“I Go Fish”

“I go fish!” This is what my 20th month old says now whenever he sees a fishing rod in the garage.  I must be doing something right.  My little guy actually wants to go fishing now.  I would like to think that part of his enjoyment comes, not only from taking him fishing, but from involving him in what we’re doing.

When we go fishing, I try and make the experience as engaging as possible.  We typically walk upstream in the river or creek casting as we go.  I constantly talk to him.  I ask him questions like, “Do you think we’re going to find a fish here?” I tell him what I’m doing all the time.  I actually really like doing this and it comes naturally to me.  I tend to be someone who “thinks out loud” (it’s not really talking to yourself) so when there is a baby on your back to talk to, it makes you look far less crazy.  When we catch a fish, I usually try to hold it up to him.  He gets to touch the fish and see it up close.  The enormous grin he gets when he is checking out a fish is priceless.

When we let the fish go, I don’t think he understands why (I’m a catch and release person).  But he is paying more attention than I could ever know.  On our latest fishing trip, he kept looking around in the water near my feet and saying “fish.” (It often sounds like “Fisssss).  He knows they live in the water.  I think he believes we should get to play with the fish much more before we put them back.  As we fish, he is usually on my back, playing with the net (it often whacks me in the head… but oh well).  On this day, after releasing two fish, he kept leaning way over to the side in the backpack.  I was a little worried about him falling out and got a little bit frustrated with him… until I figured out what he was actually doing.  He had the net in his hand and was trying to get it all the way down in to the water.  He’s likely thinking, “I’ve seen dad do some stuff with that stick thing and then put this net in the water and a fish comes out.  I’ll just get one myself!”  He is already fishing!  It really is amazing what kids learn when we least suspect it.  I am excited about his enthusiasm for fishing and the fact that he is already trying to fish.  I am a little bit worried though.  How long will it take him to learn to all of my bad habitats and all of the stupid things I do?

Relearning How to Fly Fish

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day.  Teach a man how to fish, make him obsessed, cause him to spend money on flies he doesn’t need, and make his wife frustrated and lonely.” I may have gotten that Chinese proverb wrong… But seriously, fly fishing is amazing and problematic at the same time.  It can easily become an obsession and a major money and time sink.  You can only hope to understand its appeal when a fish takes your fly and the only thing between you and your fish is the line.  No reeling.  No adjusting the drag.  It’s just the fish on one end of the line and your hand on the other (unless it’s a huge fish that runs and takes the line down to the real… this hasn’t happened to me yet).  Since it has become one of my obsessions, I was ready to try it with my 9 month old in the backpack.

We went back to our favorite spot where I could stand in the river.  It was a good spot to throw flies of various sorts.  But that created another question for me.  What type of fly setup do I use?  A dry fly?  A nymph setup?  A dry-dropper combo?  At the time, I was a little concerned with having a hook fly through the air with my little guy in the backpack.  Has there ever been a fly fisherperson that hasn’t hit him/herself in the back of the head with a fly?  So I decided to use a single nymph.  For those non-fly flingers: A nymph is a fly designed to look like a bug that lives down in the depths of the water.  I also went with a Euro nymphing technique.  With this strategy I only have line a little longer than my rod hanging in the water.  I simply flick it upstream, let it drift down, and come to a stop downstream.  From here, I just flick it upstream and repeat.  This was a safe way to start fly fishing with a little person attached to my back because the fly never goes back behind me near my head, especially if I sidearm cast the nymph back upstream.

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All in all, this wasn’t much different than what we had done before.  Now I was at least able to use my preferred equipment.  I also learned two things on the first fly fishing day.  1.) Bring the net.  Since I thought the net might just get in the way and be one more thing to manage, I didn’t use it.  I lost at least one fish when it was near my feet.  2.) Fish are not always as smart as we give them credit for.  On occasion, I would simply let the fly dangle downstream in the water while I tended to my kid.  I had a fish strike the fly while it was sitting motionless in the current.  This shouldn’t happen as it doesn’t look natural.  Since then this silly technique of just letting the fly sit there and dangle downstream has caught other gullible fish.  Oh well, I guess we’re both still learning what works for us and the fish…

Leveling Up: Fishing +1

“The only constant is change.”  This statement continues to be true as fishing with my 9 month old continued.  I was very pleased to be outdoors experiencing good times with my son even if they only lasted for a half hour or so.  But what does every dad eventually want to do?  Take it to the next level!

I wasn’t quite satisfied with standing at the side of the river casting for five minutes and then moving on.  Especially when we got a baby backpack that he seemed to really like.   It was just too tempting to put him in the backpack and wade into the river.

Disclaimer: Do NOT go straight to the river with your infant after reading this.  I have been fishing and running around in rivers my whole life (That’s well over 30 years).  I am prepared and have lots of experience in rivers and moving water.  I do not feel I am endangering the life of my son by walking into slow moving water that is shin deep.  You may feel differently and that’s OK.  We all do crazy things that are potentially dangerous with our children (whether we know it or not).  I choose to take my son into the river.  You may choose to let yours do mutton bustin’ (I think this is crazy and very dangerous).  That’s part of the fun of being a parent.  We get to make these choices.  But this is all a topic for another entry…

We almost always fish on our nearby river in northern Utah.  For the most part, it is small and predictable.  In the summer after the snowmelt is done, it has a flow around 150 cfs (that’s not very much water).  I started moving into the water as simply and safely as I could.  I waded into the river in a wide backwater area with virtually no current.  The water never even touched my knees.  The advantage of this was that I could position myself downstream of a medium sized boulder.  On the far side of this boulder was the main current and the fish.  For the benefit of the non fish chasers, fish in rivers are often found where moving water meets still water or water moving in a different direction.  Now I was able to try a number of different casts and angles to find the fish.

Here is out backpack setup.  It is a Deuter model.

Here is out backpack setup. It is a Deuter model.

Did it work?  Yes.  We caught two fish that day.  More importantly, the extra ballast on my back also enjoyed traveling into the water.  He never actually touched the water but was fascinated by the fact that we were standing in it.  So for the moment, taking fishing one step further was well worth it.  We both had a good time.  I can only hope that in the future I’ll foresee the risks involved with continuing to take things to the next level before something disastrous happens.  Nothing horrible or traumatic (for either of us) has happened yet… (Thank God, fingers crossed, knock on wood…)

A Beginner’s Guide to True Beginner Fishing

They say, “Everything changes when you have a kid.” It’s true… but is it? During those first 3 months… yes, everything changes.  Sleep is a thing of the past.  Forget trying to be productive at work.  Constantly wonder if you’re going to completely fail at this father thing.  But once you realize that you’re not completely incompetent and that you won’t break your new baby every time you touch him or her, some changes can begin to reverse.  Well, sort of…  I like to think of it as changing things yet again.

At five weeks old, I took my son fishing.  Since he slept the majority of the day back then, he slept the whole time we were fishing.  I like to think he had a great time.  I took his comfy stroller with blankets, suckies (you probably call them binkies), a bottle, diapers, etc.  It felt like preparing for an Everest summit attempt but it was just a half hour jaunt at fishing.  We successfully repeated this trip a couple of times (as long as he stayed asleep).

Since fall and winter came shortly thereafter, we waited until next spring to go fishing again.  Now he was bigger and tougher.  I put him in the Ergo pack and was able to walk along the river now.  His attention didn’t last much more than 5 minutes in one spot but he did like being outside and walking with Dad.  For me, it was more like… walk 50 yards, cast 3 times, walk 50 yards, cast twice, etc. Never mind trying to tie on a different lure or fly.  There wasn’t time for that according to my copilot.  This taught me an important strategy in fishing with a baby/toddler.  Put your rod, reel, line, tippet, flies, etc. together at home… before you are both out at the river.  The less time I spend rigging my gear or tying on different fly setups, the better.

In total we could be out for a half hour to 40 minutes without a complete meltdown.  I also brought along a blanket to sit in the grass and play.  If he did get fussy after a short 15 minute fishing session, he would get out of the pack and get to just play.  At this age he was rolling and beginning to crawl so exploring the grass and sticks was pretty entertaining.  This is when I realized that his enjoyment matched my own.  If he was having fun, so was I.  This has become the key to both of us enjoying our outings.  When I focus on time tables, activities, and pacing that revolves around what will work for him, we usually have a great time.  Almost as soon as I say, “Just one more cast into this spot,” and then proceed to add another cast on top of that, he begins to object to my obsession with checking every spot on the river for fish.

So even before my son was eight months old, we were able to have successful days fishing on the river for short bits of time.  I was already making some early changes to our life together.  But like I said before, these changes aren’t designed to change things back to the way things were before.  They are designed to create something both my son and I can enjoy and do together.  With any luck, this will continue for many, many years.

One other note for the fish chasers… when I take my son with me, we never get skunked.  We’ve caught at least one fish every time.  I’m pretty sure he’s lucky too!