Montana Outdoors

March 7, 2011

The birth of a fisherman

Filed under: Reflections, Spring, Trout fishing — Tags: , , , — montucky @ 11:56 pm

An article appeared the other day in one of the regional newspapers and it began with the words, “Anglers: The Bitterroot River is warming up – do you know where your fly rod is?”. It went on to point out that toward the end of this month the skwala stonefly hatch should begin, signaling the start of the fly fishing season here in western Montana. It reminded me of a story that I wrote back in 2007 about a boy and his father and the beginning of a life rich with the love of trout fishing. I will repost it today, with apologies for the repetition to anyone who read it back then.


I should know better than to write another fishing story, since as I recall, that was the activity which caused my banishment from polite society in the first place many years ago. Oh well, old dogs may not learn new tricks, but they remember all their bad habits very well! So, here goes…

One Saturday morning near the end of May, a small boy, four years of age, stood just behind his father in the bright green grasses of spring on the bank of an icy trout stream which was swollen by the melting snow; the west fork of the Bitterroot River. Despite the heavy run-off that year, the water was still pure and crystal clear. Behind and above them, six thousand feet closer to the sky, sunlight glittered on deep snow which sat like an ermine crown on the top of Trapper’s Peak in the beautiful Bitterroot Mountains.

Miles up stream, on the green, heavily forested slopes just below the snow line, new bear cubs had emerged from their winter dens and their mothers were already beginning to teach them the rules of living in the wild country; what to eat, where to find it and all the whos to be sure to stay well away from.

It was learning time in western Montana.

The father was not a large man, but he was wiry and tough from a lifetime of earning a living outdoors. He wore a heavy green jacket over his usual bibbed overalls, and a wicker creel which was heavy with trout and the new green leaves and grasses that kept them fresh hung from his left shoulder. His fly rod was old and made of split bamboo, but in good repair; a cherished veteran of innumerable trout battles, spring after spring and summer after summer.

There had already been many lessons on the ways of trout in the four hours since day-break in the canyon. The boy had been a rapid learner, he was quickly becoming skillful at landing the hard-fighting trout that rose to take his father‘s fly, and the fly rod already felt comfortable in his small hand. It was a pleasant experience and he was thoroughly enjoying the challenge. During the previous summer he had been just too little, but this year it was different. He was finally big enough now and it was time to begin learning the love of a sport that he would enjoy for the rest of his years. There was another lesson as well.

America was still at war. Battles were raging in various parts of the world and there were family members and friends who had answered their calls to duty and were still in harm‘s way. In such times it is a good thing to know a way, for however short the time, to achieve a break from all the stress and concern; a brief diversion of one’s thoughts from distress to pleasantness, to catch a deep breath and have a time of soul’s rest before returning to the cares of the world. The boy knew little of what all this meant, but he was learning a lesson none-the-less. He would understand it all and how to use it later, and it would never be forgotten.

So far the fish had all been small, judged by the standards of those now distant years, around a pound apiece, but colorful and full of fight; an excellent beginning.

A few hundred yards upstream from where they stood was a sharp bend in the stream, and along the shore on the outside of the curve there was a large pile of logs that had been deposited there years before during high water times. Far into the bank beneath the logs the water had scoured out a hole some thirty feet deep and twenty yards long, and the man already knew that it would be the exclusive domain of a large trout. And that it was.

They approached the hole and he began casting, sending loop after loop of line out toward the far bank, floating temptation down into precisely the right place, and when the line was extended perfectly straight over the water, let the fly drop lightly like the feather it was, mere inches from the edge of the log jam. Immediately there was a flash of silver, crimson and green as five pounds of Rainbow broke the surface of the water; a carefully cultivated reflex, a lightning-quick movement of the man’s wrist, and the battle began.

As soon as he knew the hook was well set, the father handed the rod to his son, saying, “He’s all yours now”, and assumed the role of a coach, watching carefully and giving instructions as needed.

“Keep the line tight, but not too tight.”

“Let him run, the water’s open! He‘ll take some line now.”

“Come, move downstream with him. You can’t hold him in that swift water!”

“Snub him up a bit, he’s heading for that underwater log. See it? Good move!”

For over thirty minutes the battle went on and the boy’s arms ached, but he was still game for the fight, and still responded immediately to the commands. Finally, several hundred yards down stream, the big trout began to tire.

“Keep the line snug and bring him over to the bank.” The stream there was a little slower, forming a deep riffle: a good place for the landing. As the boy fought the fish toward the bank, his father could see the hook was beginning to loosen: the trout would not be on much longer.

Acting quickly, he entered the stream below all the action and came up behind the tired fish. Chest deep in the icy water, he slid both arms under the trout and scooped it up on the bank where the boy dived on it as a good lineman would dive on a loose ball and held on until his father scrambled up to him and subdued the still struggling fish.

Then the final words: “You did it, Son! Good job!”

The grin on the boy’s face was visible for miles and stayed for a lifetime! A fisherman had just been born.


  1. What a great story. Anyone who has ever watched a young boy catch his first fish can relate.


    Comment by Jim — March 8, 2011 @ 5:38 am

    • I hope the tradition is still there, but I wonder if it is still the same.


      Comment by montucky — March 8, 2011 @ 9:15 am

  2. can’t imagine a 4yr old wrestling a fish so long! he must have loved it…and sounds like he still does!


    Comment by silken — March 8, 2011 @ 7:49 am

    • Somewhere I have a photo taken of myself when I was two or three, standing under the old clothesline in the back yard of our house. The day’s catch of trout was hanging above me and the fish were as long as I was. Yes, still the same, but the big fish are not as plentiful now in many of the streams.


      Comment by montucky — March 8, 2011 @ 9:18 am

  3. That is a wonderful story. Thanks.


    Comment by Dave at collinda — March 8, 2011 @ 9:51 am

  4. A lot of people turn into fishermen about this way even though the rivers don’t all look the same.


    Comment by knightofswords — March 8, 2011 @ 12:27 pm

    • They sure do. As far as I’m concerned it is one of our finer traditions.


      Comment by montucky — March 8, 2011 @ 7:35 pm

  5. WONDERFUL story… I had tears in my eyes (I’m a very emotional type person) & hung on every word…


    Comment by Tricia — March 8, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Tricia. It’s one of my favorite (and earliest) memories.


      Comment by montucky — March 8, 2011 @ 7:36 pm

  6. I hadn’t read it before, and even if I had, I would have enjoyed it again.

    Great story, Terry.


    Comment by sandy — March 8, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

  7. Hi Montucky, Nice touching story. My late father was a tremendous fisherman in salt and freshwater. He loved fishing and went out until a week before he passed away. I enjoy fishing for trout and will have to learn fly fishing and go to the nearby Smokies to catch and release. My own lake has only warm-water species and I have not yet done any fishing here. Have a great day tomorrow and thanks for the story.


    Comment by wildlifewatcher — March 8, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

    • I have loved trout fishing all of my life and hope I will do about what your father did. It’s a great way to relax and enjoy nature!


      Comment by montucky — March 8, 2011 @ 7:42 pm

  8. As a fisherman I really, really enjoyed this. I loved your background descriptions.

    These were precious moments. And you are still fishing because you had a swell father.



    Comment by Bill — March 8, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

    • You know Bill, as I reflect on my childhood years, a whole lot of the good memories involved fishing with my father. (I had the best father anyone could ever wish for!) And when I think of my children’s early years, I find the same memories of fishing trips.


      Comment by montucky — March 8, 2011 @ 7:47 pm

  9. My brother has some really cute photos of his three year daughter with the first little fish she caught last summer when he took her fishing for the first time. Hard to tell who is prouder in the photos–the father or the little girl!


    Comment by kateri — March 8, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

    • Having been on both sides of that question now, I know who is the prouder!


      Comment by montucky — March 8, 2011 @ 7:33 pm

  10. You write so beautifully, it’s always a pleasure to read your stories.


    Comment by Candace — March 8, 2011 @ 8:44 pm

  11. I would argue that I have the best father that anyone could wish for!! I love hearing these stories and would enjoy more of them! I love you!!


    Comment by Juls — March 9, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

  12. What a great, lovely story. Thank You very much telling it.
    My father taught me to a rod and line. So I taught also my son.


    Comment by sartenada — March 11, 2011 @ 12:52 am

    • Sharing and teaching from father to son or daughter is such a great thing! My most valuable experiences have come that way.


      Comment by montucky — March 11, 2011 @ 10:45 am

  13. This story touched me deeply… so poignant and well told… it spoke to something deep within… thanks for sharing it again as I missed it the first time around.


    Comment by Victoria — March 15, 2011 @ 6:32 am

    • I’m glad that you enjoyed it, Victoria. That was in the spring of 1945.


      Comment by montucky — March 15, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

  14. This morning my 8 yo is going fishing with my 73 yo dad. I can’t wait for them to get home to hear the stories. This was such a part of my life growing up and I’m anxious to see if it will be part of his also.


    Comment by Tammy McLeod — March 15, 2011 @ 7:31 am

    • I hope it will become a part of your son’s life too, Tammy! Those will be good stories to remember!


      Comment by montucky — March 15, 2011 @ 8:21 pm

  15. Sweet. You writing tear jerkers now???


    Comment by Bo Mackison — March 20, 2011 @ 4:31 pm

  16. Thanks for the memories-this could have been about me and my father, right down to the split bamboo rod and wicker creel.


    Comment by New Hampshire Gardener — January 7, 2014 @ 5:16 pm

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