“Do I get to go fishing?” River asks me one morning earlier this spring.
We’re out back, in the shed, where some of my outdoor gear is stored.
“Yes,” I say, but just as quickly, River’s attention is onto something else. Hanging next to the fishing rods are my elk and duck calls.
“Can I have your calls!?!” he asks.
They’re a favorite of he and his brother’s — the neighbors maybe not so much.
But intrigued, I ask, “Why?”
“So we can warn the fish!” River says.
“But we don’t want to warn them,” I reply. “We want to sneak up on them.”
This gives him slight pause. Slight, because as I take a rod out of the rack and prepare it for trout fishing, he picks up the rubber worm that had been on it since last summer and before I know it, the lure is in two pieces.
A good one it was too.
Yi yi yi, this will not be easy on me, this getting River into fishing.
I’ve been lax on this front. My oldest son … is challenging. Smart as his mother, he’s independent and head strong too.
Going on 4 years old now, it’s been nearly two years since our first trip together, and this time I won’t be bringing a tackle box full of hooks and bait scents — that trip it’s a miracle he didn’t hook himself and come home all lathered up in shrimp mojo.
I’m keeping it simple this time, still-fishing down at Green Lake. I figure that, freshly stocked, the Seattle strolling/trolling pond should be good for us from shore.
And if not, well, it gets Junior No. 1 out of Momma’s hair for awhile and gives us a bonding experience.
As with some of my other fishing trips, I took notes on the day. To wit:
Noon: Find a parking spot across the street from the lake. As I get fishing gear out of trunk, let River hold rod. Turn back and he’s whacking the grass with the ultralight setup. Stop! That’s not a weedeater!
12:03 p.m.: Join throng of people walking around lake — it’s a decent spring day for a change, and the masses are soaking up the partly cloudy skies. River wants to fish amongst a dense clumps of willows. As I try to explain why this won’t work so well for casting, he accidentally whacks me in face with fishing rod.
12:05 p.m.: Find nice, open spot with plenty of casting room. Take bait out of backpack — then fend River away from it. He’s thinking the corn is for him, I’m thinking they’re for the fish. I went with corn rather than the plentiful worms in our yard because River has decided the squirmy ones are his friends, and I don’t think he would react well to seeing one of his buddies skewered.
Bait up with a kernel or two, cast out, put rod in sand spike and retreat to park bench where River has a snack and we watch for the bobber to go down.
12:10 p.m.: River gets down, goes over to rod and jiggles it. Abandons rod in favor of stomping in the water.
12:11 p.m.: He’s in over the top of his boots.
12:13 p.m.: I decide it’s probably a good idea to get our setup further away from shore. Add weight to line and recast further out.
12:14 p.m.: Now wet pretty much up to his belly button, River stumbles in the sand for the first time.
12:20 p.m.: Sounds of Green Lake: Muted conversations, bike bells, dog barks, an audible sloshing coming from River’s boots.
12:24 p.m.: River’s now throwing sand: “I’m warning the fish.”
“You’re not supposed to warn the fish,” I say.
Try to explain why not, succeed … to a degree.
12:27 p.m.: River wraps himself in fishing line, first going one way, then the other.
12:33 p.m.: I switch to a plunking setup, form a ball of PowerBait around the hook, cast out and explain to River how we’re now going to watch the rod tip instead of a bobber for signs of a bite.
“Are you very good at sitting and watching?” I ask.
“Not very good,” River admits.
12:36 p.m.: Indeed, he brings a pile of wet sand over and dumps them on my notes.
12:38 p.m.: Makes a sand angel next to the rod. He makes a second one as well, though it’s harder to see — “This one’s invisible,” he says.
12:45 p.m.: Apparently standing in the water, stomping in the water and throwing things in the water do not require permission, but this does: “Can I sit in the water?” River asks.
Why not, I say.
12:50 p.m.: River finds a piece of plastic a bit bigger than a nurdle, but too small to identify where it came from.
“Can I throw this in the lake?” he asks.
I say no and try to explain that we want to keep Green Lake clean for the fish.
“Well, would you like to live in a dirty room or a clean room?”
You, of course, already know what this wet, sand-covered urchin’s answer was: “Dirty.”
12:55 p.m.: Despite all this, River’s having fun, is still fairly dry and is staying close by. As I enjoy the moment and the warm sun on my back, I think, “This is going better than I expected, this is — dare I say it? — going all right.”
12:57 p.m.: Reverie broken: River grabs rod, drops big glob of sand on reel.
12:59 p.m.: Next he wanders over to where the beach narrows and declares, “The tide is coming in.”
“It’s a lake, though, there is no tide.”
Recalling how the beach disappears and reappears at Carkeek Park on Puget Sound and down at Newport, Ore., River replies, “But the sand is all covered up.”
Sharp little observer, this kiddo is.
1:10 p.m. No bites, so I decide to move our operation over to the unoccupied swimming area. Bait up, cast out.
1:15 p.m.: River leaves muddy boot tracks on my notes.
1:18 p.m.: Accompanied by the sound of splashing, River asks, “Can I put my feet in?”
1:21 p.m.: “I think I got a nut in my boot,” River says, and drains both.
1:22 p.m.: We’re fishing by a retaining wall that rises about 3 1/2 feet above the lake. It’s too tough to climb, so River needs help up and down it.
“I want down,” he says, so I lower him down.
1:22:30 p.m.: “I want up,” he says, so I lift him back up. We repeat this several times.
1:30 p.m.: I check our bait and recast.
1:31 p.m.: “My boots are full of water again,” says River, “Why do they keep filling up?”
1:35 p.m.: Seeing something that will carry much more volume, River says, “Daddy, I want to scoop water with that!”
“With what — the cooler?” I ask. “No.”
“Then I’ll use my boot,” he says.
1:40 p.m.: I give up on plunking. Let River eat the rest of the corn and I begin casting a fly and bubble.
1:50 p.m.: River kicks our jar of PowerBait into the lake.
1:52 p.m.: Dumps boots out yet again and announces, “I’m going to let them dry in the sun.”
1:55 p.m.: Discovers the dough bait lid is ajar. “I’m getting colorful hands,” he says.
1:57 p.m.: Boot sun-drying scheme over: To facilitate the hand-cleaning process, he, for reasons not quite clear, throws both boots in the lake.
1:59 p.m.: Without a single bite and with a by now pretty soaked son, I tell River it’s time to pack up.
“But we didn’t catch any,” he protests, “and Momma will ask if we caught any.”
Here’s a good test, I think: “What will we tell her?” I ask.
“The fish didn’t come out today,” he replies.
He’s on his way to becoming a fisherman, I decide.
Editor’s note: Part 2 will focus on fishing out of a boat at Green Lake with River.