Mending the Line —  A WW2 veteran returns to Normandy, this time to fish its rivers — By Anna Brones

In May 2013, 90-year-old World War II veteran and renowned fly fisherman Frank Moore traveled with his family to France, to fish the rivers of Normandy that he long ago traversed as a soldier. You can learn more about his journey in the forthcoming documentary ‘Mending the Line.’

Oregon’s spectacular North Umpqua River spills from the mountains and valleys on the western slopes of the Cascade Range toward the sea for over 100 miles along blue bedrock studded runs. Fly fishing aficionados the world over know the North Umpqua is home to at least two legendary creatures: The world’s most challenging steelhead to fish and local 90-year-old angling celebrity Frank Moore.

In the late 1950s, Moore founded the Steamboat Inn. Located in the heart of 31 miles of fly-fishing-only water on the North Umpqua, the Steamboat is Mecca for fishermen the world over. Moore, who has served on the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, is the recipient of numerous awards including the National Wildlife Federation Conservationist of the Year and the Wild Steelhead Coalition Conservation Award. He was recently inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.

mending-the-line-inset1Learning the art of angling at nine, Moore has almost 80 years of fishing stories to share. A World War II veteran, there are also many stories that he doesn’t tell—horrors that are forever protected inside his mind and soul with no way to escape. But he is always willing to talk about the moment he and fellow troops were passing through the small village of Pontaubault, in the Lower Normandy region of France, just east of the famous tourist destination of Mont Saint Michel.

As he passed over the mostly destroyed bridge in a military half-track, he spotted a huge salmon swimming in the water below then noticed a forlorn fishing rod propped up against the wall of the riverfront café below him. In the midst of the darkness and destruction around him, Moore experienced a moment of clarity: He wanted a fly rod.

Almost 70 years later, for the first time ever, he is back in that very same spot, along with his wife Jeanne and their son Frankie, returning to the rivers he once crossed as a young soldier, this time armed not with a gun, but with a fly rod. The Moores have crossed over a continent and an ocean to get from the North Umpqua to France, an incredibly long and arduous journey for a couple their age. For Moore and his family, it’s the trip of a lifetime, both emotional and celebratory.

Troops land on Utah beach during Operation Overlord, June 6, 1944. U.S. National Archives

Moore landed on Utah Beach on June 7th, 1944 as part of the 453rd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion. He and his comrades pushed into Normandy, fighting Germans and freeing the French, making their way to Cherbourg, down to the decimated village of St. Lo and onto Paris, eventually ending up in Luxembourg and the Battle of the Bulge.

Moore is just as much defined by his war experience as his lifelong relationship with rivers; being a veteran, he is never far from a question about the effects of battle. Moore recalls how he responded when a reporter once asked him what first came to his mind when he stepped off the ramp and onto the beaches of Normandy.

mending-the-line-inset2“I told him [I thought about] my dear wife back at home and my fly rod, I don’t know which one came first!” He laughs, “Jeanne hates that story!” He pauses, then takes a more serious tone, “no, Jeanne always comes first.”

At 90 years old, Moore is as active as a 60 year-old, chopping his own firewood and fly-fishing every day that he can. In the fly-fishing community he’s celebrated as a master, and he’s a respected environmental advocate on the North Umpqua. Moore is the kind of guy you wish was your grandfather; spend enough time with him and he almost feels like your grandfather. He is kind, generous, thoughtful, and with 90 years under his belt, he is full of stories, not just from battles with fish and Germans, but also from a life well lived.

Ask Moore what his one piece of life advice is and he’ll say short and simply, “Love one another.”

Married before he left for war, Frank and Jeanne have been by each other’s side for over seven decades. His other love is, of course, fishing, and all that comes with it: an appreciation for the environment and the outdoors, a pursuit of the simple life. As Moore puts it, “if you really give love and are not afraid to receive love there’s a heck of a lot less stress in life.” And for him, letting go of stress is a key to longevity, so family and fishing are at the top of his list of priorities.

Moore learned to fly-fish at a young age thanks to his father, an avid outdoorsman who built his own rods. Passing when Moore was 9, his father even today remains a strong role model. “So much of my outlook was born during those first 9 years with my father,” Moore reflects.

Fishing soon thereafter became a passion and Moore has built a life around that passion, spending most of his days on the North Umpqua River, for a few decades running the Steamboat Inn, and endlessly campaigning to protect the habitat he still feels so strongly connected to. Fishing is the one line that weaves its way through and ties all of Moore’s life experiences together, from work to family. It’s a love that he has passed on to many others. Moore’s most meaningful teaching moment was when he taught his own son to fish, an experience Moore to this day remembers clearly.

Fishing is the one line that weaves its way through and ties all of Moore’s life experiences together, from work to family.

“I waded across the Rogue River, way up high on the Rogue above Prospect. I waded across and I was fishing for trout and I looked across the river where our camp was and there was my 14-month-old son standing on the bank of the river with a stick in his hand duplicating what I was doing with the fly rod. That was one of the most wonderful emotions I have ever had in my life. First thing I did when I got back home, I bought him his first fly rod,” recounts Moore.

While this was all a life that he built after returning from the war, Moore developed his indomitable spirit far before he ever became an adult. And in those days as a 21-year-old fighting in France recently married and missing his fly rod, there was no question in his mind what he was devoted to. “Getting back to what I loved was always on my mind,” says Moore.

Omaha Beach, Normandy France 

As he moved through France and later joined with the 83rd Infantry Division to make the bloody march toward Luxembourg, Moore crossed many rivers — Normandy is after all known for its fly-fishing — so it’s no surprise that in his fight to keep life at the forefront of his mind, Moore’s thoughts would turn to fishing. Now almost 70 years later he is here again, returning to fish in this place that he once fought to free, reacquainting himself with memories of the past.

After visiting the Normandy American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, which contains the graves of 9,387 American soldiers, he returns to a crossroads just south of Carentan. It was at this exact spot that he and his fellow troops encountered a bloody battle as they were marching from Carentan to Sainteny. A stretch of just over 10 kilometers, it was intended to be a short march, but instead, turned into a gruesome six-day battle. It is one of Moore’s darkest memories of war. “In 10 hours we lost 1,400 kids… you can imagine what that does to somebody… or maybe you can’t.”

In 10 hours we lost 1,400 kids…you can imagine what that does to somebody…or maybe you can’t.

To those lucky enough to never cope with the horrors of war, dealing with such a memory seems incomprehensible, but over time Moore has learned to internalize, process them as the years go by. “It’s like with a healing wound,” says Moore, “the scar may still be there but you may not know it, or feel it.”

The French countryside that Moore is visiting on this trip holds a lot of scars: a lot of history and a lot of memory. But it also has rivers. Rivers that Moore is here to fish.

Even in the French fly-fishing community, Frank Moore is a well-known name. Some of them have traveled to the U.S. to stay at the Steamboat Inn, and others are moved by the possibility of fishing with a man of his stature on their home rivers. Just like with veterans, there is a brotherhood of fly-fishing, and no matter what the language or cultural barrier, Frank is a part of it.

Moore is a talker, and as he works his way through Normandy, meeting fishermen, locals, and politicians, you can see that people are moved by his story. He is not only a well-respected fisherman, he is a man that once fought to save their home country. In a place like Normandy, where the memory of war still hangs in the air, Frank Moore’s sacrifice does not go unnoticed.

mending-the-line-inset3Christian Launstorfer lives and works in an old riverside mill in a small town in the heart of Normandy. Launstorfer has also dedicated his life to angling. For the last two decades he has worked as a maker of artisan fly rods. Wanting to connect with local fishermen that know their home rivers, during his return to France, Moore visits Launstorfer in his shop. While Launstorfer’s wife is skilled at English, the craftsman prefers to stick to French. And so the two fishermen, separated by a language barrier but joined by a shared passion make do, conversing simply through a love of being out on the river.

Inspired by Moore’s story, after meeting him for the first time, Launstorfer builds him a custom fly rod designed for the steelhead that lurk in Frank’s home waters. He presents it to Moore when he returns to fish with Launstorfer a few days after their initial visit. It’s the least he can do, Launstorfer points out, the recipient of this rod did, after all, help free France.

Frank Moore tends to his line on the North Umpqua river.

Moore is conscious, hyper-aware even, about the significance of this trip. At 90 years old, he is one of the few WWII veterans still alive, and of those, one of the even fewer that is healthy enough to travel halfway around the world. “I hope that what I am doing is in remembrance for a lot of those kids that didn’t make it back,” says Moore.

His remembrance is just as much embodied by his visits to WWII memorials as it is by time spent on rivers. Eventually Moore makes his way to the Sélune River, over which the bridge in Pontaubault that he so clearly remembers spans. He stands at the exact same place that he stood 69 years ago.

mending-the-line-inset4

“You don’t realize what it was to be on that bridge and look down and see that exact same spot where I saw that fish hanging. It all melded into that one time… that stuck with me more than any other thing that I saw over here. Isn’t that strange? Why should that one simple thing stick with one person so long?” Moore later recalled.

The river that stuck with Moore is known for salmon, but unfortunately the fishing season for this part of the year is almost over, and according to locals, over the past few decades, the amount of fish in the river has slowly decreased. Moore doesn’t seem disappointed in the slightest. In fact, over a week of fishing, much to the dismay of the French fishermen that are helping him navigate the local waters, he lands only two fish. But for Moore, it isn’t about the fish—here in France or at home in Oregon, “I don’t have to catch a fish to be happy when I am fishing,” says Moore.

For him, this journey is about “being with these people in France… to be able to go out on the river with them and listen to them, try to gain a little bit of knowledge from them.”

At 90 years old, Moore understands better than anyone that you never know everything, and if life is about learning, you have to be open to those lessons. And if Moore is learning lessons along the way, everyone he comes into contact with feels the same. From Launstorfer to the couple that owned a hotel that Moore stayed in, everyone is visibly touched by his presence.

mending-the-line-inset5

“This is an encounter I will remember all my life… it has been so enlightening, so rich in terms of human relationship,” says Guy Amon, a local river expert who was so inspired by Moore’s return to France that he volunteered his time and served as guide for many of Moore’s trips on the Normandy rivers.

The bridge over the river Sèlune in Pontaubault, France has been restored after being nearly destroyed during the Allied invasion.

Amon and Moore walk into the Le Gueil, a small river tucked away in the forests of Normandy. Moore is here with Amon and Amon’s fishing buddy Philippe, who keeps a small cabin here so that he can escape Paris on the weekends and come fish. The three of them, along with Moore’s son, slug up the river in their waders, moving as slowly and quietly as possible so as not to surprise any trout and make them dart off. They move carefully, Amon giving his arm to Moore for stability. At the age of 90, it’s no surprise that Moore’s wife insists on him using his wading stick, but often he gets too consumed in the moment to remember to take it out.

There’s a marvelous healing being out with nature…for several years, that was part of my healing process

“Fly fishing is about contemplation… it’s a kind of meditation,” says Amon. And at this moment, Moore is certainly meditating. He is fully immersed in the moment. No stories, just fishing. He is concentrated on the task at hand, thinking about where to take his next step, where to cast his line, and how not to move too quickly and spook the fish.

“There’s a marvelous healing being out with nature… for several years, that was part of my healing process,” Moore later says in an interview. “For the first three years after I came home I had some real problems. I broke down, fell apart, and that was part of the healing of emotions, the healing of the soul… my life was put back together again.”

The longer Moore stands in the river, the more time he has to process. And that is what he has done over the last seven decades: cast his fly and contemplated. If spending time outdoors is restorative, a kind of therapy, then fly-fishing is Moore’s space for the thought process that makes that restoration possible.

At 90, Moore is still an adventurer, and if this journey back to France is in remembrance to those lives lost right next to him while he was battling the Germans, it’s also in celebration of a life well lived.

“You always ask yourself, ‘why was I so fortunate?’ That’s a question that I still ask myself everyday. I still don’t have the answer,” says Moore.

He may not have the answer, but he is conscious of appreciating the moments that come to him, whether it is with his wife and family or on the river. “As far as living itself, [when in combat] you put everything on hold,” says Moore. “War… made me appreciate life all the more, in a good way.”

That appreciation and love is what has kept him alive through not only his days in war, but through the trials and tribulations that are simply a natural ebb and flow of life. We all have a line to mend, no matter what it is, and we all could spend a little more time outdoors taking the time to process.

If Frank Moore teaches us one thing, it’s this: life is a precious thing, meant to be appreciated, and if you put passion and love into everything you do, you will get it all back eventually.

Anna BronesAnna Brones
Anna Brones is a writer based in Paris, France. She likes strong coffee, riding her bike and planning the next adventure. She runs the website Foodie Underground and is the author of The Culinary Cyclist: A Cookbook and Companion for the Good Life. Her work has appeared in GOOD, The Guardian, Women’s Adventure Magazine, Adventure Journal, EcoSalon, Thrillist and Gadling. Her next book will be published Spring 2015 by Ten Speed Press.

Uncage the Soul Productions

Uncage the Soul Productions
Uncage the Soul Productions is a collective of innovative video and photography professionals who thrive on bringing exceptional locations, characters, and stories to life.  Emerging from the exhilaration of world travels, the name “Uncage the Soul” is expressive of the beauty and inspiration that can be found even in our own backyard.  Based in Portland, Oregon, their work has been featured on Discovery, PBS, and National Geographic, as Vimeo Staff Picks, through TED talks, and has toured world-wide with Banff Mountain Film Festival and Mountainfilm.

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The documentary film Mending the Line from Uncage the Soul Productions follows Frank Moore and his family on their journey back to France, and will be released spring 2014. To keep up to date on the film project, you can follow Uncage the Soul Productions on Facebook.