My Dad and I have often visited a campsite in the same remote spot atop a state forest mountain for almost fifteen years now. The spring trip is a four or five day event focused on fishing for wild brown trout in the limestone waters at the bottom of the mountain, and through the years we’ve comfortably locked into our own habits and customs.
Traditions often grow and evolve into something else, though. Some things remain the same while other things become altogether better. In recent years my uncle (my father’s brother) has joined us at camp, and a few years ago I started taking my sons. At first, I brought my oldest son for just an overnight trip when he was three. Last year, I took both boys for an overnight trip, and this year, in submission to the eager requests of my five and seven year old sons, I took them both for three days and two nights to our special campsite on the mountain.
When we do something once a year, we tend to notice the differences, and it was remarkable to watch two boys find their way through the valleys of ferns and be content in places where they struggled to be comfortable just a year earlier.
These are fishing trips. Sure, we brought baseballs and bicycles, and each of those activities had their moments (throwing pop flies among the limbs and leaving tire tracks in the mud), but foremost in our minds was when we would next be traveling down the mountain for fishing. (That, and how many hot dogs and marshmallows we could roast over the fire.)
I take the boys fishing a lot around here, and they are familiar with the water. They both seem to have a love for all of it built inside them, yet in each, it comes from a different place. Our fishing trips back home are shorter, though, and after a couple hours, we hike back to the comforts of civilization. So I explained to my sons ahead of time that this camping trip would be different, and we would spend twice as long on the river as usual. With young ambition and an underdeveloped sense of time, they agreed and were more than ready for the excitement of these fishing trips.
We saw uncommon wildlife: bald eagles, snakes, turtles, and even a bobcat, and we heard the whippoorwill in the oak trees at dusk. The boys enjoyed it all as we brought only one fly rod and took turns fishing, exploring and relaxing streamside. They both grew up before my eyes on the riverbank.
But it wasn’t always perfect. In fact, it was an exceptional challenge, at times, to overcome the wants, needs and complaints of such young boys in the woods.
I have a few friends who are also fathers and fishermen, and their sons are now grown men who do not fish much. They see my photos of the boys and hear my stories and tell me they wish they’d done things differently — that perhaps they should have taken their sons fishing more even against the protest of small voices. Those words echoed in my head over this camping trip, and I eventually had a thought: if a boy can spend hours in front of a television, content and happy, then there’s no good reason why he can’t find the same happiness on the banks of a trout stream. And if it takes a little time to find that contentment, so be it. We’re not giving up — there’s too much to miss.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N