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On the banks of the small stream I looked down at my two ‘little fishermen’ and sighed.
I had no idea what was going to happen over the course of the next hour or so; no one but a top-notch soothsayer could possibly predict the outcome of a first fishing trip with a couple of very young guns, and even then, the crystal ball would look murky at best, I figure.
Yet here we were, my daughter, Violet, age 4, and my son, Henry, age 2, staring up at me with the eager sparkling eyes of kids on a mission, their anticipation practically bursting out of their tiny bodies as they stood fully at attention watching me carry our fishing gear through the knee-high late spring grass to the water’s edge.
The little creek is a scenic one, no doubt, so we had that much going for us at least. It runs down from the ancient wooded hills behind our tiny town into the pastures and meadows that line our valley floor. And although it does in fact contain a healthy population of small wild brook trout, on this particular afternoon we were to be the beneficiaries of our local farmer friend’s generosity via a couple of buckets of hatchery-raised trout that he had purchased for the neighborhood kids to catch as part of his family’s annual Memorial Day picnic.
Now, I have to be honest here: as a lifelong fisherman and a devoted fly fishing addict, I was pretty darn nervous this day. I mean, ever since my wife had first told me she was actually pregnant with our daughter, I had always dreamed of THIS DAY!
Any fisherman/fishergal would tell you the same thing, too. We try and wrap our heads around the fact that soon, one of these days before too long, we will have the most awesome fishing partner in the world ready to accompany us out onto the river or the lake. But, in truth, we spend little time seriously planning the trip, you know. Instead, we think about it in terms of a ‘perfect day’ where nothing could possibly go wrong.
But that’s not how most first fishing trips go, huh?
I rigged up the rods and cast a small worm beneath a bobber out into the shallow water and handed it to Violet, who I figured might be old enough to handle it okay. I showed her some basics and then stepped back figuring that too much instruction would just kind of ruin the vibe I could tell she was feeling.
She was out here with her daddy, doing something she knew her daddy loved to do, and she was determined, I could tell, to show me that she could do it herself.
Within fifteen seconds she had her line wrapped up in a picker bush on the bank.
Okay, I thought, we’re just getting started. Yet, I was getting a little nervous. Were we going to even be able to fish at all, or was this going to be an afternoon of me pulling hooks out of shrubs and snags?
By now, Henry was pretty much done with all this ‘being patient’ stuff as well. He reached out for the rod and reel I had set up for him and, just like his big sis, he seemed bound and determined to more or less ignore all of my guidance and help in favor of dragging his line into the closest bramble bush.
And so it went, me trying to interject a bit of light instruction (‘try not to reel in your bait as soon as it hits the water, buddy!’) into what was quickly becoming a game of wits. Other kids, older kids, were catching a trout here and there, but Violet and Henry didn’t really seem to mind that.
In fact, they seemed oblivious to the traditional endgame of actually catching a fish.
That’s when it hit me!
My kids didn’t really care all that much about catching a fish out here today. The truth is they were just having a blast by hanging with me, with Dad! Suddenly, it all made sense just as my wife, Monica, appeared. She had surveyed the scene from afar and decided to come and to help a desperate fisher dude. And like she is prone to do, she instantly offered up a nugget of solid wisdom.
“Why don’t you just take Henry’s hook off and let him play with his fishing rod and his bobber since that’s what he seems to love,” she said to me. “And that way you can concentrate more on helping Violet out.”
BOOM! It was the revelation of revelations!
So, that’s exactly what I did and guess what? My young son was ecstatic to be able to have a pole that he could fling around and slap in the water. He had a smile on his face and was perfectly convinced that he was a world-class fisherman. He was , in that moment, a really really happy little boy and when you break it down: that’s the ONLY THING that counts when you take little kids fishing for the first time or ten.
I was relieved and overcome with joy. And do you know what happens when you just relax and decide to let everyone have a little fun, no pressure or anything?
You got it. Within minutes I was able to help Violet land her very first fish!!! It wasn’t a trout either, but a sunfish, but she didn’t care. As she reeled it in she squealed and grinned as if it were a pot of leprechaun gold tied to the end of her line.
She was so proud…and so was I.
A few minutes later, when the next fish took her bait, a small chub, I let Henry pull him in. He whipped that rod around the same as if there was no fish on it at all. So easy to please, what more could an angling daddy wish for, you know?
Trout were being caught all around us, but it we didn’t mind at all.
See, in the course of a half-hour, just before my kids became more interested in playing with the worms in their plastic container than fishing anymore, we had all found a way to have a pretty terrific time standing together on the banks of a sweet little stream on a gorgeous bluebird afternoon.
And I don’t care what anybody says, man, but that is what this fishing stuff is all about.