The best thing I’ve done in life is to be a Dad. My two sons have provided endless love, learning and purpose. They’ve also brought interminable challenges. And just when I think I have a kid figured out, something changes, because parenting is also the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
When they were very young, I was a daytime Dad for my boys and worked at night as a gigging musician. So I had the opportunity and flexibility to have them around the water almost every day. We hiked, walked, played, sat, ate lunch and napped by the river. Sometimes we fished. Of course it wasn’t always about the valleys, but even when we took the 4×4 on a mountaintop tram road, those trips inevitably led us to an overlook where, you guessed it, I could point to a favorite ravine and join the two worlds together for those curious souls.
Now at eleven and thirteen years old, my sons still fish with me. And sure, they’ve probably fished more than most kids their age by a pretty wide margin. But neither of them is a prodigy with a fishing rod. Both of my boys go in and out of phases of being interested and uninterested in fishing. So I’ve tried not to force it, but I’ve also kept their exposure constant — we keep taking those walks and logging short fishing trips, even when one of them isn’t in a phase of interest. We fly fish, spin fish and bait fish. We chase mostly trout, but catch plenty of panfish, fall fish and bass too. Add in the family beach vacations turned to surf fishing trips every year, and they have a pretty wide exposure to water and the swimming fish within.
Since 2016, I’ve written articles in this open-ended Troutbitten series, Fishing With Kids. My oldest son, Joey, just turned thirteen, and in some ways, it’s hard to call him a kid anymore.
With Joey, I’ve stressed independence in this last year of fishing. And I’ve watched him grow and feel empowered by self-reliance. Being on the stream with a DIY attitude is a good lesson. He ties knots, changes flies or lures, gets out most snags and generally does his own thing out there.
I remember being around Joey’s age, twelve or thirteen, when I really got into fishing. I bought magazines, watched bass fishing shows on television and started thinking about trout a lot more often. There’s something about that age that lends itself to becoming a fisherman. The exploration is exciting, and fishing is a joyful way to exercise the newfound freedoms that come from being a little older. Around this age, boys and girls are growing up a bit too. They can handle heavy currents, take a couple falls and rise again without tears. Hiking becomes easier — knot tying is suddenly intuitive. And if a kid has been exposed to the outdoors all his life, he has a great chance to make the most of the middle school years by jumping off the bus and onto a bicycle with a fishing rod slung across the handle bars.
Joey has been fishing about five days a week lately. I join him when I can. And I take him to places that are special to me. We drive to rivers that were too big for him before. And seeing these waters through his eyes for the first time brings a new depth to the places that I love so much.
Independence. That’s what’s new. And Joey has enough experience with the woods and water that I don’t think twice about dropping him off to fish for the evening, awaiting his call when he’s either fished out or it’s getting dark. When I pick him up, he’s full of excitement and stories, or he is calm and peaceful in a way that I don’t often see him. I let him be in those times and allow the experience for him to soak in, as he processes a return to the world after a long outing. Leaving the water to rejoin life is, sometimes, a hard turn.
My friends, Josh and Trevor, both have their own families, with young kids under six now. And I see them going through some of the same things I did. Trevor fishes with his kids in a baby backpack. And Josh’s kids splash through the water on almost a daily basis. It’s all about setting the base — building a foundation. It’s about letting kids be comfortable outside, having them around the woods and water so much that they crave it. Kids soak in the rhythms of nature, and later in life, maybe around twelve years old, that base of experience pays off.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N