Building Family Memories While Fishing

The grandkids recently showed up for a summer visit and quickly made their presence known: empty Cheerios box in the pantry, half a sheet of toilet paper left on the roll, tennis shoes and flip flops scattered about the front entry. Knowing their reliance on electronic devices, I scratched my head and wondered what I could do to entertain them.

Fishing soon came to mind. Reaching into my memory bank, I recall how Grandpa Harry taught me how to read water and bring stream trout to the fly. These same skills can be passed on to my grandkids at the family cabin, I thought.

The first thing they ask after arriving at the cabin is for me to measure their growth. The last eight years of heights, with names and dates, are marked in permanent ink on the bunkhouse wall. It isn’t long after they dump their duffel bags on the floor before they inquire, “Can I go fishing?”

Our c. 1940 log cabin is a whisper in the woods from the upper Umatilla River. The Umatilla is small enough to cast across the width and its shallow riffles can be waded safely. Trout are abundant and eager to rise to the fly. Like many small streams that flow from the western flanks of the Blue Mountains, it is perfect training ground for youngsters new to the sport of fly fishing.

Liam, the oldest, keeps an iPad by his side at all times. He programmed the ring tone on my cell phone with the tune “Going Fishing” by Taj Mahal when he was twelve. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. “I want to catch at least two fish,” he announces to me this year.

You have good technique,” I say to his younger sister, Sofia, after noting artful management of how she placed her fly.
“I know where to cast,” Sofia replies
“So, where is that?”
“Over where there are rocks for fish.”
“I call that reading the water,” I say. “Not everyone knows how to do that. You have to catch a few fish first.”
“Not really,” she replies. “You just have to get some bites and jerk at them.”

Cousin Annalise caught her first trout at the cabin when she was four years old. I may have hooked it but she reeled it in all by herself. Now old enough to have a learner’s permit, she’ll drive us to cool headwaters where bull trout take shelter in bedrock pools.

Adam, the youngest grandchild, reminds me of myself. Most days he’d rather fish than eat. Adam is now adept enough to go off by himself and more often than not returns with a fishing story to tell.

Sofia and I shared time on the river this year. One particularly creative cast led to her getting hung up on a huge log that leaned over the back edge of a shallow pool. When it became obvious she couldn’t dislodge the fly by jerking on her rod, I waded out to the log, felt my way up the leader, and reached out to retrieve the fly. Uh oh! A hornet attack from a nest hidden in a hollow of the log! I dropped Sofia’s rod, slapped my head like a madman, and dove headfirst into the small side-channel pool while my shocked granddaughter watched and wondered, what made Papa D trip and fall in the river? I came up sputtering, ran down the shoreline, and left the pack of angry hornets behind.

Back at the cabin, a Benedryl tablet followed by an ice pack brought the swelling in my cheek and upper lip down to where I could carry on a conversation without an interpreter. Luckily, Sofia did not get stung. She might have forgiven me, but her mother would not have.

I can hardly wait for the next set of grandkids to arrive and the adventures that follow. Will they remember their height relative to their cousins, the number of times their largest trout jumped, or how Papa D left a perfectly good fly dangling on a log rather than taking a chance on getting chased by another nest of mad hornets?

Which begs the question, what memories will you pass on to the youngsters in your life?

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