Welcome to Panfish!

Part One hundred ninety-five

Beginnings

Jason Tinling

By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA


Southeast Pennsylvania was working on the third, and final, day of 60+ degree weather, before the chill of early spring invaded again. Conveniently enough, it was a Friday, so when I picked my daughter up from day care, the flyrod was already in the trunk, a cooler of water, chicken sandwiches, and oranges keeping it company.

We drove out to the small catch and release pond, laying out a blanket on the grass and enjoying the warmth of the falling sun. Dinner was distracted by geese, ducks, and the passing of planes overhead, all of which draw the attention and fascination of an eager 2 year old. When sandwiches were eaten, drinks drunk, and oranges peeled and consumed, I took the picnic trimmings back to the car. I turned back to the grassy bank, only to see my daughter headed towards me, half-assembled flyrod held delicately in small hands.

I thanked her for the helping hand, and quickly pieced the rod together, after throwing on my vest and hat. We walked down to the water, our trip occasionally interrupted by the honking of geese, and returned calls from the little one. I flipped a white and black Just-A-Bug out over the area that will become a bed of lily pads in a few months. The heavily weighted fly probed the depths slowly, with no response.

I clip the streamer free and tie on a simple peacock bodied soft hackle, with a small red seed bead at the eye. The light fly hangs in the surface film, and the first cast lands with a gentle "plop." A bulge of water pushes toward the impact point and I lift the rod gently. A small hen bluegill cuts toward the deeper water.

"Pull the fishy in, Lily," I say to her. She eagerly pulls on the line, then releases it to grab a section higher up. Of course, the fish takes all the line pulled, maybe a little more, before she can grab hold of the line again. A little quiet assistance and the fish is finning in the shallows.

"Ooooohhh! Fishy!!"

I lift the small 'gill from the water, and slide the barbless hook out of its mouth. "I hold it, Dad?" she asks excitedly.

"No, honey, the fishy needs to go back in the water."

I slip the small fish into the shallows, and it quickly shoots off into the safety of deeper water. "Bye, fishy," comes the call from behind me.

We catch several more fish, and lose far more. We finally get a routine down, she holds the rod in one hand, the line in another. I hold the line to the rod, and help keep the rod tip up. It works well for us. After 3 or 4 fish have been brought to hand, her excitement is overwhelming, and contagious. I lay a cast out on the water, and she immediately calls out, "I hold, I hold!"

"Sweetie, wait 'til Daddy gets a fish."

"Ok. Here fishy. Here fishy!"

As twilight settles across the pond, the soft, staccato pops of surface feeding bluegill drift across the top of the water. A big bull 'gill homes in on the fly, and a splashing surge of water straightens the line. We tag-team the fish, eventually bringing the chunky 8 incher to hand. Like all of the fish today, his colors are muted, his flesh chilled. He is a reflection of the water and the shoreline, but bursting with the same potentials. He knows that spring is close, and that the past few days are a promise of the time of bounty just ahead.

"Do you want to help me put the fishy back in the water, sweetie?"

"Okay."

We walk down to the bank's edge, and I have her hold her hands out. They shift, still unstable and not fully under her control. I lay the fish on her hands, and it immediately flips out into the shallows, righting itself and heading off to the depths. My daughter is laughing hysterically.

"Did he flop out of your hands?" I ask teasingly. "Was he flopping?"

For the rest of the night, "flopping" becomes a trigger word, inciting peals of merry laughter.

As is pretty much without fail when fishing with kids, my daughter finds her way into the water. A distracted turn up bank towards a quacking duck turns into a sudden drop to the seat of the pants, a slow tip down bank to the back, and a muddy slide, until her hair is resting in the water's edge. She looks at me with a mixture of confusions and horror, and for the sake of future therapy bills, I manage to stifle the laugh burning inside me.

I lift her to her feet, and one word escapes her lips.

"Wet!!"

I knew I threw that old towel in the trunk for a reason. We go back to the car, slipping her out of her wet and muddy shirt, and drying her hair. The chill of nightfall is easing down the slopes of the bank, and this only accentuates that it's time to head home.

As I head around the car to the driver's side, stopping to stare out over the water, I can still hear the gentle pops, and see the sporadic dancing rings, growing across the surface. Life is good, and the air is full of promise. ~ Jason

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