After I had lost my old steelhead net, a cheap but very functional Frabill that is no longer manufactured, I was on the prowl for an equally cheap replacement. I can honestly say I’ve never understood the value of the expensive net. Now, I can definitely see the craftsmanship of a well-made wooden net, but when it comes to actual use, I’d rather have something that’s a little light and that I’m less likely to worry about losing or breaking. That’s even without considering the price. If I had money to toss around, I might someday splurge on a fancy net, but I’d be more likely to hang it on the wall as a decoration than I would to actually use it. And if that’s the case, I’d rather have some vintage net that would be more of an artifact, never to be used. For that reason, I’m not looking to spend anything over $30 and for that money, I want a net large enough to handle a steelhead or a bulky carp but light enough to carry with me all day long without wearing me down. Luckily, that means I can buy such a net darn near anywhere fishing supplies are sold, and on the cheap. I love my local fly shops, but sometimes you gotta go bargain so that you can pay higher prices for the things where the quality is noticeable. After much searching for the old model of net, I found myself at a local Cabela’s with my daughter looking for the next best Frabill model for my needs.
Over the past two years or so, my daughter has been showing a ton of interest in fishing. I’ve only recently started actually taking her. Before that, her interest arose only in seeing me arrive home in my funny “fishing costume” (since I left before she woke), or in seeing her older cousins receiving their first pair of waders or new fishing gear.
My daughter’s curiosity grew over time from simply asking “How was fishing?” to then demanding to see pictures of the day’s catches and then giving me a disappointed look on days when I can’t produce any. Part of her increased interest is surely due to her age (now at four and a half) in that she articulates well and has also developed better fine motors skills. Added to that, both of her older cousins have received their first pairs of waders as gifts in the last year or so, leaving her the only little one on my side of the family without her own setup. She even received her first fishing rod as a hand-me-down from her cousin (an Amazing Spiderman). Thankfully, it is summer now and my wet wading has diminished her requests for waders of her own, which were repeated rapid fire during the spring steelhead season. While I never want her to grow up faster than necessary, part of me does just so I can find waders that will fit her.
Personally, arriving at a big box store like Cabela’s makes me a little uneasy, and something done without a sharp pain in my conscience. But for the little one, who has yet to draw any lines between fly fishing and conventional fishing, big business or small business, it’s a chance to immerse herself in Daddy’s world. She had to get her picture taken in front of the aquarium. She had to explore every aisle of fishing lures and squeeze every bag of rubber soft bait in various shapes and colors. I was actually in a bit of a hurry that day, but her enthusiasm guilted me into letting her stay quite a bit longer than I would have liked. Having grabbed my net, we were about to start walking to the cash register when her eyes lit up. She sprinted to an end cap and grabbed an Amazing Spiderman tackle box. The nerd in me loved that she grabbed Spiderman when Anna & Elsa and Dora were nearby and fully stocked. I would have handed over the keys to Fort Knox with the pleading look she gave me, but thankfully it only cost $10 so it was an easy decision.
Fast forward ten minutes later and she had several rooster tails and other spinning lures in my net. She stopped every person she saw in the store to exclaim that she was getting her “OWN tackle box!” She begged that I take her out the next day along with her best friend, which of course I said yes to. We went out to a local pond where the casting is easy for little ones who are still learning. While we had no luck that night, I had taken her to the same pond a month or so ago with her rod, some rooster tails from my old tackle box, and a 5wt fly rod. Just the two of us.
While the pond does have a trout stocking program, it also receives heavy pressure and very few of those trout make it past the first few weekends after spring stocking. We were mainly there for bass and panfish, the latter of course being that gateway species that kick starts so many of our angling interests. They’re bold, curious, and will attack nearly anything that hits the water when the conditions are right. Her little Spiderman rod actually failed to arouse their interest, so eventually she abandoned it and we started fishing the fly rod with a mix of foam spiders and hoppers. As she had not had any opportunities to cast a fly line, I took care of the casting and quickly handed off the rod to her to watch for the take. On the first take, she set the hook and had a good size bluegill on the line. As soon as I shouted “You’ve got him!”, she immediately dropped the rod on the ground and yelled “I’ll go get the net!” I lunged forward to grab the rod before the small but mighty bluegill dragged it into the deep quarry pond. With her enthusiasm causing her to not get to experience any of the fight, I cast the fly again and handed the rod off to her.
We watched as a small little bluegill arose slowly from dark water to examine the fly, twitching on the surface. I stood behind my daughter, holding her wrists as she started to succumb to distractions and talked about a heron across the pond. Satisfied with it’s appearance, the bluegill snapped the hopper off the surface so fast that my daughter jumped in my arms. Again, she tried to drop the rod to go get the net, something she has an adorable obsession with, but I held her hands onto the fly rod and walked her through reeling it in. Surprisingly, she had a knack for leading the fish and had reeled it in quickly. She was a little disappointed that the net wasn’t necessary for this little guy, but she was oh so proud of her first fish and enjoyed holding it in her hands.
Sometimes I wonder what it is that gets people into fishing. I mean, I understand what’s appealing about it, but I feel a big part of it is how and when you’re exposed to it. My interest in fishing surely stemmed from my older brother Mickey and my father in my youth. Despite the age differences, it was a common activity that brought us together in the early mornings, watching the mist burn off the pond as we worked together to find the fish (not without some competition). Similarly, my father grew up fishing with my grandfather and his uncles, who likely had similar experiences, finding simultaneous solitude and togetherness, often without any dialogue at all. Who knows, before them, there could have been a shared lineage of fishing commonality throughout the family tree.
But now, at this time in my life, I’m watching my daughter find the joys of water and the creatures in it. I’m spending that time with her, teaching her what I’ve learned and deeply appreciating the many questions she has. Questions not just about the fishing, but about the beautiful environs in which we practice it. I revel in her observations and savor every opportunity I get to answer her questions about the natural world. After all, isn’t that essentially our role as parents? To guide our children into a deeper understanding of the world to ensure that they thrive in it? In my mind, fishing provides the perfect stage for those lessons; inspiring the mind to wander and ask questions.