I have always fished with my dad. Even back when my sweet, but old-fashioned, grandpa didn’t think that girls should go fishing, my dad made sure he took me anyway. It wasn’t a political thing for him, though. It was just fishing.
When I was young my dad and I fished often, but as I’ve gotten older, and him too, we’ve had less fishing time. I guess it happens to the best of us. We grow up, our parents get older, we assume the roles of adulthood and just can’t seem to line up our calendars with everyone else’s to do the things we love. I used to tell Daddy that it would never happen to me, and he would just smile. I guess he knew that when I became a mom, it would probably change for a while. I fought it for years, but eventually I was only fishing when I was home for an Oklahoma visit, if we were lucky to have time.
Fast forward to this past Christmas, my first as an empty-nester, when my husband gave me a fly fishing rod for Christmas. My schedule had finally opened up, and I knew that my first time fly fishing had to be with my dad. It had been too long.
For my first foray into fly fishing, I took my new rod with me to Oklahoma, where I grew up. I knew pretty much nothing at all about how to do it, but I knew my dad would help me figure it all out. My plan was to do a little fishing on the Illinois River just outside of Tahlequah, Oklahoma where hardly anyone would even know what the heck I was doing, unless they had recently read the novel, or seen the movie of A River Runs Through It.
Since I’m no Robert Redford in A River Runs Through It, or C.J. Box for that matter, I started out by watching the video from Cabela’s. Then my dad made me a yarn fly and I practiced in the front yard, mostly without hooking mom’s rose bush. Next, my dad made me a practice fly, in about 5 minutes, with a real hook to use at the river, so that I wouldn’t lose my good ones too soon. He’s very sweet, but realistic.
Finally, we were on our way and we drove the 30 minutes to the river where small mouth bass are the thing a fly fisherman might try to catch. I admit I was nervous. I admit that I’m totally a girl and was worried that I would look stupid to the occasional person who might recognize that I was fly fishing. Trust me, I had good reason to worry. I was still hanging my hopes on the plan that anyone who saw me fishing probably wasn’t a fly fisherman.
At the river, my dad, a regular Robert Redford type, got into the water and started showing me how it was done. He doesn’t fly fish much, but he’s just one of those guys who knows enough about fishing to catch on fast. He also explained that fly fishing has been catching on in the Illinois River more and more, but that most people still don’t know much about it. This proved to be true for most of the first day. As rafters floated by, some asked what I was doing, some already knew, but said they had never tried, but no one laughed. One guy said he’d stick to his Zebco, which made me laugh.
Practicing my cast on the second day, I was starting to feel like Robert or C.J. might even think I was doing okay and was about to reel it in for the night, when I look up to see two men, probably in their late twenties or early thirties, floating towards me on fancy paddle boards, and… fly fishing. And fly fishing well. My heart skipped a beat at their beautiful casts, but then sank to the bottom of the river when I realized that I wasn’t as good as I thought. My dad, and even my mom, had come to observe and they’d filled me with false hope and praise, the way I used to do the kids when their Violin or Saxophone squawked.
Surely these young male fly fisherman were pros. Thinking back on it, I am sure of it. Anyway, I wanted to duck under the water and hold my breath until they passed by, and if I could have held my breath long enough, I would have. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to hold my breath for long, so instead I bravely cast out my line and waited for them to pass. Since there was no way I could avoid, or ignore them, I called out over the quiet of the evening.
“It looks like y’all (because I was back in Oklahoma, y’all, and the accent comes back quickly) know what you’re doin’.”
Fly Fisherman #1 said, in a kind, but slightly amused voice, “Just a little bit.”
Fly Fisherman #2 chuckled, but nicely, and said, “Watch this.”
Fly Fisherman #1 joins in and they float towards me showing me how to cast.
They coached me for a little while from their paddle boards, balancing and fishing like the pros they probably were while I tried not to slip on the rocks. I tried doing what they said, and they offered kind comments, but I could see I wasn’t getting it. Eventually, Fly Fisherman #1, got out of his boat and I got a first-rate fly fishing lesson that I’m pretty sure most people would have to pay for. He helped me catch a small mouth bass, which was small, but still a fish. He shared a fact that it was unique to that River and that people come from all over just to fish for it, and then, after my parents chatted with them, they both bid us farewell.
On the drive home, we wondered who I’d just received a lesson from. Maybe they were fishing guides, maybe just good at what they do, but I felt lucky they’d come down the river at that time, after all. Daddy and I went fishing again a few days later and I caught several little fish. Nothing big enough to count, but still something to whet my appetite for the big one I’m looking forward to catching someday.
I’m back in Wyoming now and I have gone fly fishing once with my friend, Kim, and my daughter. Let’s just say I need to practice. I’m still no Robert Redford character with my fly fishing, but who knows? Someday I might be.
By the way, if you want to read the novel, A River Runs Through It, it’s by Norman Maclean and I am sure it’s in your library.