Fly fishing has meant a lot to my family.
I have taught all three of my kids about fly fishing, and many of their friends as well. Like all things taught to humans, some caught on faster than others. Some pursued it, some never touched a fly rod again. I have become a patient and good teacher, and now enjoy the time I spend teaching others, in particular adolescents to fly fish.
I was not always so good at this. When my two oldest kids were both younger than five, I was not as patient as I became later. Not having as much fishing time as I would have liked, I sometimes resented the feeling of having to teach fly fishing, instead of just being able to lose myself in my passion. Yet I must have done something right, because years later they are both knowledgeable fly fishermen.
Many things stick out when I look back to those days. I remember both of them caught their first fish on the same day. Their first fish all alone that is, one in which I hadn’t hooked first and then allowed them to reel in. One time, my younger son had been standing on a rock behind me, in a small stream while I fished a riffle next to the far bank. Well he decided he was cold and wanted me to carry him back to shore. I tucked him under my non-fishing arm, and low and behold here came our Golden Retriever puppy unable to touch bottom and with a slightly panicked look. I slipped my hand under his color. This whole time I had left my nymph in the water, and I was heading back to shore with my son and puppy. If that wasn’t chaotic enough, it was just then that a fish struck. I safely deposited my son and puppy, and then reeled in the fish. I was always kind of proud of that fish, even though it was just average in size.
Several times my sons were extremely competitive in fishing, and it seemed they went hot and cold at exact opposite times. With one catching several fish, while the other one got skunked. And when the one was losing all hope, magically fate would reverse. I would tell them the only thing they can’t control is how many fish they catch. They can control how they fish. How they cast, how they present the fly, which fly they use, and most importantly how good of time they have. And a good time fishing can definitely happen when no fish are caught. Actually we wouldn’t enjoy fishing if we knew we were going to catch fish, the fun is in the surprise, the fun is in not knowing. They would look at me like, “yeah dad, whatever,” and go back to fiercely trying to catch a fish.
The one memory that sticks out the most, though was when my oldest was 13. We had scheduled a four day float trip down the Deschutes River, with two other dads and their sons. At the last minute both other parties canceled, and I was faced with spending four days alone with my reticent son, who seemed to be a more distant stranger by the day. I had toyed with the idea of calling the whole thing off, but quickly decided that wasn’t acceptable. My son’s mother and I were heading through what would prove to be a lengthy divorce, and my son never talkative was growing more withdrawn every day.
With all this hanging over us, we pushed off to face four days of nothing but each other and fishing and talking to occupy our time. The days progressed well enough, weather was good for late May, fishing was superb, and conversation came quite naturally.
It was the last night that I’ll never forget. As we pulled out for one last night of camping, we fished for awhile. Figuring the fish had been more than generous to me, I reeled in and set about the tasks of setting up camp and making dinner. The canyon echoed with shouts of an excited thirteen year, “Dad I got another one,” or “Dad this one’s bigger than the last one.” Several times I looked up from my preparations to admire the latest fish.
After dinner my son decided to head downstream to try his luck. Asking if I was coming, I told him to go ahead and I’ll clean up. Once again he was catching fish. So I strolled down to watch. He looked up at said, “what about that spot right down there?” I told him I thought it looked good. He moved down and on the first cast in waning twilight he hooked into a monster. By far the biggest fish of his life. Three times it went airborne before my overly anxious son tightened down on it too much, and the big native rainbow snapped off the fly.
I feared disappointment, but as my son turned around, he smiled and said, “that was awesome dad.” Indeed, I thought, it was. He finished reeling in, and as I watched this boy becoming a man, falling in love with the whole fly fishing experience, I knew I would never forget that fish, the one that got away.
Conversation flowed that night we talked about his Mother and I, we talked about the future, we talked about father and sons. We got to know each other again. A relationship that flourishes to this day. It is hard not be passionate about an activity that can give you moments like that.