In our small group of family and friends, my son and I have emerged as the more avid anglers, a position that brings both responsibilities and rewards. Most of these responsibilities are self imposed. Others are unwritten but understood by most fishermen. And the rewards come in direct proportion to adherence to one’s understanding and practice of these responsibilities.
Thanks to my father, I can look to an example that serves me well. I can’t recall when a rod was first entrusted to my small hands, but this lack of recollection assures me I was quite young. So, it was only natural that I would humbly consent to take a family friend’s seven-year-old son, Connor, on his second adventure in fishing. This consent, however, put me in the unenviable position of living up to a reputation cemented when Connor was about two years old, when I was able to put him on a decent size fish during his first time fishing. Thankfully, I had a plan.
Over the last few years, as I have developed my rudimentary knowledge of fishing the 108 corridor of the Western Sierras, I have come to affectionately think of one particular stream as My Outdoor Classroom. A particular stretch of this stream originates from a reservoir, allowing for a consistent temperature all summer long, and is just as consistently stocked by California’s Department of Fish & Game.
I’ve taken my nephews to this stream, where they learned a bit about fishing and perhaps much more about its inhabitants, having chased various insects and crawdads on a warm afternoon. As a new fly fisher, I use this stream to build my skills, knowing that it is likely that I will be able to practice more than just casting and presentation if a trout – even if it is a hatchery rainbow or brook – obliges me with lessons in hooking, playing and landing. So it was decided that Connor would join me on this stream the morning of the Saturday before Labor Day.
As is the fashion of fishermen, before the sun was up I was driving through the golden Sierra foothills. Geared up and looking goofy as fly fisherman does, I headed into the small canyon where I would be guaranteed cool shade all day long. With history as my guide and no other fishermen in sight, I settled in a few feet downstream from a boulder and directly across from a seam (the edge between sections of water flowing at different speeds) that delineated the eddies of nearly still water behind the boulder and the faster flowing shallows closer to the opposite shore.
I would be casting my flies into the inky water without any hint that fish might be present. I had not seen any evidence of feeding. I also could not see beyond the stream’s still-black surface.
Six or seven casts later I was rewarded with a decent-sized rainbow that broke the surface chasing my Zebra midge. My reel sung as the fish first headed upstream before sounding for the bottom. I muscled him out from behind a rock only to apply pressure to keep him out the weed beds that lined the stream bank. What a great start to a day that was just dawning! During the next two hours before Connor would join me, this scene was replayed numerous times, and in the end, I could count sixteen fish hooked and fourteen landed.
With the arrival of my seven-year-old student, I set aside my fly rod and rigged up a spinning rod, then gave Connor a crash course in how to cast and retrieve the little Panther Martin at the end of the line. He caught on rather quickly and did a great job of listening to my direction. Within a few minutes he was casting a fair distance, though not always in the best direction, and was learning to retrieve the lure at a good pace.
Wanting to show him the best location to land the lure, I made a cast myself, and wouldn’t you know it, it was “fish on!” after two cranks of the reel. Having learned many years ago that for a child the thrill of fishing lies in the catching not the watching, I suppressed the involuntary urge to bring the fish in and quickly handed the rod to Connor, offering guidance on playing this trout. Shortly, he was rewarded with a very fair-sized rainbow. I was rewarded with a big grin.
Since the casting in this section of the stream requires a healthy ability to target a small area, I next set Connor up with salmon eggs. (Yes, I’m typically a catch-and-release fisherman, but knowing that these were not wild trout, that there would be a limit to Connor’s take, and that they would be eaten, I was willing to allow for the use of bait.) It looked like a picture composed by Norman Rockwell: Connor in his striped shirt holding a pole out over the bank of the stream and anxiously watching his line.
In short order he was into another fish. Not as big as the first, but still plenty full of fight for young man. Connor’s mask of concentration dissolved into a smile as I netted this fish. Quickly he was ready to cast again. In between untangling line, Connor did get a few other strikes, but didn’t hook up. Setting the hook is another lesson for another time.
With Connor’s line once again in the water, I returned to fly fishing. My time on this water has taught me that about mid morning that the “catching” typically slows, particularly when it comes to bait or spinners. But for some reason, a fly seems to capture the attention of these trout for a bit longer.
Casting over the heads of Connor and a few other fishermen who had joined us, I again drifted my flies along the seam. I allowed for a longer drift, expecting the fish might be spread out a bit more after being flogged by spinners for a few hours. During the next hour or so I was into a rainbow every few minutes. Even after all the other fisherman had left, I was hooking fish. Eight more fish brought my total to twenty-four trout hooked and twenty landed. Not too shabby for three and a half hours.
The fishing was good this day. Best of all, my seven-year-old friend seems to have been inspired by his second time fishing (and catching). The morning we were preparing to leave the cabin he asked, “Are we going fish?” I hope the answer will be “Sometime soon.”