Back to School

My oldest son returned to college on Thursday, and, because of a work commitment for Friday, I stayed in Houghton while my wife accompanied him to East Lansing. My youngest son was practicing with his band the evening they left, so I retreated to my office to wallow in sadness and self-pity. “Stop whining you big sissy. Let’s go fishing.” I was certain the words came from the southeast corner of my office, but the only thing there — animate or inanimate — was my new Sweetgrass rod.

I have never won an argument with a fly rod, and this wasn’t going to be my first. Fishing different water and spending several hours in the car seemed like a good prescription for my condition, so my rod and I headed off to a river I hadn’t fished in two years. If the rod would keep quite, I deemed, I should be able to think my way through the sadness.

Neither of my boys are fly fishermen. Both have fished, though, and at times they’ve done so with enthusiasm. But fishing in general has been a small part of their lives, and fly fishing in particular has played no role. Until this year. Back in May my oldest son — the sophomore Spartan — asked if he could join me for a few nights of fishing during my spring camping trip on the Escanaba River. I said yes with a happy heart.

High wind and few rising fish set the stage for disappointment on our first evening. But just before dark the winds were subsiding, his casting was improving, and a few fish were beginning to rise within range.

Fish on. Tight line. Ping. Fish off.

“That’s okay, son. Until you do this a few times you can’t know what you need to do to fight a fish on a fly rod. I told you this would likely happen.”

Fish on. Too much slack. Fish off.

“That’s okay, son. This is how it usually happens. First fish breaks off. Second fish gets off because you give it too much slack. Now you are ready to land one.”

Fish on. Pull some line in. Let some line out. Pull more line in. Let some line out. Pull more line in. Fish in net.

During the long drive to the river I relived that night in my mind two or three times. Such a great memory.

My son with the first trout he caught on a fly rod.

My talking rod and I made it to the the river around 8pm. Many more bugs were in the air and on the water than I expected, and, more important, several trout were eating those bugs from the water’s surface. Some of the fish looked large, and, because I had only used my new bamboo rod on a small local stream, I was excited about the prospect of hooking my first hefty fish with this rod.

Six for six. I landed every fish I hooked, and the rod was spectacular from hookset to net. Most of the bend in my graphite rods is toward the tip; this rod bent nearly to the handle. Because of this rod I knew I would never lose another fish. Bamboo is special.

My wife would be in East Lansing until Saturday, and my youngest boy was planning to watch a high school football game on Friday. My plan was set. After my work commitment on Friday I would gas up the truck and drive back to this river. I had landed every fish I hooked, but there were a couple that I couldn’t hook. And one of those was large.

Fewer bugs were in the air and on the water when I returned on Friday, but the large fish was rising. I caught all of my fish the night before on a small caddis, but this fish rejected all of my casts with that fly. Even the good ones. I noticed a small dark mayfly on the water, so I extended my 5x tippet with a foot or two of 6x and tied on a size 18 parachute Adams. Bingo.

I immediately knew the fish was big, but not until it jumped did I realize how big. This was the largest trout I have ever hooked on a dry fly. Well over 20 inches. In the air its body looked more like a steelhead’s than a brown trout’s. A huge fat slob.

Ping. I heard the sound while the fish was still in the air. I stood motionless and felt ill as I watched my broken line float down the river. Dejected, I decided to reel in and head home, but another large fish rose about ten feet below the spot where the giant had been feeding. I tied on another small Adams and cast.

Fish on. Too much slack. Fish off.

This is how it usually happens. First fish breaks off. Second fish gets off because you give it too much slack. Now you are ready to land one.

My son isn’t the only one who went back to school this week.

© 2011 Timothy Schulz

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