were setting-up our chironomid rigs. It was a nice morning and we were both looking forward to catching some trout. But when I went to cast, the fly I was holding and didn’t let go of became deeply embedded into my index finger. I looked at my finger in disbelief then glanced over at Rob who was involved with his rig and hadn’t noticed what I’d done. I took my hemostat and tried to work the hook free. It wasn’t working. The last thing I wanted to do was to spoil Rob’s day. I tried to think of a way to keep on fishing. I kept on trying to work the hook through the other side of my finger to cut-off the barb and make it easier to extract. Yep, shoulda pinched the barb down beforehand, but it was too late now. No good; most of the hook was buried and I was “wimping-out” at the pain. I thought I might be able to wrap a couple of bandages over the protrusion near the hook eye and worry about it later. In the end, I showed it to Rob and was surprised he kept his cool. My respect for his tolerance for this ugly American grew even stronger. Dick and John were nearby so we motored over to their boat where Dick assessed the situation, offered to try and extract the hook then decided it best not to. Long story short, John offered to drive me to the Merritt Medical Center so that Dick and Rob could continue to fish. We exchanged boats and headed to Merritt.

J.E.: A painless extraction and last chance to catch a trout from Corbett Lake. Redemption on a dry fly. The doctor on duty at the Emergency Room in the small, one story center informed me that what with my inadequate insurance, I was looking at a $900 bill for hospital services. I thought then that a half bottle of scotch and a pliers back at the cabin looked like the way to go. Reading the discouragement evident in my body language he added, “There is another option. If you’re agreeable I can take care of this in a minute out in the parking lot, off the books, but,” and he spoke directly to the nurse receptionist holding my admittance form, “mum’s the word.” I agreed. She ripped up the form. Once outside and standing near his car where it appeared not to be a doctor tending to a patient¾we could have been friends comparing fishing gear, the Doc his forceps and me the lure¾he numbed the finger, yanked the fly out, handed me two bandages and said, “The rest is up to you.” And, no charge! Giddy with gratitude, my finger dripping blood, I about kneeled down and kissed his shoes. He saved the day. John and I were able to get back to the lake and in the boat for the rest of the afternoon.

The next morning, our last before heading back to Whistler, found Rob and I and Hurley together again. I can only surmise that Rob was on a mission to better my luck. Hurley may have been looking forward to my next mishap or he may have gained an air of empathy towards me since he stayed near me in the bow. But up until then, I half expected to be relegated to a lodge boat by myself with a pair of oars during the time we had left. It turned out to be the most exciting few hours of fishing for me since the day on Stoney Lake when we all caught countless rainbows on chironomids, dragonfly nymphs and trolling. This morning on Corbett, we anchored in the shallows at the end of the lake and fished midges below a strike indicator. The water was looking-glass clear; a loon appeared underwater near the boat chasing a trout. There were so many fish rising and jumping in the cove it was dreamlike. Rob assisted me in gauging leader length and fly size and we both caught a bunch during the chironomid hatch. Then a mayfly hatch began and we switched to dry flies. Rob caught two or three before I had re-rigged my rod. I selected an Eastern dry fly pattern I had in my box and tied it on. Time was getting short. We needed to get back soon and hit the road. The rises had let up and Rob was preparing to lift anchor and I began to reel in and call it a day. I was happy with the action we had and the fact that Mr. Murphy (of Murphy’s Law) wasn’t with me this day. There was a rise form just then and I thought I’d try one more cast. I managed an accurate presentation and the trout hit the fly. With the hook set, I had another trout on, but this one was more special than the rest, taken on a March Brown dry fly from my own fly box. This was the fishing I was used to: sight casting to rising trout. It jumped and ran and dove and then jumped again near the boat. Twice it took a run below the boat and twice I led it out. It finally relented and came to the net. I believe that Rob was just as happy or even moreso than I was. Of the many trout I did catch there in the lakes of British Columbia, this was the one I’ll remember most vividly.

J.E.: The good outweighed the bad: The weather was uncooperative much of the time with wind, rain and a cold night or two requiring a wood fire. Most of the time, unsheltered Minnie was choppy due to the wind and we opted to fish nearby Stoney Lake. Even so, it was comfortable there in the yurt what with a wooden floor, wood stove, bunk beds and small kitchen area. Even a heated outdoor shower. Following a day of fishing, there were steaks and other food prepared over an outside fire. In the mornings, a hearty breakfast. One evening as a late dinner was being prepared, a storm blew in with wind, rain and hail. When it had passed, the clouds opened and a vivid double rainbow arced across the full extent of the sky. We all paused in what we were doing, awestruck. I thought it apropos to end the day that way: a rainbow above the water with all those rainbows beneath the surface. It was as if all the vivid colorations of the trout inhabiting the lake were drawn up into the very sky.

There were numerous occasions such as that which made the small misfortunes seem insignificant. There were the evenings at the campfire when the coyotes sang; the call of loons; the sight of eagles; the beauty of the rainbow trout and so many to be seen rising and jumping. Hearing of Dick’s and John’s many catches including the special trout of theirs that tail danced on top of the water. There was the unforgettable scenery of the open and rolling range land around the lake with mountains as a backdrop. Simply breathing in the high mountain air. The morning I walked up the draw behind the yurt and saw two mule deer. The friendly people of Merritt and the Lodge at Corbett, the generous Doc, my new friend John Alexander. My more than generous hosts, Dick and Rob, who arranged for me to join them. Finally, that “last retrieve” I made on the trout on a dry fly. It wasn’t as poignant as the retrieve that Rob’s old dog Sedge made on their last hunt together and which proved to be the catalyst for the events that led to my being there in BC, but it was an act that seemed to make the whole of the experience come full circle. Sedge got to do it one more time and so did I.

Left to right: Rob Pomroy, Hurley, Dick Draper, John Alexander, Mark Cudney

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Sedge’s Last Retrieve

The Story Behind the Painting

Note: I have received reminders from two of my three faithful readers that no new posts have been added to my blog in some time. True. Once again this year, we are hiding out in Hawaii escaping the gray and wet of the Pacific NW and for some reason when in Hawaii I find it difficult to sit down and write. I can’t even get enthusiastic about writing about the wrangling of the Democrats as they try to pass a health care bill nobody wants.

We learned last week that “The Conservator”, the quarterly magazine of Ducks Unlimited Canada, has published the painting “Sedge’s Last Retrieve” and my accompanying story. A few days later we learned that “The Retriever News”, a US based magazine aimed at sporting retrievers, will also publish the painting and story in their April edition. Hey, other than indignant letters to the editor, it’s the first thing (and likely the last) I ever had published. True, they paid me nothing and it’s pretty brief but…

The picture and the story as published below gives, you the gist of how it happened. What follows is the ‘rest of the story’.

The story behind the painting, “Sedge’s Last Retrieve” is one of sentiment. True, it’s been argued by art critics that sentimentality is to be avoided when painting. Nevertheless when the challenge arose to recreate a poignant moment experienced by two veteran waterfowlers, sentiment became the unavoidable subject. Dick Draper, British Columbian sportsman, retired entrepreneur, dog lover and former U.S. Navy SEAL, commissioned me to capture that moment for posterity. The following narrative, in his own words.

Mark Cudney

It certainly looked like a lousy day for ducks: high clouds, dead calm and warm. Worse, the northern birds taking advantage of the mild fall weather had not moved down yet, and the locals had gotten an advanced degree in decoys and steel shot. But Rob Pomroy and I were on a mission to get his aging Labrador Retriever, Sedge, out for one final hunt. Sedge had been fading fast in recent weeks and we worried this might be our last chance.

Rob and I met when we both did a stint as fly fishing guides in Whistler and despite our age difference (he’s as young as my son), we became companions in our shared passions of hunting and fishing.

Old Sedge had been for years, our constant partner at the duck club and did yeoman’s duty as the bow lookout on our fly fishing expeditions to central British Columbia. We recognized these duties would soon fall to another.

Despite the gloomy prognosis for the hunt, we put out the decoys with the usual care and settled in the blind to wait. The few flocks that came by were high and wide and arrogantly uninterested in our set-up. Finally a mallard, which may have been the last uneducated mallard in lower British Columbia, approached within range. Rob and I both opened fire.

Sedge saw the duck fall dead into the water and hobbled out as fast as his 13 year old arthritic legs and cancer-afflicted hips would take him. He mouthed that mallard and headed back but it soon became obvious he wouldn’t make it. He stopped and stared at the blind. Immediately, Rob waded out and picked up Sedge who refused to release the mallard. As he made his way back to the blind with that dog in his arms, tears filled my eyes. And I cursed myself for leaving my camera at home.

The next day I contacted Mark Cudney, an outdoor artist and writer acquaintance whose skills in both fields have greatly impressed me. I sent Mark some photos of Rob and Sedge and he went to work on some preliminary sketches. The final acrylic painting entitled “Sedge’s Last Retrieve” perfectly captures that poignant moment.

Sedge died two months aferwards and as a loyal companion of shared adventures and affections, he is sorely missed.

Dick Draper

Mark Cudney and I never met face-to-face until the painting had been completed. He is the cousin of Jim Cudney, my college roommate for three years, who a couple of years ago sent me a print of one of Mark’s paintings as a Christmas gift. Mark and I then began an email relationship fueled by our mutual love for fly-fishing, the outdoors in general and writing. Mark, of course, is a professional writer and artist and has had a number of his works published, especially in the high end “Gray’s Sporting Journal” and “Sporting Classics” among others. He also has published a book. IOW, he’s a damn good writer and was kind enough to read some of my stumbling efforts and offer helpful suggestions. His art that has appeared on the covers of the above magazines impresses also. You can check that out at This is where you go to order a print.

When I contacted Mark about doing a painting of Rob carrying Sedge back to the blind I had absolutely no clue how much work was involved in doing a painting like this. So, I asked him how much money he wanted for the job. Understand that all our contact took place through email. Until we met last August when I went back to Buffalo for my 50th high school reunion, we never even had a telephone conversation. Mark suggested a trade for his services…. He would like a new fly rod and reel in exchange doing the painting. Now unless you’re talking about a hand made split bamboo rod or an antique, the best rods out there go for around $700 or $800. A decent reel is another 150 bucks, maybe. Sounded OK to me.

As the weeks dragged into months while Mark was working away on the painting, I started to do a little math in my head and figured that Mark would be making something like ten cents an hour on this gig. I emailed him and said, “Are you sure about this deal? Would you like to renegotiate?” He came back and said that, no, he was happy with the original arrangement and that he had “his own reasons” for taking the job. He also advised me that when he was working as a commercial artist, a project like this would go for about $14,000. Gulp. I figured he’d need to sell a lot of prints to get even a modest return on his investment of time.

Mark drove up to meet me when we were staying at my former roomie’s house outside of Buffalo during the reunion visit. I suggested we go fly rod shopping to get the payment part of our deal completed. We trooped off to several fly shops in Buffalo to test-drive some high-end fly rods. Nothing impressed him on that day and he later decided on a Winston (Boron, 9ft in 4 wt) and a nice Ross reel.

When the painting arrived in Vancouver (in packaging that would have survived an air drop from 5000 feet) I got it framed and headed for Whistler where Rob had been waiting anxiously. It so happened that all his relatives were in town for a family reunion and that suggested an “unveiling party” would be most appropriate. A little champagne, some appies and a damp eyed unveiling marked the occasion.

Sedge’s Last Retrieve now hangs in the entry to our house, displacing a very nice Crosby watercolor. (Note: Rob has Print #1 and I have promised him that when I take the big dirt nap, the original will be his. I added the caveat that if I should drown on one of our fishing trips as a result of a blow to the back of the head with a canoe paddle that the deal is off.)

This fall when Rob and I were sitting in a duck blind waiting for some ducks to show up, we started talking up our return trip to Minnie Lake in central BC in early June. We agreed that it would really great if Mark could join us at the yurt on Minnie. It will be his first visit to the Pacific NW. Mark has spent his whole life fishing the small streams and rivers in western New York and reports that the biggest trout he’d ever caught on a fly was an 18” brown. Nice fish indeed for those waters but, we both thought he needed to hook into one of Minnie’s 8 pound rainbows and turn that new 4 wt of his into a knot. Mark agrees and will be joining my friend John Alexander from Seattle, Rob and me on the 1st of June. Sedge’s replacement, Hurley, will be along in his official role as the new bow lookout.

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