Little Big Fish

“Whoa ho ho! Dada did you see that one?” asked my four year old, going rigid for an instant with surprise and excitement.

“We just missed him!” I replied.

“Yeah cause that was a nibble and I felt the nibble and he wanted our bug real bad.”

He was right about the desire, but not the nibble.  It was a four-inch brook trout launching himself headlong, Trident missile style, at our two-inch cicada pattern… again. The stretch of river below us also held fish that could fit the hook in their mouths, but for pure spectacle, the overly enthusiastic little guys were stealing the show. You had to admire their ambition if not their execution. Did they have some sort of plan? (I know… I’ll knock that enormous bug unconscious with a flying head-butt, wrestle it under, then chew on it for the next four days. Protein City here I come!) Or was it just an irresistible response to ample top-water feed and a sunny summer day? Maybe fish, like people, are just more optimistic when they’re young. Plan, Pavlov or pure youthful verve, their sudden appearances and frolicking leaps kept the excitement knob dialed to the right and my small fry’s attention glued to the water.


Photos by Matthew Copeland

“I like this fishing Dada,” he said, using both hands and all 13 feet of our tenkara rod to lob the bug back upstream.

“Oh yeah?” I asked, my arm around his waist insuring against his own inadvertent leap.  Admittedly, “this fishing” wasn’t what I’d come for.  Big bugs inspire thoughts of big fish and the instant I heard the shrill, sci-fi soundtrack of cicada song swelling up from the canyon, I had visions of grandeur. But big water and little legs don’t always mix, and I quickly realized that wading where I needed to be for the bruisers was out of the question with E in tow. So with a pinch of disappointment I settled onto a low bluff above some less productive, but more accessible, water for some team sight fishing.

“Uh huh. Cause it makes my tummy hot,” said E.

“Makes your tummy hot?”

“That’s how my tummy says its excited. Oh oh, Dada ‘nother one!”

And another one, and another after that. My son kept recasting and the baby trout kept hammering away, both putting their whole bodies into the effort and neither tiring in their attempts.  Sure, the big boys were doing their thing not far upstream, but they’d still be there on the next trip. In the meantime, they couldn’t possibly have had this volume of action or degree of passion on offer.

By the time we had to pack it in I’d stopped pining for the big leagues altogether. The primate and piscine squirts even sent me home with a few bonus morals at no extra charge. Swing for the fences they reminded me. Trust your gut. And never discount the magic of the young.

10 Comments on “Little Big Fish

  1. My friend, you are a better writer and a better dad than I will ever live to be.

    • Come on now Walt. You don’t expect the STS readership to buy that do you? I’ll never forget the first time I looked up the High Country News submission guidelines and found there, as an aspirational example, an essay by a certain humble writer from southwest Wyoming. And if you want to talk parenting I can, outline a couple generations of compelling evidence to your credit.

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