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