Written by: Roy M. Brisbois
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was a time of wisdom, it was a time of foolishness, it was a time of sacrifice and a time of generosity.1 It was 1977. My wife Brenda and I were a typical young couple. Our monthly budget was dominated by a mortgage and student loans. Our home was uncluttered by furniture—a used bed purchased for $100, a card table for dining, and a brand new crib awaiting our first born being the exceptions. At night, Brenda would peruse catalogs dreaming of a furnished home while I leafed through the Orvis catalogue fantasizing about replacing my battered Fenwick.
In the early Fall, a business trip to New Haven, Connecticut gave me the excuse to take a detour and drag my wife to my personal Mecca—Manchester, Vermont and the headquarters of Orvis. While shopping is Brenda’s forte, she was uncharacteristically hurried, seemingly intent on minimizing my interrogation of the sales staff regarding the rods and reels of Orvis. Unaware that Brenda had spent months in confidential communications with Orvis, I left the store so that I could spend an afternoon on the Battenkill. The fact that I was skunked wasn’t a surprise to either of us; I am used to it.
A month later, I enjoyed my first birthday as a father. Given the increased cost of parenthood, my expectations were understandably low. With our baby finally asleep, Brenda watched me slowly unwrap a beautiful, leather-encased rod tube. Inside the tube was an 8-foot, 8-weight Wes Jordan bamboo rod from Orvis. My name was inscribed on the rod. Sitting next to the rod was a small rectangular package containing a new CFO IV Orvis reel. My astonishment was tempered by nausea recognizing that we could ill afford such an extravagance. Where did my wife even find the money for the gift? It certainly was not from our limited checking account and non-existent savings account. And how did she choose such an extraordinary rod and reel?
Unknown to me, Brenda’s employer had given her a bonus for maternity leave. Ignoring her dreams, and with bonus in hand, she promptly called Orvis requesting help. Explaining that she knew nothing of fly fishing, she asked their advice. She wanted to purchase the finest fly rod money could buy. But of equal importance, she wanted a rod that I could fish for the remainder of my life and pass down to our children. A series of telephone calls followed, during which the Orvis staff quizzed my wife regarding my fishing preferences. They then made a recommendation, which she gratefully followed.
Over the years, the rod has been fished all over the world. However, for our family, the rod is much, much more than just a tool for fishing. The story of Brenda’s gift has been oft repeated to our three children. It is a lesson they have all learned. A decision that at first blush appeared foolish was in fact a wise one. The “rod story” symbolizes what is best in a family—what it means to make sacrifices, to love someone and to commit to each other. Today, our home has a glass enclosed rod case displaying vintage bamboo rods. Dead center of the display is the Wes Jordan. A plaque sits below the rod describing its features and the day it was given. What cost $450 in 1977 (including reel) is now invaluable.
Thirty-six years later, my youngest son Andy and I were in the Amazon basin of Bolivia about to begin a fishing trip for golden dorado. At the lodge for the first night, we had the privilege of dining with Orvis Chairman of the Board Leigh Perkins and his wife, Annie. It did not take long before I shared with Leigh and Annie the role that Orvis and one particular Orvis rod played in the Brisbois family history. The following morning at breakfast, before the Perkinses started their trek back home and Andy and I began our first day of fishing, Leigh presented me with an extraordinary gift—a beautiful 9-foot, 8-weight Mid Flex Helios 2 fly rod.
Our 8-weight Wes Jordan rod is now joined by another extraordinary 8-weight Orvis rod. And both rods come with a very special tale of their own.
1 With apologies to Charles Dickens