I stood in the shade of an old yellow-wood tree and watched my grandson as he fished towards me picking 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 small elk hair caddis, tracing the faint current in the thin water. It was tough going, the kind of conditions often experienced 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. The experience was a baptism of fire for him, a terrestrial introduction that up until then he had thought was an aquatic pursuit – 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 places”. By the time we made it to my favourite stretch, foot-sore, scratched and sweat soaked, he was eager to cast a fly.
The conditions for fishing were poor – bright skies betrayed every cast, the trout were as skittish as blindfolded race-horses, conditions where observation, patience and perseverance are paramount – knowledge is gained. We turned over rocks to reveal scurrying mayfly nymphs and a few caddis, I pointed out the insect’s distinctive features and we talked about fly construction.
I put him into the tail of each good looking run and soaked up the pleasure of watching him fish, the concentration and determination to improve with every cast. We fished together, leapfrogging the pools, comparing notes. The stream seemed like an empty stage, but we spotted a few respectable 12 inch trout that spooked out of what seemed impossible places.
I promised him that as the season progressed and the skeletal conditions improved, we would work at perfecting his casting, avoiding drag, using longer, finer leaders and smaller flies.
During our lunch break he worked on his casting and out of the blue hooked a suicidal 8 inch rainbow. He looked at it thoughtfully in the palm of his hand, bright and wild – he was about to be confirmed in this pursuit, or conclude that it was no more than a waste of time. We still had the afternoon ahead of us. I asked him if he’d had enough – it was his call – we fished until sunset – I was delighted.
In fading light I sat on a rock above the stream admiring his focus, his 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 – the current edges, bank undercuts, below over-hanging vegetation and around structure. The rest would take care of itself in time.
There would be better days after the spring rains bring the rhythm of life back to the stream – hungry trout will recklessly charge his drifting fly, they will fight for escape and he will feel the wildness strung to his bent fly rod, his own keen senses tight to the trout.
Today was a dog-days fishing, we had scrambled and wet-waded up a mountain stream until he was whacked. He had become part of the landscape, the first obligation of an upland flyfisher. It was almost dark as he fished 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 flyfisher is how much he enjoys the trials of his first experiences, 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 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 © 2015. All rights reserved