Published Oct 20. 2008 - 15 years ago
Updated or edited Sep 29. 2021

Small Fry, 10

"Did you get a brownie?" The voice the author heard was young; a girl’s voice that floated gracefully over the soft, almost melodic, water tumble of the creek. He was releasing a small brown trout that had patiently watched his patterns float by for close to half an hour.

Three Flies

Small fish on the fly have a natural appeal to both little anglers and anglers who angle only a little. Kids love any fish tugging on the end of their fly line, and “the occasional angler” can appreciate the sunny, chub, or single trout that saves an otherwise fishless dry-fly day.
    We “more experienced” anglers should take note: the joy of our art and sport is felt most keenly when there is a fish -- any fish -- at the other end of the line. There are ways to do it better, and strategies to take it bigger, but few fishing experiences resonate more than that first bluegill caught in childhood, or that first season of fumbling on the fly that culminated in a tiny stocked rainbow that somehow seemed to stave off the giant of middle age.
    Most of us began fishing as small fry. As we age, and as more and more sentimental memories enter into our conversations, those days become, ironically, bigger and bigger:
    “That bluegill was a bull!”
    “That brookie jumped two feet into the air!”
    “That smallmouth was, well, BIG!”
    We owe it to fly-fishing to take kids fishing, or to bring our novice neighbors along, if only once a year. Those little anglers will carry on and keep the fly-fishing tradition alive, and those anglers who angle only a little will listen more closely whenever we “more experienced” anglers begin to tell our latest fish story . . .

“Did you get a brownie?”
    The voice I heard was young; a girl’s voice that floated gracefully over the soft, almost melodic, water tumble of the creek. I was releasing a small brown trout that had patiently watched my patterns float by for close to half an hour. The fish would not rise, nor would it flush. It had held steady, playing selective, ignoring first my Elk Hair Caddis and next my Muddler Minnow. I tied on a Royal Coachman, more for a sarcastic spooking than a potential catching, yet on the third drift of the third fly she had risen to meet it.
    I turned to face the source of the voice: sandy hair somewhat tucked beneath navy baseball cap; a tight smile; khaki pants muddied at the knees. She stood beside one of the imposing tulip trees casting shadows and golden leaves over our side of the creek. She was ten or eleven, I guessed, a beginner’s 5-weight outfit held at her side, the green fly line wrapped rather chaotically down around the reel.
    “I was watching you, sir. You put him back before I could see. Was he a brownie?”
    “She was,” I said.
    “How can you tell she was a girl?”
    “Oh, there are ways,” I replied, not so sure I could be any more specific. “Having any luck?”
    “Not yet. They weren’t biting up where my father is. Whatcha using?”
    “A dry fly.”
    “You mean like an Adams, or a Deer Hair Caddis?”
    “You know your fly patterns, don’t you?”
    “My father ties ‘em. I can do a Woolly Bugger, but that’s better for bass. So, whatcha using?”
    “A Royal Coachman: the king of dry flies.”
    “I'm using a Prince. That's a nymph, you know.”
    “Indeed. One fit for a princess.”
    She giggled at my subtle complement. “Mind if I cast here?”
    “Sure!” I said. “I can use a snack break.”
    I sat on a stone, peeled an orange, and watched her cast. Her upstream roll cast was okay, just a bit abbreviated in that stiff, erratic manner most kid’s have. Her casting muscles would become more controlled and coordinated with time and practice.
    “That’s pretty good,” I offered. “Try to throw the line forward more smoothly, though. Remember, it’s a roll cast, so rolllll with it.”
    She giggled at that one, too. “Thanks. I know. They don’t like this nymph anyway. Wish I had a dry fly, too.”
    I finished my fruit and stood. A lit light bulb, shining some light onto my memory banks, had appeared just above my mind's eye. I recalled the wise and witty old man who had given me a gift the previous year. He had emerged out of the trees, talked for an hour, pointed out some spots along the creek I had up to that time passed over. I observed that he was a lot more generous with the info than the average angler. His approach had been confident, with a big smile, and he didn't look or hold back. He even handed me some of his own patent patterns before disappearing back through those same trees. Now it was time to do the same, to return a favor.
    “Try these.” I said, pulling out my fly wallet from my vest. “I’ve got plenty more.”
    She walked over to me and smiled a wide, closed-lip smile of anticipation. So did I. She: someone’s daughter, some fly fisher’s daughter, fly-fishing herself with nice streamside manners; Me: a solitary, sometimes ornery guy, one suddenly as sunny as the bright October day we were sharing. I would have given her the entire wallet right then had I not cycled so far from the city just to fish.
    I removed an Elk Hair Caddis and a Muddler Minnow, one after the other, and neatly fixed each fuzzy fly onto the white down patch on the front of her own fishing vest. Then I handed her my only other Royal Coachman.
    “Thank you, sir! I’m really going fishing now!”
    She clipped off her tired Prince, tied on the fresh, fluffy king of dry flies, turned downstream, and hiked away with renewed purpose toward the next bend; a young explorer, hair now blowing in the breeze, fly rod in hand, ready for the future.

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