It was a rough year of fishing for Santa Claus. In fact, it was the worst year he had ever had. Not a single fish. “Face it,” the old elf thought to himself as he trudged downstream toward his sleigh, “you’re no fisherman. Better just stick to delivering toys.” The morning had started like all the others this past season. And then it had ended like all the others. No fish – not even a bite. As Santa approached his sleigh, he was surprised to see an old man, clad in chest waders and a fishing vest. The man was petting Dasher and Dancer as he fed them carrots from a paper sack.
“Hello there,” said Santa, casting a suspicious eye on the stranger. “I’m…”
“I know who you are,” said the old man. “I’ve been waiting for you.” The old man glanced toward Santa’s empty creel. “No luck, eh?”
“No,” replied Santa testily. “I’m not sure this stream even has any trout in it.” He began to pack his rod into the back of the sleigh. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” drawled the old man. Reaching down, he hoisted up a stringer that held three of the biggest trout Santa had ever seen. Santa’s eyes opened wide.
“That’s quite a catch, sir!” he sputtered. “Mind if I ask what you were using?”
The old man pointed to an ancient fly rod leaning against a tree. “See for yourself.”
Santa bent down to examine the fly on the tippet of the old man’s rod. A Royal Coachman! Just like the one he’d been using all morning. Now he was really steamed. “I’ve been casting that same fly all morning!” he complained. The old man squinted at Santa’s fly rod. “Maybe it’s that new hi-tech rod of yours.
“Tell you what – try this rod, and see how you like it.”
Santa hesitated. He had a 2:00 meeting with the elves to go over the list of new toys for this year. But, it was still early…ahh, what the heck! He picked up the fly rod. It was indeed old, with many nicks on the stained cork grip. He practiced a few casts. The rod had a familiar feel to it. Comfortable. “You know,” Santa reflected, “there was a time when we made rods like this. I don’t know why we stopped production on them.”
“Is that so?” said the old man with a bemused expression. “Well, give this one a shot, and let me know what you think. I’ll watch your reindeer for you.”
Santa walked back down to the stream, and stepped quietly into the water. Near the opposite bank was a hole that he had fished several times that year with no success. With a flick of his wrist, Santa dropped the fly at the top of the hole, and let it drift over the dark water. Wham! Suddenly, the old reel sang as a large trout gulped the fly and began peeling out line. But the old rod held, and after several minutes and a furious fight, Santa pulled his prize from the river – a rainbow that would probably top out at five pounds.
In the next hour, Santa had landed four more trout, including one monster that weighed almost seven pounds. Regretfully, he left the stream and returned to his sleigh, where the old man was sitting with his back against a cedar stump.
“That was the best fishing I’ve had in years,” Santa exclaimed. “And this rod, it’s perfect. Not too stiff, not too long. Where did you get it?”
The old man looked up and cocked his head. “From you,” he said, his eyes misting. Santa looked at the old man, and then he looked at the rod. And slowly, it dawned on him. He looked closely at the old man. The years melted away, and he saw the boy he had long since forgotten. “Jimmy?”
“You remember!” beamed the old man. “Yep, you gave me that rod almost sixty years ago. Probably saved my skin. I spent so much time fishing with that thing, I didn’t have time to get into the kind of trouble my brothers got into. One of ’em even ended up in jail. Me, I started my own business.
“I sell fishing equipment. I can get any piece of tackle you’d ever dream of, but I only fish with this rod. Because it’s special. Oh sure, I’ve gotten skunked once in awhile, but I usually do pretty good. That’s because I believe – in myself. And I have you to thank for that.”
Santa looked at the old man. He was speechless.
“You’re probably wondering what I’m doing here,” the old man continued. “Well, everyone needs a Santa Claus at some point in their lives. I’m just trying to give back to you what you gave to me, all those years ago. Take the rod. It’s yours.”
And Santa, the greatest gift-giver of all times, was humbled. The old man looked intently into Santa’s eyes. “You know, there’s a kid in my neighborhood who’s going to ask Santa for a fishing rod this year. His folks just got divorced, and he’s having a pretty rough time of it.”
A silent understanding passed between the two. And then, it was time for Santa to go. He had that meeting with the elves at 2:00, and now he would be adding a few items to the production list. Important items… Santa laid the fly rod in his sleigh, climbed in, and turned to the old man. “Thank you, Jimmy,” he said. “I won’t forget this.”
“My pleasure, Santa,” the old man responded. Merry Christmas.
–From “The Gift” by Bill Cari