I had two goals on the river that day.
First, catch trout. Nothing new there. Second, scout a place to take my five year old son fly fishing. My first objective influenced the second. Thus, I drove the shortest distance possible to a Colorado trout stream and sought a shallow stretch of water that would be close to the truck and fish well.
Day One. The Fish.
The dirt road through the pine trees was bumpy and steep. Eventually, it spent more time going down than up and dropped me off at a stop sign across the road from the South Platte River and an unexpectedly empty dirt parking lot. I held the brake. Drive upstream exploring, or park it and get started? I wanted to minimize my son’s time in the car, so I pulled forward and parked in front of the public access sign.
The river was low and clear. I forced myself to wade more slowly after spooking several fish well upstream of my path. I could see trout in a long stretch of skinny water downstream from two large rocks on the opposite bank.
The conditions were good because I could see the fish and it would be easy for my son to get around safely in the river, but bad because the already spooky trout had no problems seeing me.
In the long stretch, I managed to convince only one small rainbow of the many I saw. Moving upstream another fifty yards the river flowed around a bend and produced a gentle riffle. Here, I caught another nice rainbow and a small brown and watched a solid brown flash and roll at the surface before breaking my 6X tippet.
Then, I stopped catching fish entirely. I cast again and again with complete confidence in my fly, my drift, and from knowing I had seen and caught fish there. But there was nothing. Eventually, I moved on again.
I could see a fly fisherman about one hundred yards upstream fishing to an eddy beside and behind a large boulder butted up to the bank. I stopped and fished in my third spot of the day. Slow, shallow water littered with large stones just below the surface. One brown trout in the net and one that spit the hook and then nothing. I lingered there before moving back downstream to try for the lost brownie. No luck with the big brown, but I did hook a few more trout. And then nothing.
I moved downstream to where I had seen so many fish. By now the blue winged olive clouds above the water could not be ignored. I experimented in different sizes and shades, tried parachutes and emergers, but hook ups seemed to have more to do with my best drifts, than with my version of BWO.
The stubborn fish from earlier now swayed in the current as they fed. I was constantly moving as I fished to them. Catching a fish in one seam, then moving to another, and then back to the first or maybe further down. When the bite slowed, I waded down towards the truck and found a family fishing and swimming in the river. This sent me back upstream.
I bounced from spot to spot along that half mile stretch all morning and into the afternoon. I would catch one or none, move up or downstream, and when I came back, a trout would usually oblige.
Being committed to that half mile section that I would fish with my son, showed me how giving the trout in one hole some breathing room can help you hook up later. Even specific fish that I cast to without luck, were eager to take my fly just thirty minutes after I had moved on and come back.
At two o’clock, satisfied with the fishing and the spot, I climbed in my truck, pointed east, and headed home.
Day Two. The Boy.
Two days later I was at the same parking lot with the same set up, plus one five year old boy and an old friend from school who I had not seen or fished with for almost eighteen years. We reminisced and laughed on the drive into the mountains, but when it was time to fish, he walked to the road while I finished helping my son gather his fly boxes.
“I’ll fish alone today, Shem.” He looked over his shoulder at us as he walked to the road.
“You sure?” I smiled back at him before he turned and continued on.
I moved with my son while he fished. Not fishing myself, but carrying him over deeper sections, removing snagged lines from tall grass and bushes, and encouraging him on his casts and drifts while he swung the rod and watched his indicator in the riffles beyond his small wet shoes.
He was not interested in fishing one spot for long before trying someplace new. Like his father, he enjoyed discovering the river. We were not catching fish, but we were fishing, and I did not mind. My day was made the moment his feet touched the cold water.
If I reached to help, he exclaimed things like “I can do it.” Or “I got this Pop. You go fish.” So, I let him go. And watched him. And sometimes, like with tying, he would ask for help.
And when he did permit me, I would move his arm with mine through a cast. “Pick it up. Put it down. Mend. Good Job.” Nothing fancy, but it was beautiful.
Soon his entire pants and most of his long sleeve shirt were wet. The cotton held the cold and made him shiver. I took off his wet shirt, but the sun was still too fresh on the river to warm him. I took him shivering on my back and carried him up to the road. He reached for my hand and we walked that way the short distance back to the truck, where our peanut butter sandwiches, and a change of clothes awaited.
After his belly was full and his clothes were dry, we talked on the tailgate with a fly fisherman that my friend had hitched a ride back with. When my son had finished showing him his fly boxes, full of his own flies, that he tied, all by himself, it was time to go home. Except for my son.
“C’mon Pop! Let’s go fish one more time.”
I turned to my friend and he shrugged, “I’m good. I just have to leave by two or three to get back for my shift.”
I checked my watch, “Okay son. Put your other pants and shirt back on. We can fish a little longer, but not too long. We want to go home and see Mommy, right?”
He did not answer but got to work adjusting a stuck toe that had caught in his damp socks.
This time we fished together. Almost immediately, my friend caught a brown that my son helped net. I showed him how to wet his hands and after a picture I gently rocked the fish with him until it swam away. He jumped, smiling, “Alright! Let’s catch another!”
We moved a little further downstream from my friend to the riffle where I had lost the big brown the day before. He cast and put in a little mend and raised the rod when he saw the take. I quickly crouched to help him with the rod, but the trout shook loose. I could tell from the bend in the rod it had been a good fish. I told him it was a good fish, and that it was a good hook set, and that I was proud of him. He was happy and disappointed.
Later, my friend came downstream towards where we were fishing with a beautiful rainbow on the line. We netted it for him and again my son was able to help.
“That might be one of the nicest trout I’ve caught Shem.”
We all agreed it was a good one to end on.
They Might Surprise You.
When the fish stop biting, they may just need a break. I had a tremendous day fishing when I started moving more, giving the trout in one spot a rest, and then coming back later. That day the South Platte taught me that children, like trout, can surprise you if you are willing to let them rest. Wadeoutthere.