Whitefish get a bad rap. They seem to find our flies at the least optimum times. More specifically, any time we are fishing for trout. Catching whitefish can be a let down because it is not what we are expecting when our attention is so singularly focused in targeting trout. The more I fly fish though, the more I appreciate the different experiences that this sport brings us. Whitefish may not be a beautiful, colored up rainbow, but that difference makes them special.
My introduction to the river hid me from home waters nearly all my life. I grew up in Washington State visiting Montana on vacation with my family. When I was old enough, I worked on a cattle ranch in Montana on the Stillwater River. My father taught me how to read a river and how to track deer and elk, and how to be quiet in the woods. After high school, I went to school in Colorado and learned to fly fish on the South Platte and Big Thompson Rivers. Fly fishing was a cold trout stream in the Rocky Mountains. But it did not have to be.
The boy knew nothing of cold mornings, or trout streams, or cattle behind the cabin in the woods. He did not know of the work it took to keep the land, or the joy that came with the work. He did not know that the children were gone and not coming back. About the struggle beyond this trip to the river. The boy did not know many things, but the man did, so he took him fishing.
We went at dawn when the river and trees and rocks still faded into a blue shadow waiting for the sun. It was too cold for my son to last long wading through the shallow water, but he woke early that morning so off we went. Neither wore waders. Most of the time he spent crouched along the bank moving sand with a stick and poking at stonefly husks stuck to round river rocks dried up and whitewashed between the grassy bank and where the rocks were wet from the river.
“Wanna catch a fish pop?” He always asks the same way. I always smile. Yes. Let’s go. I do want to catch a fish. Even though I know it is not the fish we are after. I know the adventure of the river motivates him more that the act of fly fishing. I know it is the excitement of the car drive and the sounds of Cory Morrow and Waylon Jennings as he softly sings along. I know it is the journey into a part of his father’s world that convinces him he is tasting something special. Like staying up past bedtime on the Fourth of July. I know all of that. Or maybe none of it. Maybe he is teaching me as much about fly fishing as I have to give. Or at least giving me the chance to see who he is against the pure backdrop of a cold trout stream cut through ancient mountains.
I was grounded. The United States budget sequestration in 2013 meant sweeping cuts to the military and because my flying squadron at the USAF Weapons School in Las Vegas was not “combat-coded”, we were left without a class of students to teach for six months. I found myself in the middle of the Nevada desert with no flying duty. In my mind, no flying meant “gone fishing”. But first, I would have to embrace the drive.
I laughed when he asked. "Seriously man. Should I be nymphing?" There was a frustrated chuckle in his voice. I think he knew the answer, but it is a fair question.