“Tommy, if you catch a fish on a dry fly this year, I’ll buy you something special like a new video game as long as it’s under $20.00,” I offered Tom, my eleven year old son, before we left for on our annual Memorial Day camping trip to Birch Creek.
My goal was to get Tom excited about something other than video games, Nintendo 3D-S, MP-3 Players, and Youtube, which dominate so much of his time. He wouldn’t have access to those things anyway while camping, and I hoped to instill in Tom a love of the outdoors as my father did for me when I was a kid.
“That sounds good Dad, but if I catch a fish on a dry fly, will you just give me $20.00?” replied Tom, who is always trying work a better deal.
“I suppose so,” I replied a little hesitantly. I agreed to his terms because I felt the odds were a little in my favor. A few years earlier I had watched Tom catch his first trout on a fly rod using a nymph rig with a fluorescent orange indicator. Tom could hardly cast and he hooked and caught his first fish by sheer dumb luck. That one cost me a soda at the local gas station, which I was happy to purchase for the mighty fisherman.
During last year’s annual campout, Tom tried again to catch a fish on a fly for a soda, but the fish didn’t cooperate and after a while he gave up. As all involved in the sport know, fly fishing can be challenging and humbling at times.
So this year, the stakes were even higher. During the first few days of our four-day camping trip, the weather did not cooperate. I fished when I could between the onslaught of wind, rain, and colder temperatures and had some success, but the conditions were not what I would call kid-friendly.
But on the third morning of our trip, the sun broke through the clouds and warmed things and the wind mellowed to a steady breeze. I pulled out a G-Loomis 4 Weight, 7 foot 9 inch, fly rod for a little casual fishing along the banks of a small spring creek that flows from a small grassy bluff and eventually enters into Birch Creek proper.
That morning, Tom observed me heading toward a stepladder that crosses a fence near the small creek and hurried over to where I stood.
“Dad, I want to catch a fish on a dry fly. Remember you promised to give me $20.00?” asked Tom determinedly.
“How could I forget, buddy?” I responded. “It’s still a little windy, but I think we can try to get you onto a fish.”
Tom and I walked over to the footbridge that spans the little spring creek and we observed dozens of fish zipping up the shallow, crystal-clear flows running over a dark gravel bottom. The sheer number of fish for such a small creek was amazing.
To give Tom some pointers, I cast upstream into a nice, narrow run, and we both enjoyed watching trout rise to take the Red-butted Double Renegade that I had just tied. After I landed a fish or two, Tom tried a few casts upstream, but with the wind in our face, his cast did not get very far and the fly continually got stuck in the watercress lining the stream’s crystalline flows.
I realized that this set up would not do, so we headed downstream to a bend where the creek widened a bit and I showed him how and where to cast at this location. Fishing across the current with the wind at our back definitely helped Tom’s casts to improve, but with the calm, glassy flows at this location, the fish just darted when the fly and line hit the water.
We decided to fish a little further downstream. From the bend, we worked our way along the edge of a small grassy hill beside the creek. Tom cast to a rocky run and had a few strikes, but he was not quick enough.
“Tommy, when the fish rises, you have to set the hook,” I instructed.
“What does that mean, Dad?” Tom asked.
“It means that when you see the fish rise after your fly, you have to quickly jerk the rod upwards to set the hook into the fish’s mouth.” I explained.
Tommy and I continued to work our way downstream to a place where a log lay across the spring creek creating a nice little holding pool for trout downstream.
I took the rod and gave Tom a few pointers on where the fish would hold in this particular lie and—as I predicted—with each good cast, fish would rise eagerly to my fly. I even caught a fish while Tom stood beside me. It was the perfect set up for this beginner.
So I handed the rod to Tommy and said, “Your turn.”
Tom cast upstream toward the nice hole below the log, but his casts were falling short. So I would pull him up the bank a little closer to the hole and have him try again. Finally, when we were standing directly across from the hole, Tom’s casts started dropping the fly into the spot. I was worried that our close proximity to the run had spooked every trout out of the area, but we kept trying.
With each cast, we both watched the fly drift with eager anticipation and as Tom’s fly drifted over the sweet spot, a fish rose.
“Strike!” I yelled. But Tom was too slow and he missed the fish.
“Put it in there again.” I instructed Tom. He cast a few more times and we both followed the fly’s every move.
On one particular beautiful drift, Tom’s fly floated down the seam of two currents and—as if in slow motion—a fish rose, sucked it in, and pulled the fly under water.
“STTRRIIIKKE!” I yelled and, as if in slow motion, reached over and grabbed Tom’s rod and helped him jerk it slightly upwards .
With all the time it seemingly took, I thought for sure the fish was long gone, but to my utter amazement, the rod tip began to bounce with the tell-tale sign of a hooked trout.
“ALRIGHT TOMMY BOY! YOU GOT A FISH!” I hollered as I jumped up and down in excitement for my first born son.
Tom fought and quickly landed a beautiful little brook trout. He wore a huge grin as we snapped a few pictures to remember this awesome accomplishment. At that moment the generation gap was instantly bridged as we celebrated Tom’s first fish on a dry fly.
“Tommy, I’m so proud of you. You just caught your first fish on a dry fly. How does it feel?” I asked excitedly.
“That was so awesome! I loved it.” Tom replied.
“You just won yourself twenty bucks!” I said as I patted him on the back.
Later that morning, I pulled out my wallet and fished out a $20.00 bill and walked over, handed it to Tom, and said, “Good job buddy, you earned this.”
Tom looked at me and said, “Dad, I didn’t do it for the money. I really love fishing with you and I wanted to learn how to catch a fish on a dry fly.”
“Okay buddy, so give me back my $20.00,” I said with a sly grin.
“Let’s not go that far. I really love fishing with you, but I’m keeping the money!” Tom responded resolutely. I guess it’s good to know that I didn’t raise no dummy.