"Finally, the big brookie was in the net."
I’ll be along in just a minute, I’m just gonna’ take one last cast.
Over the years, I’ve heard that refrain a thousand times. Usually, it comes from a kid, who’s so hyped up catching fish, he has to be dragged away, kicking and screaming.
It’s a standard plea for parental patience. It also comes from adults, with the same pleading intonation, as from children.
Despite advancing in age, as sons and daughters, we are forever children when in the presence of our parents. It is a role that we simply cannot escape.
In my long career as a fishing guide, I've received numerous requests from adult children. They generally begin like this, "Dad always took us to the Adirondacks for an annual fishing trip, and now we'd like to take him on one. But, he can't get around like he used to, and we were wondering if you could help us out?" It is a request I always strive to fulfill.
The process of angling seems to bring out the kid in everyone. In fact, memories of angling adventures are often citied as one of the most indelible scenes etched into our psyche.
There are few childhood memories that adults can recall as vividly as the day they caught their first fish. For many, it is an experience that ranks above their first kiss!
Several years ago, I received a request from two brothers, who explained, "Dad always took us fishing, and he taught us to fish with the fly. But, he's not doing so well now,.,, he can no longer wade the streams, and tires easily....but we promised him we'd go fishing again, just as he promised us so many years ago".
As I listened, there was a sense of urgency in their voices. They wanted to arrange for their Father to enjoy one last cast.
The boys explained he couldn’t be out in the bright sun; nor could he spend much time on his feet. Due to troubles with balance, he couldn’t wade and it would tough to get him in a boat.
After reviewing the list of restrictions, it was evident he had few options short of sitting in a lawn chair along a riverbank.
I knew it would be difficult to cast from a sitting position, even in the best of circumstances. His frail condition would certainly compound the equation, and I knew his mobility would be limited.
Despite my reservations, I understood his boys needed to have one last outing with their Dad. It is a universal impulse, and I wanted to make it happen!
At the time, I stocked rainbow and brook trout in a few small, private ponds near Lake Placid. The fish were generally quite receptive to the fly.
When the boys arrived with their Dad, they walked him slowly down to the ponds, and it was obvious he could not stand.
Fortunately, I had some camp chairs set up along the pond and the flyrods were quickly rigged. The boys took to the ponds, just like the boys they once were.
Sitting in a comfortable chair, their father began to cast an old bamboo, flyrod. In his hands, the old cane rod appeared to be a natural extension of his arm, and the casts were fluid and graceful.
He retrieved line with a slow, careful stripping motion, and in short order, he had the first fish on. We knew immediately it was a rainbow, as it arched out of the water in a powerful leap.
Following several strong runs, and spectacular arching leaps, it finally came to the net. The boy posed with their Dad for photos with the fish, before releasing it, and over the course of the morning, they took several nice fish, including a few that topped four pounds or better.
Their father had similar success, however he tired quickly. In less than an hour’s time, the boys made the cast and handed him the rod, to strip the line. Often, they landed the fish as well.
It was noon when we broke for lunch, and conversation turned to recollections of past angling exploits, as their Dad recalled the days spent in Canada, back in the 1940s and ‘50s, fishing for Atlantic salmon on the rivers, and angling for brook trout on the ponds.
After lunch, he asked if there was any chance to catch a wild brook trout. "I truly appreciate your efforts,” he explained, "But, I'd really like to catch a wild trout'."
I understood his desire. Although the stocked fish were large, and strong, the atmosphere was tame, especially in comparison with his experiences in the wilds of Canada. I talked it over with the boys, and they agreed to give it a shot.
An hour later, we were on a small pond near Paul Smiths, with the boys in a guideboat, and their Dad and his wife, in my rowing canoe. I had the boys casting dry flies along the shoreline, and soon, they were catching brookies. Immediately, their laughter was bouncing off the surrounding hills.
Their father commented on how much he enjoyed the sound, as he recounted tales of fishing trips they had taken together over the years.
By the late afternoon, I had tied over a dozen different flies on his line; but the brookies showed little interest. We had trolled streamer flies, nymphs and wet flies for hours, to no avail.
As the day worn on, the gentleman wore out, and even the boys were having difficulties cultivating a trout.
Soon they decided to call it a day. Before heading to shore, I changed his fly to a cone-head muddler minnow, in order to get down to the deeper, cooler waters where the trout were more active.
I pulled hard on the oars, as the old gent stripped out long line, and when it was appropriate; I began tracing a zigzag pattern across the surface, to get his fly to drop and rise, in an erratic fashion.
It had been a long day, and the old gent was obviously very tired, as we approached the shore. Suddenly his rod bowed and line began to peel off the reel with a pronounced “zzzzzzzt.”
Immediately, I backed down on the oars, as the fish continued to take line. I decided to give chase, but line continued to spool off. There was no indication the fish was going to slow down, but after a seesaw battle, the big brookie finally rolled on the surface. It was a male, with brilliant colors and a pronounced hook jaw. And it was huge!
I backed down on the oars in order to get the fish alongside the boat, and ever so carefully, I slipped the net under him. I knew the old gent was wearing out faster than the fish, and with one swift move, I had it in the net.
The brookie weighed over four pounds, and measured exactly 22 inches in length. It was truly a trophy, and I hoisted it high for the boys to see.
After a few photos, he released the fish, explaining, "I got what I came for, and now it's time to go home."
My job was done, and after a round of handshakes and mutual backslapping; I loaded the boats and stowed the gear, while they slowly drove away.
A month had passed, before I got a letter from the boys. It included a Thank You note, and a copy of their father’s obituary, in which he had claimed, “I've never landed a fish, finer than my last."
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at email@example.com.