Teach a Man to Fish...
Early in his life, my daughter Erin’s middle son, Mitchell, showed interest in fishing. He always wanted to see pictures and discuss the exotic places I had been and hear about fish I had caught. He also told me of going fishing on Lake Wisconsin with a neighbor, and about the fun he had catching sunnies and bass off a dock with his cousins at their cottage. In 2008, Erin and her three boys moved from Wisconsin to Danville, Pennsylvania, giving Mitch and me more opportunities to fish together. He was only six, but Mitch was intrigued with fly fishing and I worked with him the next few years on fly selection, casting, wading, and fishing etiquette. As he grew, Mitch’s skill increased but he also became involved in youth sports, resulting in his unavailability to sh with his grandfather. By May of 2015, I wanted to discern if Mitch had indeed received my DNA for the passion of fly fishing. I got permission from his mom, school, and lacrosse coach for Mitch to leave after school on a Thursday and sh with me the next three days.
We arrived at the Hotel Manor that afternoon, got on our gear, and headed downstream below Slate Run. Big Pine was in great shape...good flow, green but not too clear, with caddis flies hatching up and down the stream and trout rising everywhere. It was a fly fisher’s dream! We observed two anglers leaving below the bridge and hurried to take their vacated spot. Mitch looked at me and inquired, “Pop, you have your favorite Orvis Far & Fine rod. What rod will I use?” I handed him my rod and explained that I was not fishing, only guiding, and asked what fly he would put on. “Tan elk-hair caddis, size fourteen, right?”
“Exactly,” I responded, and queried Mitch as to where he intended to make his initial cast. Mitch pointed to a spot sixty feet upstream where we had seen a large trout rise periodically. I asked him how many sh are rising between us and that fish.
“Five or six,” Mitch replied.
“Right,” I responded, “and what will those sh do when your fly line lands across the area in which they are feeding?”
“Probably spook and quit rising?” my grandson guessed.
“Yeah, so let’s start on the trout rising closest to us and work upstream.”
Mitch made a nice cast to a trout steadily rising about two rod lengths above us. Just as the fly entered the feeding zone, the current grabbed the y line and dragged the fly away from the fish. “Upstream mend,” I instructed him. He nodded OK, made another cast, performed the upstream mend, and the caddis fly imitation drifted naturally down toward the still-rising trout. Just as the fish tipped up to take the fly, Mitch ripped the rod up and back, instantly moving the fly away from the trout and into a tree behind him. Frustrated, Mitch retrieved his fly and I chuckled. “Mitchell, remember me saying, ‘We learn from our mistakes’? You just learned if you strike with that much force, your fly gets ripped out of the fish’s window and into a tree. That’s known as negative reinforcement.”
“Funny,” he replied with a smirk I recognized as the same one that was on my face at age thirteen. As Mitch moves into position to cast, I continued to offer instruction.
“Now remember, when the fish rises to take the fly, raise the rod gently with your right hand and strip-strike the line with your left.” He made the cast, turned to me and said, “Upstream mend” with that same silly smirk, just as the fly drifted perfectly and was inhaled by a fourteen-inch feisty brown trout. The battle was on and Mitch expertly played the fish into the eddy behind him, followed by a gentle release after showing me how beautiful it was.
I stepped back and upstream from Mitch and sat on a big rock and just watched. He hooked and landed four more trout without even looking my way...poetry in motion! He was now totally in rhythm with the rod, line, stream, fish—and it was beautiful to watch. It was rhythm, spirit, body, and mind working effortlessly together and in unison. It is a feeling I cannot explain. When it comes to fishing, it’s either in your DNA or it’s not. Mitch caught and released five more browns and a rainbow and continued to be in rhythm, and I continued to just watch. After releasing the rainbow, Mitch looked over to me and asked, “What do you think, Pop?” I told him he was definitely “in the zone,” doing everything right, and to please bring me his phone so I could take a few pictures before it’s too dark. I again moved back, upstream and out of his way. He was back in rhythm—casting with a stroke and a concentration enhanced by his athleticism. The tan elk-hair caddis was still landing upright in the strike zones and several more brown trout succumb to the temptation. I took pictures until it was so dark we couldn’t see, and then it was time to leave. In silence, we scrambled back to the car, removed our gear, and walked into the Hotel Manor. As we awaited our pizza and drinks, Mitch looked at me seriously. “Something happened to me out there tonight,” he said. “I can’t explain it. Everything seemed so easy, so natural. I could cast without thinking and the y would land precisely where I wanted it to without really knowing how I did it. Does that ever happen to you?”
“Yes,” I explained, “but not all the time. It is called being in rhythm. It is as if your spirit, body, and mind are so in tune that everything is effortless, which is why it is difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced that feeling.”
As the waitress delivered our dinner, Mitch looked straight into my eyes.
“Pop, this was the best day ever!”
“You mean the best fly fishing day ever.”
“No Pop, the best day ever. Thank you.”
How fortunate and truly blessed I am to have had a son, and now a grandson, both possessing my DNA for fly fishing passion. For his sixteenth birthday present, Mitch and I are headed this summer for a two-week fly fishing trip to Montana. I can’t wait!