I grew up in a fishing family. I would like to say that I can’t remember not fishing but it wouldn’t quite be true. I do remember my father giving me my first rod and reel. I remember the reel was a blue spinning reel called an Ambidex. It was called an Ambidex because the crank could be easily switched from one side to the other. He took me to a little creek not too far from Sundridge Ontario. I forget the name of it now, but I think I could find it again.
It was the place where I caught my first trout. At the time it seemed huge, but many years later when I found that creek again and fished it, I realized it must have been an 8 or 9 inch brook trout, huge to a little boy happy to be out learning about nature with his dad.
My father was an unrepentant bank-napping bait plonker with a knack for catching trout. He had a keen feel for it, knew just how to present his worm so it drifted just under that big log, the one where the big trout lived. Growing up, I just assumed that everyone fished with the same kind of enthusiam we did.
By the time I was in university I mostly stopped fishing. Oh I would go occasionally, but not with the same enthusiasm I had in my youth. Years later, I met my friend East Texas Red, who became interested in fly fishing. I had done just a wee little bit of fly fishing with my father. Still it was a mysterious activity steeped in lore and history. East Texas Red and I fished many places together in those years. We traveled down to Pennsylvania and west to Montana and Idaho and Wyoming, fished Yellowstone, and fished up in Alberta and BC. We met and befriended a writer named Ken and together fished many of the legendary places.
Something I can’t exactly define changed for me on the North Tongue River in Wyoming. We fished the stream all morning with little success. We could see the big cutts in the stream but they were not interested in our flies. In mid afternoon a mayfly emergence came off the water. I think the flies were the ones we called Flavs. I remember more or less matching them with parachute Adams patterns and with Usuals. The stream came alive and during the hatch I caught just about everything I cast at. It reached a point where I found myself trying to catch only the biggest of the trout or the most difficult. It was silly really. I realized it isn’t nearly so much fun if it gets too easy. I guess that’s a Romantic idea – the thrill is in the chasing and not the apprehending. I think in fact the thrill is in the chasing but it stays piqued if you can do a little apprehending along the way. Whatever it was I was getting or appreciating about the activity, it clearly wasn’t simply tied up with catching trout.
After that I became much more tuned into the broader experience and learned to better enjoy the birds and the bugs and trees and grasses and the way they all interacted with one another. Fantastic. Sure I was out there trying to catch trout, but when I did, I started thinking of it as an indicator that I was paying attention well.
During the past four years, since we got our first dog Memphis, I haven’t done so much fly fishing. I liked to spend time with Memphis and later with Ellie Mae too, and two Newfs and a creek quickly turns into two Newfs lying in the middle of the creek.
My brother Salvelinas had been collecting mushrooms for some time and he started showing me how to identify my first mushrooms. This is an activity that shares certain things in common with fly fishing. It is very much all about observing what is going on in nature, in this case in the forest. As a bonus, I could take the dogs along. They love romping through the forest with me. I’ve been doing less fly fishing these last four years and lots of mushroom collecting during my free weekend time. Last year I hardly fished, if at all.
I have to say I miss it. Really, more than anything, I miss walking streams and smaller rivers, watching, watching, casting, getting into it like a meditation. This year I’m planning to get more time on rivers. I’m thinking of taking a road trip just for the hell of it, maybe camp on the UP in Michigan for a few days. I spent a little time up there a few years back and I know some streams. I have a picture of one of them tacked up in my cube at work. I work in a room with no windows, and so I keep this picture up for those moments when I need to transport myself outdoors. I took the photo in one of the upper stretches of the Fox River at a place where I saw two very large brook trout holding and fished for them without success for hours. It was a very memorable spot and I’d like to see if I could find it again.