“Wanna catch a fish Pop?”
He always asks the same way. I always smile.
“Sure, son. Let’s go.”
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 try to teach my son about the woods and mountains and rivers. About where trout linger and feed in the water and how to rig a fly rod to catch them. Patience. Beauty. Persistence. An open mind. Change. Ultimately, joy and self-awareness. I show him what I know, but he shows me what can and should be special as well. The joys of fly fishing through the eyes of a child. They are there for us if we watch closely and listen carefully.
Here is some of what I have learned from teaching him.
Don’t Underestimate Tying.
Tying flies has been an excellent way for me to stay connected to fly fishing when I cannot make it to a trout stream. There are so many benefits of tying flies, but my son has taught me that creativity and imagination are true highlights. When he imagines a fly, he creates it in the mouth of a trout. The experience is real. Almost like a memory. It can be imagined and pursued. That tiny fly is the beginning of a whole day and the anticipation leading up. Fly tying is a very real part of fly fishing for him. It can be just as real for us if we let it.
READ: WADEOUTTHERE | One Story and Six Reasons Why You Should Tie Your Own Flies.
Go Where the Action Is.
A child has fewer expectations surrounding fly fishing. No ego to clutter the experience. The disappointments and joys of losing and catching fish are genuine. A small fish brings the same joy as a large one. When I took my son to the Fall River in Colorado, we did not catch many big fish, but we did catch good numbers. We have also fished the South Platte River and caught bigger fish.
The smile on his face and excitement in his voice was as pure with a tiny rainbow on the Fall as it was with the big brownie from the South Platte. Why not chase the smaller fish then? If you know you can catch more fish, but they will be smaller, why not introduce the excitement? It also creates a memory that will build patience for the next time. Because now they know how exciting it can be. Now every cast could be a hit.
Real joy stripped of expectations. Happy to be connected to that fish on that day, in that moment. A good lesson for his father as well.
READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Six Techniques for Fishing Small Streams.
Trout Size is Relative.
I remember going back to visit my childhood home from before we moved away. I had not seen it since I was small. The enormous driveway of my memory was a tiny slab of concrete. The mountain on the side of the house was a tiny hill.
Now I fish a stream in Missouri where a 12 inch Rainbow would be a monster for that creek. It is all in your point of view. What a wonderful point of view a child possesses.
The River Means Adventure.
The river is constantly in motion and for a child that wants to move it is the perfect playground. It balances the need to explore and to interact. You push, it pushes back. Everything is new. The first time they wade the river is unique. Like the first time you eat an apple. You cannot remember it, but when you watch a child take that first bite, you know it is juicer. Even if you cannot remember that first taste, you know it was more full.
For a child a trip to the river fly fishing is not just a trip to catch fish. It is sticks and water and grass and animals. It is dozens of things that are different every time. Even for us. Watching him experience that adventure reminds me of that newness and the great privilege it is to be surrounded by nature.
Bugs are Cool.
Picking up rocks and using a net is a great activity to pursue with small kids on the river. It is all part of the process. And learning about the aquatic insects on the river is not just fun for kids, it is also good for catching fish.
Bring Some Help…Sometimes.
The joy of being together on the river is noticeable, but there are some benefits to a fishing partner when I bring my son fly fishing. When the attention to keep fishing lapses, and it most certainly will, a fishing partner keeps the odds of catching fish alive. And while there are many things that the river can entertain a child with, catching fish is one of the most fun parts. The times when I fished with my son and another person, I was able to watch him cast, and wade, and play, and bounce in and out of whatever interested him most and when my friend caught a fish, he experienced that as well.
Time on the River.
Taking my son to the river has always been more than fly fishing for me. If being alone on the river has taught me the value of intentionality and mindfulness, then sharing that experience with my son has had the even deeper effect of watching it grow in him.
Time on the river. They say it is the only way to truly improve in fly fishing. With my son it has meant time to be with him and time to see how he sees the river and the world. Mostly though, I deeply hope he sees our time on the river as I do. Time well spent. Wadeoutthere.