My son, Schpanky (his real nickname) is stubborn. Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler and I like to joke that he’s going to be either a trial attorney or a hostage negotiator, because he won’t back down from an argument. No matter what profession he chooses, I think it’s safe to say he’s going to become a better fisherman than his father. From the time he was probably 8 or 9, he showed the sort of patience needed for a lifelong pursuit of fish, and would happily spend hours at low tide with an old spinning rod, tossing a Dick Knight into the channel of the Tahuya River on Hood Canal. When the tide was high, he’d throw that same lure from our dock, hoping to catch a small perch or a bullhead. He seemed undeterred by a lack of success, and kept at it until his perseverance was rewarded. As he got older, the patience and fascination with fishing remained, so when he was 11 I learned him how to cast a fly rod in the back yard. He got the hang of it quickly, displaying a natural ability to stay relaxed and let the rod load under the weight of the line. If it had only come so easily to me…
In addition to his patient determination, Schpanky also has SLD (Selective Listening Disorder). At one point his mother and I actually thought he might have a physical condition that affected his ability to hear us. However, an inspection revealed no more wax buildup in his ears than would be expected, and we concluded that his hearing is fine. It’s his listening that isn’t always keen.
During the summer of his 12th year I figured it was high time to take him on a weekend fishing trip to the Yakima River. Up to this point in his young angling career he’d only waded with me on the Forks of the Snoqualmie, which are much smaller waters than the mighty Yak. He was excited to go, and as I briefed him on what it was like to fish the Yakima from a boat, he was all ears. When the day arrived, gear (rods, reels, flies, tippet, beer and Q-tips) was packed and expectations were high as we headed east over the mountains for two days of summer hopper action with Jimmy. Jimmy is not his real name, but Jimmy is my other best friend (coincidentally, Jimmy happens to own a Hyde drift boat). We camped at the Yakima River RV Park and planned three floats over two days. It would be a lot of fishing for a 12 year-old, but I knew Schpanky could handle it. I just hoped I could.
I recall the action being about average for the Yak, which means there were extended lulls in the action between catching small fish. Even though Schpanky was out-catching his father, he really wanted to hook into something bigger than 10 inches. That’s not to say all the fish were terribly small, as Jimmy landed a nice 13-incher and the Unaccomplished Angler landed what would have been his finest fish on that river: A 19 inch rainbow. Deftly playing it with uncharacteristic finesse, I managed to get the 19+ incher to the boat, where Schpanky manned the net. The fish had nearly inhaled the size 10 foam hopper, and though the barb was flattened, the hook was buried far back in its tongue, requiring a delicate procedure to remove the fly. This procedure lasted longer than was ideal, and with the hook finally out, we let the trout rest in the water, still confined in the net. I cautioned the kid not to allow the net to settle too low in the water lest the strong current should drag it under, and reached into my gear bag for my trusty camera. I turned back around just in time to see the majestic trout slip over the edge of the submerged net. All I could do was watch my trophy swim off into the depths. It was a solid 20-incher that would have been commemorated in pixels and celebrated for years to come had it not been for the kid who never listens. Schpanky instantly felt bad, taking blame for the lost fish. And like any good father, I grabbed him by the ears and told him that if it weren’t for the fact that his mother would never forgive me, I’da tossed him into the river to go retrieve my 21-inch trout. Clearly my parenting skills rival only my angling skills.
We put the unfortunate incident behind us, for the most part, and resumed our downstream journey. The sun dipped behind the canyon walls and the Hour of the Caddis would soon be upon us. If there’s ever any consistency to the inconsistent nature of the Yakima River, it’s the evening Caddis action, and everyone in the boat was instructed to tie on an Elk Hair Caddis in anticipation of this great occurrence. We pounded the grass-lined banks hoping to rise a hungry fish, but the fish didn’t appreciate our offerings with the enthusiasm we’d hoped for. Jimmy and I each picked up a very modest fish or two, but with each trout that refused his fly, Schpanky grew very quiet and sullen in the back of the boat. I could sense his frustration and offered encouragement: “Quit pouting and keep at it, boy–fish that Caddis tight to the bank.” I also reminded him, “There’s more to fishing than catching”. This worldly advice was met with deafening silence, and I assumed that he simply hadn’t heard me.
A short while later the quiet of the evening was shattered by the youthful and jubilant proclamation from the back of the boat, “I got one!” Indeed he had, and Schpanky’s 5 weight bent under the pressure of a feisty fish that was using the river’s current to its full advantage. It was a nice fish–a beautifully colored rainbow that had to go a solid 14 inches. Handling the net, I took great care to keep the fish from getting free (if it did I would never hear the end of it) and reached to remove the fly from the fish’s mouth. And that’s when I saw it: The size 18 mosquito dangling from the trout’s lower lip. I looked at my son and furrowed my brow. He smiled back at me as if to say, “Neener, neener, nee-ner!”
Schpanky hoisted the fish for a quick photo before releasing it back into the river. He was absolutely thrilled, but like any seasoned angler he resisted the temptation to gloat and kept his emotions in check, while I danced a celebratory jig.
After congratulating him for having caught such a nice fish, I immediately chastised him for having broken protocol: “We told you to use a Caddis–what were you thinking?”
With very calm rationale he replied, “Well, I wasn’t catching any fish with the Caddis, and I saw mosquito’s flying around, so I tied one on.”
Like I said, the kid never listens.
PS- If you’ve got a kid, get them out fishing. And check out FishyKid, too.