By Dan Parson | TMTB Staff Writer
July 24, 2017
I am a father.
People who knew me as a young man would likely be surprised by this fact as. I didn’t always have “good judgment,” and the idea I might be in charge of another person’s upbringing seemed like a great way to generate a serial killer. Or worse, a bait fisherman. Despite my best efforts, my son Colt has turned into a well-adjusted 19-year-old man ready to make his way in the world. It’s a pleasant surprise given the genetic deficits and lack luster parenting style he got.
From the time Colt was a baby I hauled the poor kid with me on every outing. It never occurred to me not to float the river or roam the backcountry just because I would need to pack bottles and diapers.
I killed an elk once, high on a ridge about two miles from the truck. I had Colt strapped to my back in one of those baby carrier things. Sorting out how to get the animal and the baby home safe is a story for another day. Another time he fell fast asleep wrapped tight to my chest in my rain coat. A wicked thunderstorm forced me to anchor under an overhanging cliff 25 miles from anywhere. The hail pounded my back, wind screamed, and lightning crashed all around us. I knew he was awake when he started to giggle and a little hand emerged to grab my hat. I could tell scores more stories, but you get the idea.
As he grew he never knew a life that didn’t involve sunrises, sudden storms, sleeping on the ground, and eating stuff city kids would think unfit for alley cats. Fly rods, guns, bird dogs, mud, blood, and sage-scented air were his earliest friends. He’s still a quintessential millennial, though, enjoying all the currency of that generation – social networking, video games, instant access to music and film. The timeless stuff is there too, though – grades, trucks, and girls. But when asked if he loves fishing as much as his old man he typically says, “I don’t know. We have just always done it. It’s who we are.”
That makes me feel pretty damn good.
His mom and I split up when he was 11 and she moved away.
We decided she would have him during the summers and most holidays, while I had him during the school year. Our time to fish at that point got limited. We went when we could, but between school, winter storms, my guiding schedule, extracurricular activities, and hunting season (I love to hunt, but he is obsessed.) we probably fished together only a dozen times a year from ages 11 – 19. Days on the water with my boy are precious and likely to become more so as he heads off to college this fall.
He’s a rather competitive lad and always wants to “out fish” me. He’s come close a few times, but at the end of the day we always felt like we had, more or less, about the same level of success. Now, I’m no fish counter – that’s a trait most of us thankfully out grow at some point. But who wasn’t a little that way when they were 18 or 19 years old? Come on – be honest.
One day this past January Colt and I were on the water.
Colt slept the whole drive up, waking only when we slid, bounced and rattled down the rough, snow packed 2-track that led to the put in. It had stormed hard, really hard, the day before which meant we were breaking trail to the put in. After a series of unfortunate events, including getting stuck four times in less than ½ a mile, a flat on the boat trailer, and a lot of digging, pushing, swearing and general mayhem we finally launched. It was 11 instead of 8, which sucked, but as we finally got the boat headed down river a few midges came out and we saw some isolated rises. The river was just waking up. We decided 8 would have been to early anyway, strung rods and got to work. Colt was in the bow and I was rowing. He hadn’t slung line since October so he was rusty, but it didn’t take long for him to make reasonable presentations. Right away he tagged a whitefish, then another, and another. We reasoned we would need to sort through these to find some trout, and that was the case. Colt stuck a small rainbow that jumped and threw the hook, then landed a fat 19-incher on the next cast. At that point he said his hands were frozen and I needed to fish. Colt is pretty good on the sticks and I was confident I’d find a few fish myself.
More than an hour and a mile of river later and I had not had a take. I tried everything. Same flies, same presentation, nothing. I switched it up and threw streamers. Nothing. I sized down and up and changed weight and leader length. Nothing. Finally, providence showed a touch of mercy and I fooled a skinny whitefish to take a nymph. At least I got the damn rod bent. That meant it was Colt’s turn again. Five minutes later he was into a rainbow, then more whitefish, then another good ‘bow, then a football shaped brown. He was having a blast. His mojo was hot. He could do nothing wrong.
What the hell!?!?
We swapped again. I used his same rod – and nothing.
I was like a high school boy trying to get the attention of girls by making farting noises. Ignored, even loathed. I held my tongue in different positions, I prayed to the river goddess and made wild promises to live a more altruistic life, I swore to never touch another banana as long as I lived. Finally, a fish bounced the bobber and I managed to tag him. It was a cutthroat, blind in one eye and snagged on the side of his face. Shit. I gave up and took the rowers seat so my “fish whisperer” son could have the bow. He stuck 5 more fish, landing 3 of them, in short order. Colt giggled like a little kid when we hit the pull out. He has no idea how close he came to getting thumped in the back of the head by my #2 cone head slump buster.
Actually, and every father reading this will understand, I could not have been more deeply, profoundly, happy.
On the 90-minute drive home we talked the whole way. Fishing, college plans, girls, next hunting season, video games. We never even turned on the radio.
Dan Parson is a fly fishing guide, school teacher, and adviser to the phenomenally talented Green River High School Speech and Debate Team. Contact him through Solitary Angler or look for his boat on the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge.