My eyes shot open at the sounds of creaking floor boards. I could hear the tell-tale signs that someone was up. I glanced over at the clock and saw the fuzzy 5:24 come into focus. A late start for my grandpa.
I peeled the covers off and tromped into the kitchen to see him sitting at the table, smiling with a cup of decaf coffee in his hand. We were going to fish one of his favorite small streams this morning. His belief is, the best way to start a fishing trip is with a good cup of coffee and a full pan of biscuits, I of course didn’t settle for the decaf. We inhaled our coffee chomped the biscuits and were off.
I’ve only fished this little stream with him once before, but I’ve felt as though I’ve fished it a thousand times. He has near countless stories revolving around these waters and the woods that cradle the stream. Between all his camping, hunting, game wardens encounters, huge trout, “bottomless pools”, and foolish friends this river has meant a lot for him throughout the duration of his life. It’s a “true trout stream” as he calls it.
He told me he fished this little blue line for the first time when he got back home from his deployment in the military when he was 23, this would have been somewhere in the 1950s. I sat in his red truck and imagined myself fishing with him at that age. Two 23 year olds trotting through the forest casting flies to fish. For that day, he was 23 to me.
Today would, hopefully, be another significant story in these woods. My grandpa was the one to get me into fly fishing. The irony to this is, for his whole life he never caught a fish on a fly. He casted many fly rods using only traditional baits (worms, plastics, etc.) on fly rods. He found it was easier to cast a fly rod in the tight brush than a typical spinning rod. Today would, hopefully, be the day that changed!
We embarked on the hour drive and saw the glistening waters from a distance. It was a cold morning, that would hopefully warm.
As we walked down the trail I tied on the fly for him, and gave him a 45 second reminder where he should try to cast, how effectively cast with the small fly rod, and a few things that make fly fishing different from the style he has done his whole life.
We came to the first pool and I sat back to watch cascading water poor over several beautiful moss-covered rocks. I sent my fly up and covered the whole pool with no success. I continued this process approaching a pool from behind, casting through it all and had no success. For a few minutes a spark of fear came over me, what if we caught nothing…
Really, my goal for the day wasn’t to land loads of fish, but to ensure Gramps caught at least one “mountain trout,” as he terms them, on the fly. At the start of the day, I was confident we could do it, but the “what if’s” began to creep in.
The “what if’s” didn’t last long.
About 30 minutes in I had successfully caught two little gems on the dry fly, however, he hadn’t seen nor caught any. I slowly walked up behind him, and watched him place his fly right in a perfect little seam. On the right there was a fast moving deep run, and on the left was a deep hole with slow moving water too deep to see the bottom. As we both watched the fly drift down the river a flash of red came from the depths and smashed the fly! The ferocity and speed at which this brook trout hit the fly shocked me and my grandpa. With the blink of an eye the fish had chomped it, spit it out, and submerged back to the depths without the fly.
Despite the fact Pops didn’t land the fish he lit up like a 10 year old on Christmas morning! In that moment, it seemed, he realized catching a fish on a fly was possible!
We continued fishing with a new flow of adrenaline. I climbed up a little water fall and methodically fished the pool upstream. I suppose this was a place the trout wintered in because on nearly every cast I landed a little brook trout ranging from 4 - 8 inches. They were all in perfect condition, vibrant red fins with white lines providing contrast, blue halos, and red circles littered about on their sides, and the different shades of green covering their backs. It was a joyful few minutes, but after 6 fish not another fish came to hand out of that pool. I wished my grandpa could have fished it, or seen them all, but the small canyon I found myself in was a little too difficult to access for a man over 75.
I continued upstream excited with my success but reluctant to share it. I wanted him to land a fish. I put my rod down and followed him up the stream as we looked for a nice pool that allowed easy access. Eventually, we came to a section that was perfect. A large boulder we could stand behind to shield ourselves from the spooky fish, a flat bushless “path” that led straight to it, and a deep pool fed by a gorgeous 2 foot water fall. I let him go up the river and fish it.
About 2 minutes later I heard what sounded like Sasquatch yodeling. It was my grandpa.
He had another fish smash his dry fly, but this time he was ready. I came sprinting up to him and saw his rod bent over. The little 2 weight rod I made was suspending a perfect brook trout. I quickly unhooked the fish and took a photo of my grandpa and his prize. We put him back in the water and watched the little fellow flee back to the security of his pool.
My grandpa and I continued to fish the remainder of the day and found a little more success. However, I could’ve left right after his first fish and still been ecstatic about our day.
It wasn’t about the size of the fish, after all, brook trout aren’t the largest of critters in these woods, it was about the joy of landing a beautiful fish. Crafting my own flies and fly rods is definitely rewarding, but this fish was a whole new level of rewarding. The person casting that little rod and the little fly was the same one who taught me years ago how to land trout with other methods, on this day I got to teach him something.
Together we made a new memory amidst this story-filled forest.
One that I will never forget.