December 8th, 2003

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

Family Man

By Len Harris, Jr., Wisconsin
Edited by: Eli Fleischauer

Lenny Harris was a family man with five daughters and one son. He loved the outdoors and though his daughters showed no interest in learning the ways of a woodsman, Lenny was blessed with an anxious pupil in his son, "Len jr."

Junior began his training at an early age, his father taking the time to bring him squirrel and pheasant hunting, northern fishing, long trips in the small rowboat to check bankpoles, and along on dad's favorite outdoor pastime, trout fishing. Following his father up the streams like a caddy, junior toted whichever rod dad wasn't using, be it the "new fangled spinning rod" or the old bamboo fly rod. Behind father isn't always the easiest place for a 5 year old to be, it doesn't take much water to come up to his chest. Whether on the bank, or in the stream, junior was oft reminded, "keep the tips out of the trees, and the reels out of the water." Many trips the boy yearned to use the poles he carried, watching his father Lenny catch trout after trout, countless epic battles were etched into his memory before that fateful day, the day Len jr. was to become a trout angler.

Not wanting his son's first trout to be a "gimme," or an easy fix, Lenny scouted hard for the right place for his son to experience trout fishing. He wanted this day to be special, he thought "too easy, and it won't mean anything to the boy." He decided on a long deep hole, not crowded by too many overhanging trees; a hole the locals called "booger gut." It was perfect.

The way was long and hard; they marched over hill and dale, wading here, through high grass and thick willows there, Junior always taking care with the rods, handling them the way his father had shown him. Timed for the late afternoon, the moment found them heading west, steeped in deepening shadow. The young boy tires, and wants to quit, asking his father:

"Can we go home now?"

"No, it's just a little farther, enough carrying, today is your turn, time for you to catch a trout."

Little Len's eyes lit up and a surge of energy overtook him, the "little farther" seemed like eternity. Then the willows opened up, and the river lay before a man and his son. The young one began to get giddy, and father sat him down explaining: "fishing is like life, if it comes too easy you will not appreciate it. I am not promising you a big trout here. I am not sure we will catch anything, but when we leave here, you will have experienced something special. Trout fishing. Fishing, not catching."

Because he had scouted the water, Lenny knew that fish schooled at the head of the pool. He had seen trout working it in the previous outings there. The two sat and watched the pool, teaching young Len this was something special, something to be savored, something unhurried. He had watched his father catch countless trout, and carried those same trout for miles on the stringer, a stringer that today already suspended many nice trout. The biggest was an 18" brown trout that junior had been admiring all day. Getting more and more anxious, he thought, "Now it is my turn to put a trout on that stringer."

His father, wisely deciding that a fly rod would be too difficult for a five year old, handed junior the spinning rod. "Len, which lure do you want to use?" There was no doubt in juniors mind he wanted to use the same one father had used to catch the big one. "Ok Len, get it out of the box and tie it on." Junior retrieved the spinner from its resting place in the box and took care to tie it on exactly like he had been taught. It was a small French spinner, a Mepps with a red bead, a brass bead, a brass blade and no tail. Little Len checked the knot, and bit off the tag end, just like his dad.

The boy had been taught to cast the spinning rod already, but father was worried about his casting into tight cover, and asked: "Is it ok if I cast the first one for you?" The youngster didn't want to be a baby, having his dad cast for him, but the father persuaded him, saying, "let me cast the first couple times for you, then you can do it yourself." Junior always listened to his father.

Lenny cast the spinner upstream of the hole, and handed the rod to his son. "Keep the rod tip up, and if the fish is taking drag, stop reeling or you will ruin the reel and lose the fish. Now, you may not catch any fish, but later, when you get lder, there will be lots of trout for you to remember." It was barely ten cranks of the reel handle later, and the trout hit. Junior did not need to set the hook like he had seen his father do so many times, the trout was crazy, swimming upstream like its tail was on fire.

"DAD, DAD" the youngster shouted, "ITS GOING TO PULL THE ROD OUT OF MY HANDS!"

To which his father patiently replied, "hang on, keep the rod tip high, don't reel."

The trout came about and charged right at them. "Reel in and reel fast, tip up." The trout turned, and coursed side to side staying deep within the pool, finally running straight under the bank. The line stopped throbbing.

"I think I lost it dad."

Lenny explained to his son, "the fish has buried itself in the bank, let's try to get it out of there, grab your line and back up 2 or 3 feet, holding the line tight, if it takes off again, let go right away."

The trick worked, and the trout put up two more long runs before it yielded to the boy. "Let it tire some more before you bring it in, keep constant pressure and reel when you can. Don't horse it." Junior followed the instructions, but the fish came easily toward shore. Both fishermen were eager to see the fish, and it obliged surfacing not 20 feet from them. The two responded in unison, "oh my gosh, it is huge." After glimpsing its captors, the fish resumed fighting for its life.

"Stay right there, and keep the tip up high," Senior waded into the pool up to his chest, and netted the fish. He pulled the net close to his chest, trapping the trout, or rather the half of it that fit, in the net. He quickly waded out, placed the fish near junior and said, "unhook it, it will be a fine addition to our stringer." The boy proudly unhooked it, put it on the stringer, and marched it back to the car. The trip passed in an instant.

The father and son took a moment to take pictures of the days catch; Junior had to stand on the picnic table to get at a level where he could take dad's picture. Then off to the gas station, to show off the spoils of the day. The locals wowed about the largest fish on the stringer, a brown trout, some 23 and inches long, as measured by a plumber with a folding wooden yardstick. Next it was home to show the womenfolk, none of whom believed little Len had caught the fish, (and didn't care much about fishing anyway, it was for boys.) Little Len couldn't wait to get the pictures back from the shop; He couldn't wait to show them off. He carried one with him for 2 years, until it finally gave out and fell apart.

I was looking through some old photographs and came across the picture of my dad, holding those fish. Even though this happened 40 years ago, the memories were as strong as if it had happened just yesterday. I was there again, walking through the streams of southern Wisconsin with my dad.

Lenny Harris died while deer hunting at age 41. He left behind a family of 5 daughters, and one son, Len Jr. age 10. Both his fly rod and his spinning rod are on my wall above the picture of him with that stringer of fish.

I miss you Dad. ~ Spinner


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