Being a grandpa is one of life’s greatest blessings, and sharing my passion of the outdoors and fly fishing with my grandson is humbling, rewarding and wonderful. He has been my shadow since he was old enough to crawl, and I was limber enough to get down there with him.
As a toddler, he would sit in my lap and together we tied flies, or as it is called in the toddler world, we made “fishies” out of fur and feathers. Hooks were cut off so each fishy could be stuffed in pants pockets and brought out at bath time. If they clogged the tub drain at my son-in-law’s house it wasn’t my problem.
To create the perfect fishy, an intense study of materials was performed. This included running fingers through rooster necks and saddle feathers because they were soft. The correct feather was selected based on its ability to tickle the tyer. There was always a complete and total fascination with the process. In the short attention span allotted, we managed to tie one fly completely.
At age four he waded the river with me, and after several missed hookups, he landed his first trout on a fly. I discovered that with every annual increase in age, there is a corresponding increase in attention span. But at this stage, after landing that first fish, it was time to throw rocks and make big splashes.
On one occasion, fishing with me at age five, we managed to land three fish before I lost him to stick boat racing and netting leaves. My attention span theory continued to prevail.
As he neared the adolescent age of six, he frequently asked to fish with Papa. Each answer was an emphatic ‘yes,’ so we often loaded up the car seat, grabbed some food, and were off.
I remember one trip when the river was too high to wade safely, so we decided to go on a hiking and discovery mission instead. Eventually finding a nice log on the river’s edge, we sat and talked, then raced stick boats, our second favorite river pastime. I never win.
Another prerequisite for being a grandpa is patience, and the desire to listen and not judge. On our adventures he talked incessantly, as he had a lot to say, and the world was so big. He began each topic with an enthusiastic tone and an inviting sense of adventure. I learned in depth about Spiderman, Transformers, the speed of Sonic, Megalodons, and what makes fish swim fast.
During other fishing trips, he discussed school, his friends, and getting home to visit his neighbor who had so much neat stuff. I heard about playing superheroes with mom and building forts inside on rainy days, sitting in the deer stand till dark, and then walking beside his dad holding the flashlight back to the truck. I doubt the light was ever held down on the ground to find the path, but it brightened two hearts at that moment. I heard about previous four-wheeler cruises around the North Georgia mountains, picnics with Mimi, playing in the mud at Grandpa’s farm, and riding the tractor.
After several intense listening sessions streamside, it happened. He asked the question I had quietly prepared for in the back of my mind and was hoping would come later in his sub-adult years, around twelve. At that age I could share my fly fishing philosophy with him and he would understand it.
“Papa,” he said, looking stoic and serious, which insinuated I better buckle up for what’s to come next, “Why do you like to fly fish so much?” There was a long pause coupled with a disorganized thought process as to how to answer a six-year-old with such a heavy question.
My plan for the day was to take him fishing and teach him how to really spit well without all the drool associated with it. But my immediate plans changed. Spitting could be taught later, I mused.
“Hmmm,” I thought as we both sat quietly and stared at the river. I needed a moment of silence to organize my thoughts. I quickly realized my fly fishing philosophy would have to wait. The original speech included a discussion of how fly fishing and the rhythm of a river helps a person briefly escape reality for a mental rebirth. It would also encompass the importance of conservation efforts to keep our rivers clean, and share with him the beautiful places trout live.
That sub-adult discussion would embrace thoughts about how challenging and immensely satisfying the sport is; a basic understanding of the river and entomology, what trout eat, when they feed, where to look for fish based on the currents, what flies to use, when to use them, and so much more. But it all would have to wait.
“Isn’t the river pretty?” I said, pointing to the light reflecting on the water’s surface. “Look at how the sun is bending its rays through the leaves and causing sparkles on the surface. It’s like a thousand lightbulbs turned on at once and pointing down at the river from all angles.
“And it’s really cool how all the different currents work separately to bring bugs and our flies down to the fish,” I added, showing him the different foam lines meandering downstream. I reminded him of how the stick boats floated and bobbed along the same currents.
I asked, “How does it feel standing in the water and feeling the river push against your legs? This makes you feel a part of the river, doesn’t it? Putting on waders and stepping into the current is like wearing your Sonic costume and becoming him! Being in the river makes you part of something really special.”
He looked at me with a big grin and nodded yes. I was beginning to think I was indeed making progress.
“Listen, do you hear all the birds singing?” I asked. “So many melodies from different birds become an outdoor choir. And all you must do is stop and be quiet. Remember how much we enjoy overlooking the world at the precipice? As far as we both can see, mountain tops reaching skyward with their tips punching holes in the clouds.
“All of that’s part of fly fishing too. Every time we go fly fishing, we get to see, feel, and hear all of this. Now isn’t that pretty cool?”
With a mouthful of Goldfish and M&M’s he sputtered a yes and reinforced it with a nod. And before the next handful of nutrition, he asked, “Can we go catch another fish now?”
There it was, my opportunity to circle the conversation back to fishing. As we both stood up and adjusted our wader straps, somewhat stiff from sitting so low down on the rock, I replied with a question, “What do you like most about fly fishing?”
“Papa, this is fun! I like how the flyrod bends when a fish pulls on it. They are strong like Ironman.”
I looked down at his expression, which had never changed from a smile and replied, “Don’t we always have fun when we go fishing?” .
I have discovered that one very simple word captivates both young and old when talking about fly fishing. The word is ‘fun.’ And because it came from the mouth of a six-year-old, it must be true. Everybody needs some form of fun in their life, and the smile that comes with it.
I bent down to get a hug and asked, “Ready for another adventure?”
I grabbed his hand as we started wading along the river’s edge, and he looked up and asked, “Now, where did you say that big fish lived? Bring the net ‘cause I’m going to need it!”