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Mountain Home Magazine

The Best Angle

Apr 01, 2021 10:45AM ● By Don Knaus

This is about fishing, not land lines, cell phones, texting, Twittering, Facebook, or any other of those social platforms that plague adolescents and stifle conversation ideas. With the age of a sage, I look back. My neighborhood in the 1950s was like most places then. The kids knew a few basic things. Like: indoors is bad; outdoors is good. Swathed in proper attire is bad; running around nearly naked is good. Bare feet, short-shorts, and bare back was the uniform of the day. On a typical warm day, I’d have been outside since just past daybreak. Near noon, my mother made me get out of the sun and eat some lunch, which was also an opportunity for her to begin her litany. “You can’t eat with those filthy hands! Now you march yourself right over to the sink and wash up! Look at you! You’d think a boy could play without getting filthy. You look like you’ve been wallowin’ with the pigs. Now get cleaned up. And put your shirt on.” As the dirt slowly ran off my hands and formed a muddy trickle to the drain, she scolded, “You know that’s no way to wash your hands. You could plant a pea patch under those nails. And those ears! You could grow corn in those ears!”

See what I mean? Indoors is bad. We knew that the best things happened outside. Good parents knew that, too. Some of my childhood pals and gals hiked or camped with the family, or swam in ice-cold mountain waters. I preferred fishing with my dad. All summer, I wanted my dad to take me fishing. I was always ready for fishing. I hid in the tall corn stalks in our garden until Dad got home. He smiled. “Whaddya say we go fishing?” We hopped in the car, drove to a stream, and talked while we fished. See what I mean? Outdoors is good.

Anyway, I grew up, met my lovely bride, and we spent spring days fishing, summer nights camping, fall days hunting, and winter days hiking through snow. We walked miles in the woods, holding hands, enjoying the outdoors. Sometimes, we didn’t even talk, but we shared, we connected.

Then, our girls came along. We knew instinctively the value of the outdoors. We started with walks along woodland trails, swimming at deep spots on ice cold trout streams, camping, and sledding through forest snows. When they were seven and five, I wanted to teach them how to fish for trout. I wanted my daughters to see the beautiful places where I caught all the brookies they devoured. I wanted them to catch their own supper. But they ought to have success first. Whet their appetite for angling. I needed a sure thing.

I knew of a trout stream stocking about seven miles out of town. We arrived after school. The gals traipsed behind me as I navigated to a nice spot. Several adult anglers were positioned on the other side of the brook, just thirty to forty feet away. They glared at the girls. My two blonde cherubs smiled and said, “Hi. We’re gonna catch some fish.” The glares continued.

I always had at least two rods at the ready. I grabbed the one most ready, baited the hook, and positioned the younger daughter in the right spot. I coached, “We’ll put your bait in right there,” as I pointed to the prime trout lie. “I’ll be back to help you as soon as I get Gretchen ready. When a trout bites, you’ll feel...” I tapped the rod with my finger three times so the kid could feel what a hit was like. I hurried to her elder sister, feverishly seating the rod ferrules and tying a hook.

Whap! Something slapped my face. Maggie and the girls were laughing uncontrollably. I noticed a nine-inch brook trout wiggling at the end of Karin’s line. I reacted. “I TOLD you to wait! Now wait a minute until I can get Gretchen ready to fish. Maggie, help her get that trout off the hook.” I turned to Gretchen and added a couple of sinkers. Whap! I felt the wriggle again. More laughter. Maggie confessed to rebaiting the kid’s hook. Gretchen approached her sister and threw in. I stood behind her, placing my arms around her to help guide her bait presentation. Whap! This time Karin’s trout hit my arm. Gretchen shrugged her shoulders to show that she didn’t want any help. Maggie and I sat back and helped with the unhooking and rebaiting until they each had the limit. The adults across the brook, having been skunked, stomped off in disgust.

We giggled all the way home. I cleaned the fish while the kids watched. Then they begged for “Daddy Fish,” a recipe for trout that they love. And yeah, we chatted all during supper about friends, school, church, clothes, fishing, and, especially, about Daddy getting smacked in the face with a fish.

After that, our daughters went along on fishing trips just to be with Mom and Dad. These were fun family outings that always ended with a picnic along the stream. From time to time, the girls slapped a number of trout onto the bank. And, as only kids could do, they often frustrated nearby adult anglers. But when they were in their early teen years, when they began to notice boys before brookies, they trooped along only because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. That became clear to me one trout opener. I had limited out, and I was frantically coaching Karin. She missed, and she missed on bite after bite. As I was rebaiting her hook, I looked slightly downstream to my bride and Gretchen. They were leaning against a streamside hemlock, heads together, chatting about spring clothing sales. Both of them held their rods so the bait dangled six inches out of the water. Their minds were not on fishing. I managed to smile.

“C’mon,” I said. “Let’s get outta here. I think we’ve all earned a late breakfast. Let’s stop at the diner on the way home.”

It was a great outside experience.

So, mom and dad, take the kids hiking or amping, and especially fishing. At night, spotlight deer, walk a woods trail to the beam of a flashlight, throw a Jitterbug for bass, angle for eels, sit by a night fire along the “crick,” listen to frogs. The important thing is, you’re outside with your kids and you’re actually talking to each other. And that’s not a bad angle.