Note – I wrote this 8 years ago for my father… thought maybe to submit it to a fishing magazine… but it was lost… luckily Dad printed and saved a hard copy.
Yesterday went fishin’ with Dad… a lifelong fishing enthusiast/fanatic… building his own fly fishing poles and tying every one of his own flies. He taught me how to fish when I was a mere 3 years old and to tie flies at 6. A few years ago Dad presented me with a box of flies tagged with dates, that I had tied at 4 – 6 years old. Even with that beginning, I wish I could say I shared his dedication to fishing.
At 50 something, I am not even remotely a dedicated fisherman… picking up a fishing pole once or maybe twice a year to spend time with my Dad. I would not know the difference between a “rapalla”, “spoon” or “red devil”… that they are all fishing lures is all I can say. I know the difference between a “dry” and a “wet” fly but, other than that I would not know how to even begin to guess what kind of, color of, or size of lure or fly to tie on my line. I count on Dad for that important information.. that is until the time comes for me to change, mostly because I have “lost” the fly or lure due to a mishap like… well, read on…
When I need another fly, I rely on my time tested (but not too successful) method of looking in the box of flies and asking, “If I were a fish today what would look yummy?” It never ceases to make me chuckle … but also seldom results in the catching of a fish. Nope, fishing for me is a way to spend time with the man who did so much (and still does) for me… doing the thing he loves best. As for me I can take or leave the sport … which may explain my very low “catch rate”. I often quip to Dad and anyone else who will listen… that MY definition of a successful day fishing is one in which the fish leave me alone. I am sure I stole that line from someone…
So, the One Day Fishing Expedition story begins… 8 am and we are on the road… of course the requisite sandwiches, snacks and day ending beers are packed in the cooler. We head to the Sweetwater River, although from my parents’ house it is a fifteen minute drive to the Popo Agie River and a 30 – 40 minute drive to Louis Lake in the mountains … from either place we could jump out of the truck and in 5 minutes “drop “ a line and start fishin’… NOPE! … in my family the “DAD (and all my uncles) Way” is to have a few “SECRET” fishing spots that only privileged friends and relatives are taken to. It is to one of these spots we go today… as he and I do every year when I visit. We drive 40 miles over South Pass and then 15-20 miles on an ever-worsening dirt road to a dead end on the banks of the Sweetwater River arriving an hour and a half after our departure from home. We don our fishing gear… hats, waders vests, creels, etc. set up our poles and then set out hiking yet another 1/2 hour up to the “secret” spot.
Finally Dad says, “You start here, I ‘m goin’ up stream a bit”… and off he plods another few hundred meters. The plan is: we will fish our way back to the truck.
As soon as Dad is out of sight I am transformed into the little kid who wants only to “catch the big one” and garner my father’s approval…but I expect that as usual I will have no better luck at this spot any more than all the other “SECRET” spots visited over the years… which means my luck is usually “NO LUCK”… translated that means that the “strike” ( where a fish tries to bite the fly) is rare and me actually hooking , fighting and landing the fish is akin to winning the lottery.
So it is with surprise that after the third or fourth cast I watch a fish dart out from under the bank and “strike” my fly… so unprepared for that rare event I react too slowly and the fish returns to his repose under the bank (after figuring out that what he was biting was not healthy for him). He learned quicker than I, and would not rise to my repeated offers of the same fly… and so it went from there…
For the next hour and a half I spent 2/3’s of my time engaged in my “favorite” fishing activity… disentangling my line and fly from various trees, bushes, underwater snags and rocks that have been unfortunate enough to be near me and my casts. Usually I lose 2 or 3 of dad’s flies every time we fish… and I end up feeling like I did as a kid… hopeless, helpless and raging with embarrassment. No wonder dad ties flies all winter long… building up stock for me to lose. I vow “TODAY I may not catch a fish BUT, I will NOT lose a fly!” I carefully sort out the snags, wade the river back and forth to recover the fly, time and time again.
At least Dad is upstream far enough so as not to see my antics… UNTIL a particularly MEAN and NASTY willow bush grabs up my line. Dad comes around the river bend as I am peering to see where my fine monofilament line is going in the bush. From the other side of the river he yells, “HERE, USE THIS” and tosses something across to my side of the river. It is a gadget that he has made that attaches to the end of a fishing pole with a large triple hook attached to some heavy nylon string… it looks like a grappling hook… AHA! I put the device on the pole … grapple the branch …use the nylon line to pull it down … untangle the fly line and fly. “NEAT device”… worked like a charm”, I yell. But, dad has moved downstream ahead of me. I admire his ingenuity… and suddenly realize that in all the (50 some) years I have gone fishing with Dad, he has always had the tool, device, gadget to get me out of trouble every time I got in… AND not one of those things looked new or unused. In a flash of insight I realize that Dad has had to contend with all the same situations too… ONLY after years and years of practice he avoids most of the embarrassing situations without a thought… Maybe there was hope for me yet.
I had been two hours on the river and yet to lose a fly… even though a breeze was blowing (a breeze can feel like a gale when you are trying to cast a 1/4 oz fly on a hair thin monofilament line , 25 feet across a river) I seemed to be getting the fly to go where I wanted. I saw a likely looking hole near a semi submerged bush (a potential snag). “There must be a nice fish in that hole” I thought and decided to try and entice him out… the first cast hit the water perfectly upstream where I wanted and floated just in front of the snag and across the hole… WOW!… second cast and again the cast hit the water perfectly upstream and floated just in front of the snag and across the hole… DOUBLE WOW!… a third cast … the same. Maybe there wasn’t a fish in that hole … but one more cast … just to make sure. I was feeling smug. As I wound up for the cast, dad rounded the corner … I let loose and ZAP… snagged! My face flushing with embarrassment, anger and frustration, I cussed as I waded the river once more. The fly was snagged under the bush so I delicately balanced and reached under, using the line to guide my hand to the fly… and the line broke. MY first fly of the day LOST! … SH…ugar! Thankfully Dad had, by then, moved on.
I sat down and used my time honored/not too successful fly selection method… “WHAT looks YUMMY?”… The new fly performed as usual as an hour passed without a nibble… I decided to select another tempting treat from the box of flies. Dad once again emerged from around the bend… so I asked what he would try… “This one”, he said and moved on.
30 minutes passed and having once again leap-frogged dad, I spied a snag and a hole right behind it… I could almost imagine a neon arrow point to the hole flashing “FISH…FISH…FISH” . I set up and casted between the snag and the hole… the fly landed perfectly, drifted to the hole … SURE ENOUGH.. a medium sized brown trout darted out and hit the fly… I jerked the pole to set the fly and the line flopped back to me… without the trout or the FLY!
The fish was still there … I could see him under the bank… I glanced around … dad was still up river… I quickly opened the fly box, selected the most “YUMMY” fly, quickly tied it on and got ready to cast, when dad poped around the corner, again.
“Any luck?” he asked. “We’ll see”, I replied. I cast in front of the hole… nothing …I cast again… nothing… Dad moved behind me … a third cast and the trout hit the fly… BUT this time, I was ready… a flick of the wrist and the hook was set.
For the next few minutes the trout and I fought it out as dad watched… I slowly worked the fish to the bank, to my hand, unhooked and released the trout back to his lair. Dad had already caught more than enough fish for a nice dinner. No need to keep this fish.
Dad said, “Well done.” … I grinned and replied, “You know what I have just done don’t you?”
Dad looked puzzled and I added, “ I have just ruined my “successful” day fishing.” We both laughed…
The rest of the way back to the truck was devoid of any strikes or catches and soon we were sitting on the tailgate of the truck sipping beer, munching potato chips, eating our sandwiches and laughing about this day, other days and memories of past fishing trips.
As we departed the river on our way home, I was feeling satisfied, contented…
As I said earlier… for me, fishing has never been about catching a fish … it is about the best catch of all … a day spent with my DAD.