This summer, I’ve taken my boys fishing often enough that the details of one trip are starting to blend in with the next. And that’s a good thing. We camped near my favorite river last night, and this morning I took them on a meandering hike that mostly parallels the creek from its south bank.
We took no fly rods. And I had no objective but to share with my sons a wild valley that I’ve grown to love. (I’ve fished it at least a hundred times.) Because watching them explore and find their path through a maze of limestone and ferns ties everything together somehow. I fished here with my father. My uncle walked the path on the south bank with me one fall day, until it ran into the rocky hillside. And there we entered the river together. That was five years ago, at least.
Today, when my sons and I reached that same dead end, Aiden insisted that he could scale the rocks and shuffle across the crevasse. He probably could. But instead, I pointed out the shaded gravel bar across the river on the north bank. It borders an enormous, dying pine tree — an evergreen grown so massive that it can no longer support its own weight, as it sags slowly into the soft soil.
“That’s the spot where we’ve built our winter fires,” I said.
“What? Over there?” Joey pointed, completely surprised and confused. (He’s eleven.) And I nodded.
“What kind of pine tree is it?” Aiden asked. (He’s almost nine.)
Aiden cares about that kind of thing. And because he cares, I’m learning the proper identification of Pennsylvania conifers. “Pine” is not enough.
“I think it’s white pine, buddy. Can’t see from here if it has five needles or three? Pitch pine only has three, I think.”
In truth, I never thought those details mattered much. All my life, I’ve walked the woods and water and thought of trout. That’s what tied me to these wild rivers and to nature itself.
But I’ve learned something about Aiden this summer . . .
What draws him to nature and connects him is the discovery of living things. He’s an explorer, digging with his small, dirty hands to catch a frog or build a rock dam. And he has the best pair of eyes I’ve ever been around. If you’re looking for something, tell Aiden. He’ll probably find it.
And so our fishing trips this summer have been . . . unexpected. While Joey is learning to tight line nymph and he’s wading water that was once unreachable, Aiden has often walked the banks, contentedly searching for the next crayfish, sculpin or salamander. He’s enthralled by the call of the kingfisher.
I’ve wondered about Aiden’s seeming disinterest in trout fishing — meaning, he doesn’t care much about the actual fishing. But the truth is, as soon as a trout is hooked, Aiden wants to land it. He grabs for the rod or the net. He wants to unhook the trout and hold it. He easily knows the difference between brown, brook, rainbow, stocked or wild trout much more readily than his brother. He’s also fascinated with our by-catch of fall fish, suckers and smallmouth bass.
And today, the wonder of all this finally dawned on me. Aiden may end up loving trout fishing as I do, or he may not. But whatever he chases in life — wherever he travels — he will be tied to nature. And he’s found a path to form that bond.
I truly don’t care if it’s a white pine or a pitch pine. But Aiden does. I’m really not interested in spending a half hour chasing crayfish in the side water. But Aiden is.
His attention to all of the living things that surround us out there is contagious. And that’s the base of his connection to the woods and the water. Aiden has found his own way. And as his Dad, I really love watching.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N
Another great article. You are sharing the most precious thing in life next to nature itself – your time. And it passes quickly so savor the moments.
Thanks, Greg. Time . . . that’s the truth.
Hi Dom – Always love and appreciate your insights. Have you ever out together an blog about how you got your kids started. Sort of a primer on teaching you kids to fly fish?
I have a 4.5 year old at home and I have been taking him with me to small creeks so he can explore. I have shown him the aquatic life in the river and he loves it.
I have him casting with a spinning set-up. I saw you started them around 5 with a fly rod. I would love any pointers you have.
You may already have a blog about this and I just haven’t read it. Any help is much appreciated.
Your blog is one of the best and has definitely helped me up my game.
Thanks for a great article!
Awesome reading! Thanks Domenick.
As the father of 3 boys under 9, I appreciate that you took the time to write this. I often struggle between “me time” and a desire the same as yours…to take them along and foster a foundation of nature in my sons in whatever form they choose for themselves (but hopefully it involves fishing!). Sometimes I need fishing to clear my mind, breathe deep, and recharge my batteries to be a good father to them. It can be exhausting! But sometimes I need to take them, focus on teaching them the ways of the river, and be the best guide/net man I can for them. Not always an easy decision.
I second your point about how they see things differently out there though. They will find life in every corner catching every frog, chasing every minnow, and grabbing every crayfish. Often I like to just watch them and observe how they think and learn about the world around us. You can almost see the person they’ll become developing right in front of you.
Keep writing man! I’m always excited to see a new post.
When they were younger, they had no choice — I just took them and we did whatever I decided. Now that they’re older, they make their own choices about many things. So the latest challenge is in deciding when peel them away from the neighborhood games and take them fishing, even if they aren’t excited about it until they get out there.
I think it was easier, in a way, when they were younger. Although, now, the fishing itself is easier.
Awesome spot, Dom. What state park is that???
Email me, and I’ll tell you that.
I’m pretty rigid about not naming stream names on the site. Even though, yes, the locals who read this can easily identify the rivers in the pictures.
shining mountain nameless valleys anonymous waters untrammeled country … the way it is … as it should
Thanks for sharing these stories. They serve as wonderful reminders of how one can share a passion for the outdoors with the loved ones in your life.
I have three boys, ages 10, 9, and 7. All three have completely different personalities and it is a joy for me to figure out the mysteries of what inspires them. My youngest sounds just like your Aiden. Eli can find anything and gets so excited when he does. As mentioned in a comment below, I am conflicted at times when I should bring none, one or all of them along when I fish. Having fewer cold water stream options in my neck of the woods also contributes to the decision, because finding the time to take a trip to worthwhile waters does not come often. I’ll be in central PA with extended family for the approaching Labor Day weekend, and I’m debating whether I should bring along one, some or all of the boys to fish an area limestone creek. This article will cause me to reflect further on my pending decision.
This brings back great memories of time just out in nature with my daughters. We would often go out on our Sunday Adventure or summer camping trip and explore some new creek, turning over rocks just to see what was there. Like you, as a Dad these were absolutely magical times. My girls are now both in their 20s, with there own lives and relationships. The Sunday Adventures with them a thing of the past.
A couples of weeks ago, my youngest came home for a visit with her boyfriend. She asked if we could take a drive that weekend and show him some of the beautiful California coast (the boyfriend being from Pennsylvania) where we spent much of our time exploring when she was younger. One of our stops was a coastal redwood forest that we had explored many times over the years. We got out of the car and began to walk the trail she had walked often as a child. The trail meanders along a small creek and in no time she had the boyfriend down in the creek with her turning over rocks looking to see what was under them.
The magic never lives on…
Love it. When I walk with my grandkids, the one granddaughter now identifies all the flowers around town: zinnias, coneflowers, Roses, marigolds etc. They are also raising a couple of monarch caterpillars. I love the fact they want to hike and explore, peel the bark off an old dead tree and see beetles, salamanders and millipedes . It’s a great feeling when they say “Best day ever Pappy; thanks for taking us on a hike”. With all that life has to offer: walking, fishing, hiking , reading, biking, golf, etc- why would a person do drugs. I just don’t get it.
A wonderful parent ing tutorial my friend. Your lessons are a treasure that should be passed on to all our children
Great article. Yeah, the world needs more Aidens.
Ha. I’m not sure about that . . .
Great piece and wonderful camera work. My own father could never understand my fascination with water, then or now. The boys will appreciate these days as time goes by.
When my son was in that age range we set up a 10 gallon fish tank with one small bass and a few crayfish.
Feeding time was better than any nature show. Watching the crayfish build their homes in the gravel and rock was nearly as good. It was a great extension for those fishing trips that turned into aquatic field studies.
Thank you for reminding us why we are bringing our favorite people to nature. I’ve fished all my life and never realized until I had my kids join me it is not the fish I am after.
Now my 3 daughters are 21, 20 and 14 years old. They ask me to take them camping for a weekend, each year now when school lets out. Last year I almost had all 3 catch trout on the same day/ trip. My oldest 2 had their first landed within 40 mins. Even managed to video one of the takes, fight, into the net and my daughters reaction. Almost broke my heart that my youngest had 6 takes, 2 on the line but none in the net. I never wished for more daylight in my life. Then again, my oldest was 14 when she landed her first. We will get there next year I bet. We’ve already talked and next year I am going to jog 3 miles on the trail with them, then we will all fish together below the trail. I’m training for the run each week now.
Looking for steelhead now. I bet this season, they will each get out with me at least once.
Great plans, buddy.