The Family Man
By Len Harris, Jr., Wisconsin
Lenny Harris was a family man with five daughters and one son. He
loved the outdoors and though his daughters showed no interest in
learning the ways of a woodsman, Lenny was blessed with an anxious
pupil in his son, "Len jr."
Junior began his training at an early age, his father taking the
time to bring him squirrel and pheasant hunting, northern fishing,
long trips in the small rowboat to check bankpoles, and along on
dad's favorite outdoor pastime, trout fishing. Following his father
up the streams like a caddy, junior toted whichever rod dad wasn't
using, be it the "new fangled spinning rod" or the old bamboo fly
rod. Behind father isn't always the easiest place for a 5 year old
to be, it doesn't take much water to come up to his chest. Whether
on the bank, or in the stream, junior was oft reminded, "keep the
tips out of the trees, and the reels out of the water." Many trips
the boy yearned to use the poles he carried, watching his father
Lenny catch trout after trout, countless epic battles were etched
into his memory before that fateful day, the day Len jr. was to
become a trout angler.
Not wanting his son's first trout to be a "gimme," or an easy fix,
Lenny scouted hard for the right place for his son to experience
trout fishing. He wanted this day to be special, he thought "too
easy, and it won't mean anything to the boy." He decided on a long
deep hole, not crowded by too many overhanging trees; a hole the
locals called "booger gut." It was perfect.
The way was long and hard; they marched over hill and dale, wading
here, through high grass and thick willows there, Junior always
taking care with the rods, handling them the way his father had
shown him. Timed for the late afternoon, the moment found them
heading west, the shadows were long and questioning. The young boy tires, and
wants to quit, asking his father:
"Can we go home now?"
"No, it's just a little farther, enough carrying, today is your
turn, time for you to catch a trout."
Little Len's eyes lit up and a surge of energy overtook him, the
"little farther" seemed like eternity. Then the willows opened up,
and there was the place memories were made from. The young one began to
get giddy, and father sat him down explaining: "fishing is like
life, if it comes too easy you will not appreciate it. I am not
promising you a big trout here. I am not sure we will catch
anything, but when we leave here, you will have experienced
something special. Trout fishing. Fishing, not catching."
Because he had scouted the water, Lenny knew that fish schooled at
the head of the pool. He had seen trout working it in the previous
outings there. The two sat and watched the pool, teaching young Len
this was something special, something to be savored, something
unhurried. He had watched his father catch countless trout, and
carried those same trout for miles on the stringer, a stringer that
today already suspended many nice trout. The biggest was an 18"
brown trout that junior had been admiring all day. Getting more and
more anxious, he thought, "Now it is my turn to put a trout on that
His father, wisely deciding that a fly rod would be too difficult
for a five year old, handed junior the spinning rod. "Len, which
lure do you want to use?" There was no doubt in juniors mind he
wanted to use the same one father had used to catch the big one. "Ok
Len, get it out of the box and tie it on." Junior retrieved the
spinner from its resting place in the box and took care to tie it on
exactly like he had been taught. It was a small French spinner, a
Mepps with a red bead, a brass bead, a brass blade and no tail.
Little Len checked the knot, and bit off the tag end, just like his dad.
The boy had been taught to cast the spinning rod already, but father
was worried about his casting into tight cover, and asked: "Is it ok
if I cast the first one for you?" The youngster didn't want to be a
baby, having his dad cast for him, but the father persuaded him,
saying, "let me cast the first couple times for you, then you can do
it yourself." Junior always listened to his father.
Lenny cast the spinner upstream of the hole, and handed the rod to
his son. "Keep the rod tip up, and if the fish is taking drag, stop
reeling or you will ruin the reel and lose the fish. Now, you may
not catch any fish, but later, when you get lder, there will be lots
of trout for you to remember." It was barely ten cranks of the reel
handle later, and the trout hit. Junior did not need to set the hook
like he had seen his father do so many times, the trout was crazy,
swimming upstream like its tail was on fire.
"DAD, DAD" the youngster shouted, "ITS GOING TO PULL THE ROD OUT OF
To which his father patiently replied, "hang on, keep the rod tip
high, don't reel."
The trout came about and charged right at them. "Reel in and reel
fast, tip up." The trout turned, and coursed side to side staying
deep within the pool, finally running straight under the bank. The
line stopped throbbing.
"I think I lost it dad."
Lenny explained to his son, "the fish has buried itself in the bank,
let's try to get it out of there, grab your line and back up 2 or 3
feet, holding the line tight, if it takes off again, let go right away."
The trick worked, and the trout put up two more long runs before it
yielded to the boy. "Let it tire some more before you bring it in,
keep constant pressure and reel when you can. Don't horse it."
Junior followed the instructions, but the fish came easily toward
shore. Both fishermen were eager to see the fish, and it obliged
surfacing not 20 feet from them. The two responded in unison, "oh my
gosh, it is huge." After glimpsing its captors, the fish resumed
fighting for its life.
"Stay right there, and keep the tip up high," Senior waded into the
pool up to his chest, and netted the fish. He pulled the net close
to his chest, trapping the trout, or rather the half of it that fit,
in the net. He quickly waded out, placed the fish near junior and
said, "unhook it, it will be a fine addition to our stringer." The
boy proudly unhooked it, put it on the stringer, and marched it back
to the car. The trip passed in an instant.
The father and son took a moment to take pictures of the days catch;
Junior had to stand on the picnic table to get at a level where he
could take dad's picture. Then off to the gas station, to show off
the spoils of the day. The locals wowed about the largest fish on
the stringer, a brown trout, some 23 and ¾ inches long, as measured
by a plumber with a folding wooden yardstick. Next it was home to
show the womenfolk, none of whom believed little Len had caught the
fish, (and didn't care much about fishing anyway, it was for boys.)
Little Len couldn't wait to get the pictures back from the shop; He
couldn't wait to show them off. He carried one with him for 2 years,
until it finally gave out and fell apart.
I was looking through some old photographs and came across the
picture of my dad, holding those fish. Even though this happened 40
years ago, the memories were as strong as if it had happened just
yesterday. I was there again, walking through the streams of
southern Wisconsin with my dad.
Lenny Harris died while deer hunting at age 41. He left behind a Family
of 6 children and one wonderful wife (Jane). Jane steered the Harris ship
for many years alone and all of the Harris children moved on to adulthood
because of the wonderful job my Mom had done.
Both of the rods and a photo of my dad with that stringer adorn the wall
of my living room. (1961)
The photo hangs on the wall at my mothers home also.
I Miss You Dad.....
Thank You Mom.....
Today would have been my dad's birthday....81.....
Tomorrow is my HERO'S birthday....my mom...Happy 80th.