I’m not so sure that sparing any rod spoils the child, but I do believe that as the fishing rod is bent, a better child is built.
This summer’s mission was to introduce a majority of my three grandsons to fly fishing. Leg problems rob me of my ability to discharge this grandfather’s sacred duty by myself; I can’t safely walk slightly bumpy ground, let alone wade in a slippery, bouldery little trout stream.
Plotting, planning, tactics and timing I could handle, but someone else would have to do the hands-on-stream stuff, and who better than my son, “Uncle John,” who was the first among the many beginners I have introduced to fly fishing over the years? My specialty was taking people who had never held a fly rod to a rod bent by their first trout the first time out.
John correctly assumed the venue would have to be Pincher Creek, where he caught his first trout on a fly, a 14-inch rainbow, when he was four. Pincher taught me, as a young adult, much of what I still know about fly fishing; after that, it helped me teach so many beginners that I contend that it should be reserved for anglers under 16.
We picked July 14th, during National Fishing Week’s constant “Catch Fishing” promotion, narrowly missing Friday the 13th. Thursday night, Herself, her sister, Caroline, and I were all thunder and lightning-bolted awake on the family ranch by a storm rumbling, booming and pelting out of the mountains.
Friday morning the creek was milky, but barely fishable, and that night it quietly drizzled and rained. Would a blown-out creek abort the mission?
By mid-Saturday morning the thundering herd had arrived, and John insisted the creek was fishable. So we rigged up the kids’ rod, so many have used and loved: an antique Phillipson Royal Wand glass rod, only six-foot three-inch long, taking a WF6F line. Small people are not intimidated by that short, light rod, and instantly feel the way the relatively heavy line makes it work to produce a good cast.
No question, the “rig of the day” would be the “British” leader of wet flies, cast downstream and across, the way I learned from my dad, and the way I had taught at least half a dozen of the adults in the arriving families. “Two flies,” I suggested, thinking of sparing John some untangling. But he insisted on the traditional three.
We agreed on my tie of the Short Black Booger for the “point” (end) fly, because its black tinsel flash is highly visible to trout in cloudy water. For the “stretcher” (middle) fly I chose another of my ties, a soft hackle copper-ribbed Grouse and Peacock. The “top” fly on the leader, John insisted, must be bright, so he chose a snelled wet fly from an antique card of three red-tailed, yellow and tinsel — bodied Professors.
So, a fishing they all went, John and his daughter Sarah, a veteran at seven, and his sister Maura and brother-in-law Chris’s three boys, Thomas, 6, Jack, 5, and Myles, 3, all in their ball hats, and short rubber boots, but all without the sunglasses Pop (me) always advises. These young celebrities who hadn’t done anything yet already had groupies: cousins, uncles, aunts, grandmothers, even becameraed paparazzi.
The great thing about Pincher for beginners is that it never takes long. John, as I did with him so long ago, puts the small hand on the rod, envelops it in his, and the duo makes a cast across and downstream. The current straightens the wonkiest of casts and makes the flies swing and dance enticingly. Usually one or more of Pincher’s feisty rainbows hits one or more of the flies on every cast, and inevitably one, or more, sticks.
Back at Mission Control I soon started hearing considerable hooting and hollering down on the creek: none of old Izaak Walton’s “study to be quiet” for these incompleat anglers and fans. At a fabulous post-fishing outdoor lunch, such were the tales told!
First up, Thomas took a creek-average size rainbow (20 cm) on the Booger. Next, on the same fly, Jack took a rainbow so good (much better than the creeks legal minimum 30 cm) that he had to consider keeping it, before choosing release, saying “let’s catch another one.” Then, too-late, Jack thought maybe he should have eaten that first one. Creek veteran, Sarah, took one like Thomas’s, only on the Professor.
Only Myles was skunked; his attention span is still a tad short for even a quick creek. But the kids were saying that Myles should have gone first: such generosity, such quick understanding of fisherman’s luck; as the rod is bent . . .
Right, next time: first for Myles. But for Pop and Uncle John, it’ll be hard to beat this 2012 National Fishing Week of “Catch Fishing,” all crammed into little more than an hour.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.