Opinion

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Reporter's Notebook

Our Common Tributary

Developing family bonds through fly fishing

Addictions tend to strain relationships, but fishing has worked out pretty well for my family. I understand angling isn’t included as an addiction in medical literature, but to me it fits the criteria: the bulging eyes and sweaty palms when crossing bridges over rivers; the relentless indulgence that defies coherent rationale; the shirking of responsibilities; the burning, throbbing need to fish.

Perhaps because my wife, Kate, was raised by a father who suffers from the same ailment, she never complained when early dates consisted of sun-up to sun-down sessions on the water, nor when I left the hotel at 4:30 a.m. during our honeymoon to flail a hand-me-down Sage 9-weight in the Caribbean dawn. And she was as thrilled and shocked as I was when I returned to the room with photos of a 45-pound tarpon I’d hooked and landed from a nearby pier while a crowd of dumbfounded locals gawked.

Kate had fly fished before I met her and enjoyed it, which helped, but she was a reasonable person with a healthy list of other interests. At the time, I had very little experience with reasonable people, so perhaps I unconsciously approached her with the same anthropological curiosity that she used to observe me. As a young bachelor who owned more fly rods than pants, I was dipping my toes into the foreign waters of domesticity. On the other hand, she was a tolerant mental health therapist with a master’s degree in social work, who would diplomatically suggest that we spend a Sunday buying new clothes instead of fishing.

Yet, her zeal for fly fishing grew the more we did it together, and I even showed up to work one Monday in new duds. The early seeds of marital compromise were planted, nurtured by the most important factor of all: We simply wanted to spend time together. It just so happened that a lot of that time was on rivers.

Among the countless photos of us fishing, I am repeatedly drawn to one in particular: Kate is eight months pregnant, reeling in a native westslope cutthroat at the bottom of a steep embankment along the South Fork of the Flathead River. We spent more time figuring out a way down the bank than we did fishing, but all that mattered was that we made it together. It didn’t hurt that she also caught a few nice fish.

The beauty in her belly would soon emerge as the new centerpiece of our shared love. Fisher Parks Reece was born in 2016, a boy christened in tribute to the waters that bind us. Two years later, in September, we welcomed our second son, Gus Trontel Reece.

Gus is still not able to consistently clutch a rattle, so I probably shouldn’t stick a fishing rod in his tiny hands just yet. But Fisher should be of age next summer, based on the timeline of my own life, as I began fishing with my father when I was 3 years old. By the time I was 5, I would trudge by myself to the creek near our log home, armed with a spinning rod and a jar of freshly caught grasshoppers, to harvest a cutthroat or two. I would clean these fish, cook them in a toaster oven, and eat them for lunch. This often solitary pursuit was in fact rooted in family, and decades later, those roots remain intact.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that Fisher or Gus will like fishing. But in many ways they were born of it, and we will all forever be bound by it. They will one day look at the photo of their pregnant mother on the side of the river, fly rod in hand, and see the common tributary of our lives.

Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared in Big Sky Journal’s “Fly Fishing 2019” issue, on the stands now.