Once Kyle was old enough to walk with me on a river bank, I took him to some of my favorite spots on the South Platte River that I knew he could navigate without much fear of losing him to the river. That was in the spring of 1997, when he was about 18 months old. I was in the mountains looking for some good driftwood to accentuate the landscaping of my newly built home, and of course I brought along the fishing gear. Once I had the wood I wanted to bring home, I found a stretch of river that had a nice run of riffles with an easy slope on the shore, and I took my little boy for his first fishing experience.
At 18 months, Kyle didn’t know what I was doing when I got my hip waders on and put a bumble bee rooster tail on my spinning rod, he was happy playing in the sand and rocks along the shoreline. It was a warm spring day, the sun was bright and warm, and the sound of the water rolling over the river rocks sounded like music to me. I wanted to catch the first fish of spring, and I wanted to catch Kyle’s first fish. He was too young to learn how to cast an open-face spinning rod, so I would cast the spinner upstream and begin the retrieve. As soon as I felt a strike and set the hook, I gave the rod to Kyle while standing behind him, helping him work the reel and keep the rod in his hands. The smile on his face was priceless as he reeled in his first fish; that is one of my favorite pictures I have of Kyle.
Later that summer I took Kyle on a camping trip in the Trout Creek area of Buffalo Mountain, a place not too far from home yet removed from the city completely. We had our Lance camper in the back of the Ford F350, so we had a lot of comforts, which was important in the formative experiences of taking a young child camping; it made camping not seem so abrupt of a change of daily living for a young child, and I think that really helped form Kyle’s attitude about the experience. I am not saying that you have to pamper your child, just saying that the early experiences are important. I can have a much more pleasant experience with a good tent, stove, and living space for a toddler, but the camper worked well for Kyle and our experiences in the early days.
On this trip we were in a low mountainous area, with Trout Creek flowing through the valley. The stream was full of brook trout, but they were very spooky and fled at the vibrations of footsteps along the streamside. But the valley was full of beaver ponds where the fishing was a little easier if you were careful on your approach. At a beaver pond not far from camp, I taught Kyle how to cast a small spinning rod with a bobber and a worm that I had dug out of the side of the stream bank. Within minutes his bobber went down, he raised his rod up, and had a fish on the line. Reeling frantically with excitement and a smile as wide as Alaska, Kyle landed his first fish on his own. That is also one of my favorite pictures of Kyle.
Now, after 14 years of fishing with my son, he is ready to take his first fishing trip without me. While I am happy for the man that he has become, the amount of self sufficiency that he has attained, and the independence that he strives for, I am saddened that I won’t be there. At the same time I can’t help but be so proud of him. It’s such a mix of emotions. He is becoming the man that I taught him to be, which makes me very proud, yet implies distance between us.
Now that he is 16, he requires a fishing license, which I purchased for him online at the Colorado Division of Wildlife website. He offered to pay me for it, and I said “No, I’ll buy your first fishing license.” It makes me so happy that he has this interest and passion on his own now.
Last night I was helping Kyle get all of the things ready that he would need for a day of fishing on the South Platte on his own. That meant taking things from my fishing gear bags and putting them in his own gear bag; like waders, wading boots, a fly box, all of the fishing utensils he would need, and a piece of paper where I had drawn instructions on how to rig his fly rod with two flies, a weight, and a strike indicator. I also helped him plan for the other things he would need to bring, like food, water, extra clothes, and I reminded him of the survival gear that was already in his Jeep Cherokee.
He took off for the mountains this afternoon after his lacrosse game with his good friend Sam. I wasn’t too worried about him, although the afternoon turned into kind of a blustery, cold day. I knew that he had been fishing enough with me before to know what he was doing, and I was happy that he was out on his own exploring adventures in the wild. When he got home tonight he was full of excitement and couldn’t wait to tell me all about it. The highlight of the afternoon was that Kyle waded into a rather deep hole, slipped and fell into the river, and was soaked from head to toe in the cold river. Luckily he had a change of clothes, and I am glad he had Sam there with him, that could have been a disaster.
Life goes on, my young man grows and learns, and he feeds the inner desire for his love of the outdoors. It really pleases me to see how much he wants to find adventure, to see how his passion grows for the outdoors, and to see him become capable to pursue those things. Now all he wants to talk about is going camping in two weeks, when he doesn’t have a lacrosse game on a Saturday, and how he wants to make it a minimalist trip, meaning no tent and very little camping gear. I am excited about that!