Southeastern South Dakota, where I live, was having an unseasonably mild August. By the middle of August the weather felt like the middle of a normal September. Temperatures were warm all day with the evenings cooling off nicely. The local flora and fauna were responding accordingly. My five year old daughter and I had decided to do some fishing on a Saturday afternoon. My daughter loves to fish, and the night before had been like an invitation to catch. The sky had been clear and warm all day on Friday and right as the sun started to relent, a nice low pressure system had rolled in; bringing a little drizzle and a mating swarm of mayflies that, if they had teamed up, could have grabbed you by the shoulders and carried you away. These things were gigantic, an inch or longer in the body, and were so numerous that your car would get covered with them at the nearby gas station when you stopped to pump. I had never seen a spinner fall like this before and I had fished it alone and hard. Fish were rising to these bugs and I caught many large ones. The particular species that were partaking in the buggy feast are locally known as mooneyes. Don’t feel bad, even with 20 years of fishing these waters I proclaimed, “Holy shit, I caught a piranha!’ when I landed my first one that day. A google search when I got home revealed the real species. These are flat, silver fish, with oddly upturned, toothy mouths and large scales. The largest one I caught was nearly as big around as my net. Anyway, I wanted my daughter to participate in this fishing bonanza. While she wouldn’t be able to dead drift a mayfly look-a-like to them, I had noticed that once the feeding frenzy was on; these fish were aggressively biting anything that appeared semi-foodlike. A minnow on a bobber should be particularly effective. So I spent the half hour drive to the stream teaching her about the lifecycle of mayflies and the ensuing fish feast that would inevitably follow. We fished for a few hours and the mayflies refused to breed and die. My daughter was completely out of patience.
If you have ever been fishing with a 5 year old, you know that it can be a daunting proposition. They want to catch fish, the bigger the better, just like any of us. However, they would rather not wait for these fish to show up. So you are left with a quandary. Do you try to put them into some small bluegills, so they can catch many small fish quickly and eventually get bored with that and want to go home. Or do you try to get them into bigger fish and run the risk of them not catching anything for a while and getting bored and wanting to go home? The trick, in my opinion is twofold. First, you embrace the experience for what it is; time in nature with your child and don’t be afraid to reel in and go look at the cow-patties and explore for pretty rocks. It is the 5 year old equivalent to me sitting on the edge of a stream thinking about how buddha was right when he said life is like a river. The inherent value in recognizing how truly unimportant our responsibilities can be and going to explore something new. Secondly, and more practically, fish for the little ones without excluding the possibility of a wallhanger.
My daughter and I had been fishing on a prior occasion and she was catching bluegills as fast as I could get them off the hook and a new worm on it. I had purchased a couple dozen crawlers for this particular fishing trip and we were going through them so fast it looked like we were going to run out. I didn’t get to fish that day; I was too busy baiting her hook and taking her fish off. Despite the impending nightcrawler shortage I continued to put full, large worms on her hook and direct her to cast to the outside of the pingpong table sized area where the bluegills were hanging. I thought there was a chance, with a nice looking worm and by being on the outskirts of the fishy circle, that we might pick up a big cruiser. Sure enough, her bobber vanished and she fought with everything she had, nearly losing her pole in the process and, after screaming at me that this was her fish and to not help, she drug it on shore. She had landed a 19 inch walleye. That is a fish that is nearly half as big as her. She still talks about landing that beast and holding him and then letting him go. The only thing bigger than that fish she caught that day was her smile.
Having the opportunity to share what you have learned about where the fish are and when, can be a very rewarding use of your fishing knowledge. My mother and I had agreed to meet on dreary day at a spot near her house. I got there about 15 minutes before her, and strung up and hit the water. There was a beautiful seam that was easily fishable from shore right were I approached the stream and I swung a white wooly bugger into it. I cast 5 times before Mom appeared on the bank behind me and I had gotten 4 hits and caught a beautiful dark gold walleye. I was so excited that I immediately put Mom right where I was standing, pointed out the seam to her and suggested a lure (mom is a spin fisherperson) to her. I then left to find myself a new spot. Mom caught a couple very nice fish in that spot, including a chunky 17 incher. I, on the other hand, didn’t get a hit for the rest of the evening. I would say I got skunked, but the next morning she called me and thanked for the experience. It seems she hadn’t caught a fish that size for a number of years. I would call that a pretty good catch.
My mom is not the only other person in my family that fishes. My Dad and my brother do also. In fact, I recently went on a two day fishing excursion with my little brother. Now this was not your average, everyday flyfishing trip. My brother lives in Minneapolis proper and we were fishing in the city. So there we were, a couple of guys in chest waders, fishing vests and hats, wondering the parks of Minneapolis. It is a wonder we weren’t arrested. After a full day and a half of looking for fish and only catching one small northern pike, we were close to calling it a weekend. But lady luck had something more in store, for me at least. As we were walking back slowly along a stream, my Brother spotted a nice little school of bluegills. At this point it behooves me to point out that my Brother’s recent domestication and his career as an attorney have severely limited the time he spends on the water. And in fairness, we were both pretty excited to see some fish after a good 18 hours of fishing with nothing to show for it. Any way, he spotted the fish and immediately pointed them out to me by thrusting his 9 foot rod at them like a fencing sword. That caused the fish to decide to move, obviously. I chastised him appropriately and then asked him to again identify precisely where he had seen the fish. And, with an absentmindedness befitting a wacky haired college professor, he repeated the rod thrust motion, completely spooking the school of fish. When we finally located the school again, or more likely another school that hadn’t had our presence broadcast to them, I stepped back to give my brother a shot at fishing these fish. He was so excited that you could visibly see it, and that doesn’t translate into effective flyfishing. He managed to knot his line while trying to strip out to prepare for his cast. He then took one step too many in approaching the bank and nearly fell into the water. After getting his wits about him, he attempted to cast and managed to get the line wrapped about his body and his fly hooked in the tree behind him. After we had utilized some moves reminiscent of a top to get him all ready to cast, he hooked his fly on the back of his vest in his backcast. Needless to say, the fish had left the area long before he put a fly on the water and we came up empty. But I did get a nice ab workout from laughing so hard at him that I thought I was going to wet my pants.
Anyway, my Daughter had lost all patience and was ready to call it a night. I took my fly off and was winding up when she said, “Daddy, what does a Mayfly look like?” I began to describe it to her again and she interrupted me, saying, “Does it look like that?” as she pointed to the water. And the Spinner Fall was on.