Story: A Portrait of the Angler as a Young Man

Written by: Jon Tobey

Jack has both skills and an angling outlook well beyond his years.
All photos by Jon Tobey

[Editor’s Note: Jon Tobey is an old friend, from summers spent on the New Hampshire seacoast in the mid 1980s. His blog gointothelight is an interesting collection of fishing stories, photography and musings.]

A while ago, I made a little 8-foot 3-weight for my friend Kelly’s son, Jack. When I went back to New Hampshire, I visited them at their lake house and delivered the rod.

At the camp, I was looking at all of the pictures, and there among them was one of Kelly’s daughter holding a lake trout! It didn’t take long after that for us to be scouting the feeder creek in a double kayak that I paddled while Jack cast—standing up in the boat! Unfortunately, no fish were playing that night. So, I offered to take Jack fishing locally the next day to make sure he got some use out of the rod. We broke out the Gazetteer, and I quickly scanned the area looking for local prospects, starting with the old mill raceway in town and spreading outward. I taught Jack how to navigate with a map while I drove, and we headed out. You cannot use a GPS to prospect for trout.

In the end, we hit five rivers, including the Ossipee, where he had to swim to make the casting spot in the middle of the river (I’m an excellent role model and you can trust your kids with me, honest!), from which he caught both a nice mountain whitefish (I love these guys, they fight like trout and there are a million more of them), and a 10-inch smallie, which made him as happy as if it were a striper.

Jack is amazing. I showed him how to make a back-handed cast over the off shoulder, and four casts later, he was hucking that little rod as far as I was throwing my 5-weight. When I asked him where he learned to double haul, he just shrugged and said, “I watched my dad do it.” I’ve watched a lot of people double haul, and it never seemed to rub off on me.

Eventually, I said we should hook up with the rest of the family, and he replied “As long as I’m having fun and catching fish, my mom will be fine with it.” So, we hit Jackson Falls, a place I’d once caught fish, and then on the advice of a local cop finally ended up in the Ellis River, a place my dad used to take me to fish. I still remember casting to the backing to fish I couldn’t land because of all of the slack in the line. Speaking of my dad, I was feeling a little delicate from “playing cribbage” with him the night before, but I didn’t want to admit to Jack how hard it was putting the 5X tipped through the size 22 flies, or ask for his help. I was having a hard enough time getting him to stop calling me “Mr. Tobey,” the first time in my life I’d ever been subjected to the term, which combined with my indisposition made me feel 102. Finally nailing that knot after a few fruitless minutes gave me an adrenaline rush similar to hooking a steelhead.

We switched up a few times before Jack started reeling them in on an Elk Hair Caddis. I was downstream, still trying to figure out how to take the slack out of a 60-foot drift when I got hit. And hit. And hit. And hit. I think Jack was laughing a little at all my misses, but I don’t care, because watching him bring in his first brookie on a rod I built just for that purpose made my whole trip. It may have been his first dry-fly catch, for which I gave him no advice at all. (After all with my performance, what advice could I give?) I think all I had to say to him was, “Hold it downstream and play it across the current,” and five minutes later he had a hell of a fish. And then another. Holding it up next to the rod like that you can see the fish is as long as the whole first section (15 inches).

Jack’s a lucky boy, both of his parents are cracker-jack fly-fisherpeople, and he’s been fishing with his folks in The Bahamas, Belize, Idaho, a bunch of places I’ll never go. But you know how you can tell he is going to be a real fisherman, and not a dude? Because he kept marveling over how beautiful the fish was, not how big, long after we had gently put it back. Yup, that was a real good time.
Jon Tobey writes about fly fishing, among other things, on his blog, gointothelight.

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