May 21st, 2007

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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A Boy's Great Adventure
By Bill Hillman

With trout rising only a few yards distant I was perhaps a bit under cautious in my haste. My back cast hung in the willows behind me and when I turned to free it I slipped and fell. My waders became a form-fit swimming pool. Simultaneously, the trout fled.

It is at times like this that I often wonder why I do this. But a quick breath of clean, mountain air brought forth a nostalgic flashback to events long ago which led to my addiction. And that made everything alright again.

In retrospect, looking back over the years, I suppose that it wasn't really wise to use Dad's split bamboo fly rod sections as swords. For one thing, they aren't all that sturdy. The fly rod was history long before I became an accomplished fencer. For another, it really aggravated Dad. To be fair, it also wasn't too smart to leave such a thing within reach of a six-year-old. Not this one, anyway.

Dad vented his anger with an impressively fearsome lecture about respecting things that didn't belong to me. But, after a cooling off period, he allowed me to peek into his tackle box to look at all the other things I wasn't supposed to touch. The result was a flood of questions on every item in the box and soon a new adventure was in the making.

Dad and a certain colleague, who I will always remember as Howard, had a fishing trip to the mountains approaching. I don't know how he did it, and my hat's off to him for it, but Dad somehow convinced Howard that a six year old kid would be an asset on the trip. Maybe Howard had a skeleton or two in his closet. Who knows? But they took me with them and in one short weekend Dad created a fanatical, fishing maniac out of me.

We drove up late on a Friday night and when we got there the forest was dark and spooky, but dawn opened the door to a wonderland. Clark's Fork of the Stanislaus River burbled by our campsite, it's water running cold and clear, and I was introduced to the sweet smell of willows growing in clean mud and wet sand. Pine trees diffused sunbeams and infused their own scent into this already wonderful air creating a kind of aromatic smorgasbord. My mind subconsciously created a new column labeled 'really good smells not found in the kitchen' and the odor of a mountain stream has instantly invoked in me contentment and relaxation ever since.

Chipmunks were all over the place. Their hesitant, jerky movements and constant scolding were irresistible as they investigated the campground and it's trash bins, and warily avoided me. My attempts to trap one fizzled into trying just to get close enough for a good look. Clever little creatures, they always went to the back side of the tree trunks just out of view. I stalked them in endless circles around the trees to no avail.

Big blue jays cruised the campground looking for an easy snack. Their occasional screeches punctuated the silence of the forest like an audible exclamation point. Otherwise, all I could hear were occasional campground sounds and the continuous murmur of the stream. No honking horns. No sirens. Peace.

That morning we began our adventure with salmon eggs for bait. They were packed in a mildly fishy smelling oil which, incidentally, ruined me for caviar later in life. Dad showed me how to pull a single egg from the jar without squishing it and then how to put it on the little hook so that the point didn't quite make it all the way through and was just visible under the red spot. He said that way it looked like a baby salmon was in there. All the better to fool the fish, which made perfect sense to me.

After baiting our hooks we rinsed off in the stream. The cold water on my hands made me thirsty and Dad let me take a drink. Back then you could do that in most mountain streams and the water, from snow melt and springs, always tasted wonderful.

By some divine intervention it turns out that the Fish and Game people had stocked the stream, probably only hours before our arrival, and the water was full of fat, hungry rainbow trout. Our salmon eggs were eaten almost as fast as we could get them into the water. The trout took them with rapid, electrifying little tugs and in my excitement I reeled them clear up to the tip of the fishing pole.

We fished all day Saturday. Dad carried me across the deep parts of the stream, but we waded the shallows together. The cold water made my feet numb and I had to climb out for short periods. But under Dad's watchful eye I splashed my way around the stream noisily stalking the fish.

Dad showed me where the fish would be lying behind rocks, in little riffles and deeper pools, and because there were so many fish in the stream he was always right. The tactics became indelibly etched into my tiny brain, reinforced by a few quick tugs after a successful cast. I don't know how many we caught, but we ended the day with our limit and I was incurably hooked on the sport, forever.

In the evening we had the meal of kings: fried rainbow trout with soda pop. And during the night, while I slept, a bear came into camp and gave me a haircut with his teeth. I didn't even feel it, but in the morning both Dad and Howard confirmed that it had happened. They said it was the darndest thing they ever saw and he didn't do a bad job of it, either.

Sunday was the same as Saturday. The chipmunks' antics entertained me in the morning and later we caught trout galore. On that day we found a big rock in the middle of the stream that was so covered in lady bugs they actually hid the surface of the stone. I don't think I've seen anything like it since and I still remember it clearly, a bright, crawling red, glowing in the sunlight.

So that's how the day went until late afternoon when it was time to leave, at which time I discovered that Howard seemed to have some kind of fishing disability. Either he'd released everything he caught, which I considered crazy, or he hadn't caught many. He only had two or three in his creel while we had a gazillion. I came to the logical conclusion that he was incurably bad at fishing and I gave him a pretty hard time about it. "Howaard can't catch fiiiiisssshhhh! Howaard can't catch fiiiisshhh!" That brought on another one of those fearsome lectures, this time about sportsmanship.

But it was a good trip and it was horrible to go back to the city. Trout fishing became a part of my soul and since then the mountains, with their fresh air and clean water, have drawn me from all corners of the world. They always will. But the most lasting lesson of all was that nothing, no matter what, no matter where, no matter how, really comes close to the pleasure experienced by a young boy, fishing with his dad. ~ Bill Hillman (wgflyer)

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