Some years ago I wrote this piece for the Flyfishing magazine – I was reminded of it today ………
I stood in the shade of an old yellow-wood tree and watched my grandson as he fished towards me. The fourteen year old picked his way through the rocky bones of a stream laid bare after a particularly dry winter. He covered the water ahead of him as best he could with a size 16 elk hair caddis, tracing the faint current in the thin, gin clear water. It was tough going, the kind of conditions often experienced in September before the spring rains come.
We had hiked into the mountains to get to a stream I have fished more times than I can remember. I like to think of the hike as being an essential part of trout fishing just as is being surrounded by natural things and wilderness. The experience gave him a baptism of fire; a terrestrial introduction that up until then he had thought was an aquatic pursuit. A few hours of clambering through shoulder-high grass and thickets of budlia and nichichi bush, over ankle-turning boulders and tangled drift wood, he began to develop a better understanding of what I meant when I said, “the best wild trout waters are mostly in hidden, hard to reach, beautiful places”. By the time we made it to my favourite stretch, foot-sore, scratched and sweat soaked, Trent was eager to cast a fly. We had spent some time over the week before practicing casting on the lawn at home. His timing and skill as number 3 batsman for his school’s cricket side, gave him the hand-eye coordination that made it a little easier to grasp the basics for flyfishing. Then, a ten-minute demonstration on-stream was all he needed and he could lay out his leader, crisply yet gently enough on almost every other cast, The conditions for fishing were poor; bright clear skies betrayed every cast. With precious little flow the trout were as skittish as race horses in the starting gates, and not a sign of an insect rising in the warm water. Testing conditions, but those welcomed by a true flyfisherman when through observation, patience and perseverance so much knowledge is gained from trial and error. To prove the life of the stream, I showed him caddis and mayfly shucks left abandoned on the streamside rocks and pointed out the insect’s distinctive features so important in fly construction. We turned over rocks to reveal scurrying mayfly nymphs of various types and even found the occasional stonefly, a sure sign of pristine conditions.
I put him into the tail of each good looking run and let him fish, soaking up the pleasure of watching him, the concentration and determination to improve with every cast and added the occasional word of advice. I went on to do a little of my own fishing, leapfrogging the pools and slots with him, comparing notes as we went. Although the stream seemed like an empty stage, we spotted a few nice 10 to 12 inch trout that spooked out of what seemed like impossible places. I promised him that as the season progressed and the skeletal conditions improved, we would work hard at perfecting his casts, dealing with drag, using longer, finer leaders and smaller flies all of which would challenge his development as a flyfisher. He would learn the techniques essential for dry fly and nymphing, line mending and catch and release from barbless hooks without putting too much stress on the fish. During a mid-day break he worked on his casting in the pool below our lunch spot and out of the blue hooked a suicidal 6 inch rainbow. He looked at it thoughtfully in the palm of his hand, bright and wet – wild, perfect, with all the markings of an adult.
Trent and that little rainbow – he is now a student at university
I silently figured that he was about to be confirmed in this pursuit, or conclude that it was no more than a waste of time. We still had half a day ahead of us. I asked him what he wanted to do – it was his call – we fished until the sun eventually sunk behind the towering escarpment. I was delighted. In fading light I sat on a rock above the stream and watched him fish the last run. I admired his intent for what he was doing, the obvious pleasure he was taking in his own patient attempts; watching, casting, drifting, wading carefully forward, then watching and flicking his line out again. He already understood to fish the stream slowly and completely. Covering the current edges, bank undercuts, below over-hanging vegetation and around the structure – the rest would take care of itself. Although the trout had hidden from him all day, he was flyfishing, he had faith and the patience to wait for rising trout in more forgiving conditions on another day. I hoped that we might have good fishing after the spring rains once again brought the rhythm of life back to the stream and when hungry trout would recklessly charge his drifting fly. They would fight for escape and he would feel the wildness strung to his bent fly rod, his own keen senses tight to the trout. Today was a dog-days fishing, he had scrambled and wet-waded up a mountain stream until he was wacked, he had become part of the landscape, the first obligation of an upland flyfisherman. It was almost dark as I watched him fish towards me, the stream in essence laid out before him and the art of flyfishing taking hold with each fresh cast, drift and careful step forward. The true mark of a prospective flyfisherman is how much he enjoys the trials of his first experiences on a stream, preferably surrounded by wilderness in places that are important for their own sake, if not for ours. We can feel a true sense of hope when we have wild places to go to, where the earth still works its magic, where we can rekindle our fundamental relationship with the natural world. And, if we are able follow our pursuit in these places and at the same time introduce a kid to its wonders and teach them that there is more to life than cell phones, computer games and HD television, then we can rest assured that the future of flyfishing lies in good hands. ………. take the time to teach a kid to flyfish this season.
All images and copy in this post are copyright Peter Brigg Photography © 2014. All rights reserved.