I don’t consider myself old just yet, though I sometimes sense its presence just beyond the horizon.
This wasn’t so when I was young and oblivious, but I think I’ve learned a few things along the way; wisdom that might be useful to that younger, less self-aware me. I write this for him.
I know it feels great to be free of the oppressive trap of high school, but you don’t have time to relax. There’s stuff to do. You went through a late teen “period” when you swore off fishing. Get over it. You’ll soon learn of the Deep Creek Fly Fishing Club and its conservation work in the mountains of Southern California. Sign up, then join the club on its annual trip to the Eastern Sierra trout opener. Use a California mosquito dry fly on Rush Creek. You’ll catch your first brown trout.
Also, take that scary looking dude you work with at the record store — yes, the one who looks like the lead singer of The Cure — fly fishing. You’re going to walk him up to a nice hole on Bear Creek, tell him he’s about to catch his first trout on a fly, then watch him do exactly that.
In time, you’ll see the Goth Rocker only occasionally. But during those reunions when you renew your lifelong friendship, he’ll joyously recount that moment. Every time.
This is your period of discovery. Dad took you fishing when you were young, but you’re about to see the outdoors in a different way, using fly fishing to catalyze a richer understanding of the natural world.
Accept that gig at the fishing magazine. Despite the pay, it will seem you’ve hit the lottery, yet within a year you’ll have flamed out and be back at some temp job bagging groceries. You need to get back to college to finish your degree, but it will give you a taste.
After college accept that job as a sports writer at that little newspaper in the Bitterroot. But before you go, take one last fishing trip with Dad. Over a campfire he’s going to tell you about the only time your grandfather, who died before you were born, went to see Dad run in high school. It was the conference championship and Dad was favored to win the mile. College scouts were there to see him.
In the fire glow Dad will tell you what happened. How he went out too fast. How the pack caught him and he pushed to hold the lead. How, on the final lap as the field passed, he collapsed in the infield, puking his guts out.
You have to learn this about the time your grandfather went to see your Dad run. It will be useful later, when your kids play sports.
You will also learn that Mom and Dad might have selected different paths, gone to college, but instead married young and started a family. Because of their decision you exist to be there when Dad confesses his decades-old shame.
You’ll realize that Dad’s shame might be an indispensable part of your own creation story.
Years later, in the summer after your kids, the twins, have graduated from high school, the three of you will be in the kitchen eating dinner. They’ll have arrived late. They always do. You planned to fish the Thompson River after dinner, but it will seem too late.
You’ll barely have time to fish, but one of you, I can’t remember who, will catch a small brown trout, a butter belly with parr marks and red spots faintly haloed in turquoise. The three of you will share a moment admiring that kaleidoscope, before letting the fish ease back into the current. It is the most beautiful trout you will ever see.
You don’t want to miss it.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.