Late Sunday afternoon. Had a few salmon fillets on the grill along with some potatoes and green beans. Smelling pretty darn good, so I knew the boy would be poking his head out and asking what time supper was.
A few minutes later, he's there and I'm ready for the standard answer...
He said, "Do you want to go fishing after we eat? I would like to try that fly rod out again if you want."
"Do you want to go fly fishing after we eat? Yes or no?"
"Uh, well, are you sure?"
"Well, HECK YEAH, I want to go!!!"
Never in his life has he asked to actually go fishing. The last time we were out, he sort of caught one. He said he was done and gave it to me and there was a little gill on it. He claims he didn't catch it; I did, so it didn't count.
Supper was stuffed down the hole as fast as I could. We got out of there in about 30 minutes. Jumped in the car and took off.
Now, I need to tell you about my son. He is almost 22-years-old. A good 6' 4" and about 200 pounds. A gentle soul. When he was about seven-years-old, he caught a bluegill about as big as a large nose. It sucked the hook all the way thru and out the eye. He could have died himself. It shook him up so much, he rarely fished again and actually didn't want to fish when he did.
Oh, and he was diagnosed as "almost" having Asperger's syndrome. The doctors claim he didn't exhibit enough symptoms for any particular autistic disease but has a little of all of them. He needs to follow routine. He has a hard time doing something differently. Change confounds him. He has a quick temper but, yet, cares greatly about the fly he just squashed because it was bugging him. But he is extremely intelligent--pulling a low A average at Penn State University...but sometimes lacking in social skills.
And, mostly, he is uncoordinated. Finesse eludes him. He does things hard and fast and, well, clumsily.
Part of me feels sorry for him. Part of me wants to kick him in the duff and get with the program. Part of me wants to help him with everything--part of me wants him to figure it out himself. It has been a balancing act his whole life...
He wanted to use the nine-foot rod because it was the one he used the first time. (Very typical.) I tried to tell him the seven-foot rod may be easier to learn on for several reasons. NO!
Not a little kid "NO!" but a grown man "NO!"
It does something to you when you see your boy as a man but still having some kid tendencies. I am proud of him yet feel bad for him because he is never really going to fit in...
We rig both rods and he is asking question after question. He is actually really interested. In fishing. Really?
We go to the same spot he fished the first time (for about 15 minutes). It is wide open and clear. Not many people tonight. Good.
I get him started. He had a heck of a time getting that fly into the water as it was catching on the grass right next tot he water. Frustration setting in. I didn't want to do it but I put it in for him. Fingers crossed. He took it well then asked how to cast again. I told him to tilt the rod down and shake some line out. He did it...with the top 8-10 inches of rod in the water. A little, um, discussion before I was able to get him to simply point it toward the water, not IN the water.
Enough line out. Good.
"Can I cast now?"
"Yes, give 'er a go!"
SNAP! A nice cast! Not perfect but, WOW!! Not pretty but, WOW! Not text book in any way but he more-or-less straightened all of the line he had out. I am still not that good. Seriously.
"Well, it's not hard. Just do this..." SNAP! Another good cast.
"Okay, now, leave a little more line out. Good. Now try to cast toward those fallen trees. Try not to get the fly wrapped around anything but try to get close as fish love to hang around there. Let out as much line as you think you need."
SNAP! He gets it really close, considering. Another nice cast. I told him to keep on keeping on and fish the entire area.
"Um, can you go down there a little ways? I want to try this myself--without your help. I want to do it on my own."
I wander down about 20 yards and let him be.
He continues to do well--casting, at least. He was doing what my buddy was doing on Saturday and retrieved the line too fast and cast it again. The fly got water-logged and I showed him how to dry it by squeezing it and wiping it on his shirt.
Meanwhile, I catch a bluegill. Then another. Then another. Then another.
"REALLY?!?! Come on!"
I smile and false cast a couple times to dry out the fly out.
"Why did you do that?"
"Well, to dry the fly out."
All of a sudden, he decided to try the false casting. A lot. Really fast. Snapping like a whip.
And then it happened: the fly hit his rod and there was a huge tangle.
"Okay. I stink at this. Let's go home. I'm sorry. I know you want to fish. I ruined your night."
"No! No, no, no, no, no!! Here. Take mine. Use it. I will untangle this. by the way, this happens to everybody. Don't worry about it."
Took about ten minutes to untangle things. He did a really good job! He still didn't catch anything.
"Tell you what, let's go down to the little dock we passed on the way up. I will guarantee you will catch a fish. Come on. I will show you how to cast there--it is a little different"
I show him how to flick his wrist to shoot the line just a short distance. BAM! A nice sized bluegill.
"Man. You catch all the fish. I never catch anything."
"Here. Your turn. Use the short rod. Try it."
Sun is going down. A beautiful orange cast on the lake. Canadian geese couple are swimming not far off as well as a few ducks. A blue heron flies across the lake. A turtle falls off a log and plops in the water. I show him all this. Making sure he notices.
"These are the reasons I fish. Not to catch fish but, rather, to enjoy all of this. Catching a fish is a bonus."
A few minutes and a bunch of casts later, a bluegill SLAMS his fly. Excitement reigns. He waits for what I thought to me too long but he hooks it! He reeled in his first fish since he was about 12.
We release the fish and we stay a little longer. The shadows are getting long.
"Ready to go?"
"No! How about a few more casts."
About four casts later, BAM. Another gill hits his fly even harder than the first. It was big, for a bluegill. He had to play it a bit. It actually put a nice bend in the nine-foot rod.
He finally has it in his hand. Eyes wide open. Full-mouthed grin and then, a hearty laugh and a "WHOOP" to go along with it.
On the way back to the car, he was walking on air. As we were taking things apart, he did the normal and dropped things and tripped on things and had to crawl under the car for the rod case he dropped and kicked by accident.
But there was no frustration. Cool.
On the way home, there was silence. A good silence. We were both thinking and thinking happy thoughts.
"Can we go again soon? I want to go to a real stream next time. I want to see what it is like. You talk about it all the time. I understand now. And now that I caught some fish, I see what you mean: catching fish is great but it is not the most important thing."
Smart kid. He'll do...he'll do.