I’ve been hesitant about getting River into fishing – a strange admission for an outdoor magazine editor to make, I know.
Here I am giving you all sorts of ideas on where to go with you and yours, and neglecting– nay, avoiding – to take my 4-year-old out.
It’s been over two years since our first trip (Northwest Sportsman July 2009). Our second was this past April.
Then again, if you read about that trip on this blog, you may have had the same reaction another hardcore angler had to my peripatetic son: “Your kid is cute as heck, but you have effectively scared me from breeding.”
For me, fishing is largely a solitary pursuit, alone time in the outdoors where I move at my own pace, go where I want, eat and drink when I need.
Fishing is freedom.
Memories from my early angling career center around inscrutably tangled fishing reels. Surely “Zebco” must be the name of Minoan and Makah deities who’ve bedeviled fishermen through the ages.
Do I want to relive my father’s hassles? I haven’t been so sure.
River, though, has shown increasing interest in angling.
For awhile now he’s picked up sticks and used them as rods to catch invisible fish. So it was time.
Around 2:30 or so that May day, we went down to Seattle’s Green Lake and rented a rowboat, dudded up in our lifejackets and pushed off from the breakwall.
After tying on a streamer pattern that has been good to me in the past at the lake on similar overcast days, we began trolling.
As you might imagine, however, there’s not much to do in a bare-bones, 8-foot-long plastic tub for a squirmy kid – especially one who didn’t bring his Thomas trains or books. The bubbles trailing behind the boat held his attention for only so long and then he needed to investigate what it was like to sit next to me.
No fun, it turns out, when an oar hits you in the chest.
He was quickly off to the front of the boat.
And then next to me again – at least until an oar swept him back into the stern.
Green is well-stocked, so after about 15 minutes I gave up on the Bugger and tied on a leech, and when that didn’t work, went to a Carey Special. It didn’t work either, even though we were in a spot that did me good last spring.
Hmmm, I thought, checking my watch – we were due back at the boat rental at 4 p.m. – might just have to go with metal. With that I tied on a Dick Nite, cast out and grabbed the oars.
I don’t mean for this to sound like an ad for the lure maker, but the rainbows quickly began grabbing the red-and-white spoon. The first slipped the hook on River, but the second he reeled to the boat by himself.
I lifted it in, showed it up close to a very excited son, took the hook out and then released the gasping fish back into the lake.
River immediately and loudly wailed.
“What?” I said, dumbfounded.
He’d wanted to keep it, he sobbed.
Then it hit me: I’d just let my kid’s first fish go.
His first ever.
The one you bonk – no matter its size or species or how it was caught – take a picture and send it to grandparents and magazines and post on Facebook.
I tried to rationalize. River, it’s too small, it’s still a baby, it needs to grow, we can’t keep all of them.
It sorta worked – or at least the tears quit – but now I had to catch another and was up against the clock. It was just before 4 and I knew Amy would be waiting back at the dock. I began to paddle us that way, but my hopes were low: We’d covered this water already with nary a strike.
But the spoon got bit again. I handed the rod to River, but as he reeled, the fish got away.
So did the next.
And the next.
The hour and dock grew closer.
We lost yet another.
I was getting desperate – at least River was fighting fish, but criminy, what had I done?!? If our luck didn’t change, his takeaway from the day probably would be that fishing is just a grand tease without reward!
There was no turning back either: I could see Amy on shore and we were already late.
We cruised into the shallows and I – the worst outdoor dad in all of history – gave up hope.
But then, by a miracle, one last rainbow bit. I set the hook hard and River determinedly reeled and reeled, the fish splashed and ran, Amy and I cheered him on, and then, as we hit the bulkhead, with a quick lift, I brought the fish into the boat.
Turning to Amy, River proudly exclaimed, “Mama, I caught a fish!” and in that distracted moment, I thumped the 8-incher – the toughest, best catch I’ve ever been a part of.
We took a mess of pics with it draped over his arm – he didn’t want to hold it – and then he announced he wanted to put it in the bathtub and keep it as a pet.
It took awhile to convince River the trout was now dead – but he readily ate it up for dinner.
It’s trite, but in turning his first fish back as well as failing on our first two trips, I think we both caught something larger in the end.