When I was a kid, I spent numerous hours fishing with my grandfather. Some of the places we went were havens for mosquitoes, blackflies, ‘no see ums’ and deerflies.
Grampa always had the perfect tonic for them. It was called Old Woodsman fly dope. I’ve heard the odor of that stuff referred to as a mixture of citronella and kerosene. I’d say that’s pretty accurate. I think coal tar must be in there somewhere. It was strong. I remember more trout than insect bites, so the concoction must have been reasonably effective.
I also remember lathering that stuff of his big black lab’s muzzle. It was greasy since it contained mineral oil, but old Nick never fought it. He eased his head toward me, so I could get his ears too.
Grampa and I often fished this little brook full of tiny brook trout. Sometimes we’d each catch over a hundred, before we could go home with our limit of eight fish each over six inches long. I don’t think I ever caught one longer that 12 inches in that little stream, but I was with my grandfather and we had our aromatic Old Woodsman.
Some places we fished weren’t pristine trout streams either. My brother, grandfather and I canoed the nearby Royal River and caught mostly suckers, chubs and eels. Occasionally we’d haul in a brown trout. It didn’t matter. We were together, and we had our Old Woodsman.
Frank Lawrence Robinson died in 2002, two months before his 100th birthday. On the morning of his funeral I searched his garage and found a near empty bottle in a dusty tackle box. I knew he wouldn’t have minded my taking it, so I took the lid off to get a whiff of the stuff. It was the end of January in Maine, so I never bothered to take it with me and I never looked for it again.
Since then, I often wished I’d put the bottle in my pocket. None of the stores carried it. Recently, my brother emailed me a Bangor Daily News article about the product’s resurgence. The term ‘fly dope’ has been removed from the name, but the original recipe from 1882 remained intact.
I jumped on the internet and found several vendors. A few clicks later and the deed was done. I’ll be checking my mailbox. To many, I’m sure it sounds unusual to get nostalgic about insect repellant. Oh well.
Anyone who spends much time outdoors wants an effective insect repellant. I can identify with that, but to me, the most important part of Old Woodsman is that familiar smell. Most people might think it smells disgusting. I don’t care.
Many effective repellants are now available. They might even work better and last longer, but that aroma reminds me of the many hours I spent fishing with my grandfather.
He was so special to me that I made him the best man at my wedding. I can’t wait to rub some Old Woodsman on and imagine he’s right there fishing with me again. I hope I can be half the grandfather he was to me.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).