The jury is still out on a number of fronts. As I attempted to “take it easy” for the better part of August I made the wise decision to reinvest my dividends. Yup, it’s about that time of year where I put the boy front and center. The old makin’ lemons from lemonade mantra is in full effect. My back still isn’t up to snuff, so I’ve been shying away from hours of hauling big flies on big rods. Many like to dabble towards the other end of the spectrum by dangling microscopic offerings from little more than an overpriced willow branch. I must be stricken with a Napoleonic fishing complex, because I can “overcompensate” with the best of them, but that’s neither here nor there. Family centric posts of this magnitude are likely better served up to loved ones via Facebook for the guaranteed “like”. That just isn’t my speed. I’m little more than a social media wallflower waiting to be plucked from the ditch along the information superhighway. But more to the point, I’m not about to take my foot off the gas on this long term project. Make no mistake, there is a war raging in the hearts and minds of parents and kids everywhere, and it revolves around one simple question. How do I get my kids off of their butts and off of the fucking electronics? Their lives (like ours), is a barren wasteland of iPads, iPods and any other number force fed entertainment devices. How is the simple beauty of a spring creek waterfall every going to compete with World of Warcraft? As best I can tell, there is no easy answer. I’m determined to pay it forward by committing more boots to the ground. Untether those whipper snappers from the chains that bind, and attempt to get lost in the outdoors.
We have taken a few end of summer troutin’ excursions. I even managed to get Ava out for an afternoon session, but she wasn’t game for this larger camping expedition. Jack was more than happy to oblige. This sort of endeavor often allows me to kill two birds with one stone. You can indulge in another sliver from the Driftless pie by exploring new water, and make some memories while you’re at it. But as I revealed in my previous installments of father and son camping, there are limits to what you can accomplish. I’ve found that the rough and tumble world of spring creek fishing can be too rugged for Jack. Sometimes I have to remind myself to see the world through his eyes. I suppose if I was eyeball to eyeball with a thick batch of wild parsnip, I might also reconsider the merits of this form of recreation. The best course of action is to concentrate your efforts on easy walking pasture stretches, golf course style habitat improvement areas, and a healthy dose of bridge hopping. This isn’t my preferred way to break down trout water, but it isn’t all about me. Standing spitting distance from miles of choice fly water, but being unable to fully fish it can be a tough pill to swallow. I drove past productive spots that I’ve fished in the past and I couldn’t help but wonder what lies beneath? We tried a little wet wading, but Jack isn’t tall enough yet, nor does he really have the stamina to undertake an entire stretch of water. Would it be considered child endangerment to leave your son at a bridge while his old man explores a quickie round of brook trout bliss? But seriously, every year we go fishing Jack’s attention span seems to increase. We popped in on a few marginal areas that I hoped would connect him with a giant. On his first cast he nabbed a beautiful, dark-colored brookie. A few minutes later fate took a left turn and netted him a smallish largemouth bass. He’s learning at a young age what exploring “chub water” is all about.
We bounced around to a few different bridges with little success. I decided we’d better make a run further south to a stream I have never fished, but would put us closer to a few different camping options for the night. We popped in on a habitat improvement section that was surprisingly manageable for Jack to walk and wade. I’ve been outspoken about the over usage and lack of creativity found in many stream improvement projects. I obviously support the idea of making our coldwater resources better, but many stream designs have a sameness to them that simply seems overcooked. Predictable little fake lunker bunkers that might as well have a sign saying “Catch Fish Here –>”. In golfing terms, it’s like you’re playing the same poorly conceived hole over and over again. Why even bother to play different courses when we’re making them all the same? Or more to the point, much of the H.I. in these parts is like a case of excessive plastic surgery gone bad. I get it. In theory it’s supposed to be about the fish, and not the fisherman, and “playability” probably doesn’t enter into the “make waters better” lexicon, but I think in some instances less can be more. Why is the default position always to give a stream the complete arsenal of cosmetic procedures, when sometimes just a little nip and tuck will suffice? But I digress, Jack and I worked a few hundred yards of some of the better habitat improvement work that I’ve seen. I was happy to see that they left many of the native wood features and streamside trees in tact. After a slow start we started to pick up a steady stream of respectable brookies. We were having so much fun fishing and collecting grasshoppers that time got away from us. I uncharacteristically underestimated how quickly the sun sets this late in summer, and I would ultimately pay the price for my propensity to “wing it.” I wasn’t exactly sure where we were going to camp for the night and got slightly lost in our quest to find our camping accommodations. Eventually we found our way and got set for the usual round of campfire tomfoolery. The high point of our afternoon had been to select a candidate for harvest. When it comes to trout I’m largely a catch and release fisherman, but Jack insists upon cooking one up on the fire, which is just fine by me. Earlier in the day we looked for a few stocker Bows, but were unsuccessful in our efforts. We decided to sacrifice a decent brookie from his woody lair for the traditional consumption ritual. Like most boys of his age group, half the fun of it is the biological dissection portion of the equation.
We awoke in the morning to find ourselves socked in by thick layer of Driftless fog. The task at hand was to break down camp then hit the road for a morning adrift amongst the rural landscape. After a solid round the day before we elected to look at a few more access points on the same creek, and were not disappointed. No monsters came to hand, but quality fish were very easy to come by on the most predictable of kid friendly locations. At one point we spied a deep bridge pool on the main stem of of larger river that is believed to hold big browns. It was just downstream from a small brookie feeder, so I hoped there would be some colder water to draw them in. Like the largemouth bass from the day before, we were given the warmwater curveball. A big slimer emerged from the hole to engulf the offering. Jack hasn’t worked his way up to handling bigger pike so I quickly held the fish up for a pic, before she managed to flop out of my hands and snap the line.
I’m just as guilty as your average bloke. Some of my good and bad habits tend to rub off on Jack. I’ve got a propensity to have less than desirable dietary habits when I’m on the road. I often just eat crap, then get back to the fishing. At one point he asked me if he could dine from the “rollers of death” and I obliged by letting him snatch a hot dog from the infamous local gas station concessions. It remains to be seen if my investment in father and son fishing trips will turn Jack into a lifelong outdoorsman or even a fly fisherman for that matter, and that’s okay. It’s honestly more about the quality time than any master plan. But the early returns indicate that he’s guilty by association.