Before the day of Izsak Walton, author of the Complete Angler (c. 1630) fishing had been a sport of necessity. Food held an important place in life, providing three square meals a day often took the whole family a significant amount of time each day. Fishing brought protein to the table with much less expenditure of time and resources. Walton was a gentleman fisherman, meaning he did so in the pursuit of fun. Fishing can get into the blood of a fisherman and become all-consuming to the extent that he/she might become a commercial fisher, providing a job built of passion.
Teaching my eleven-year-old granddaughter, Taylor, how to fish has been instructive and fun. Right away the idea of catching a fish seized her mind. After teaching her to cast a line in the front yard, we headed to the lake, grandpa took care of the worm and hook part, too ‘gross’ for her. She patiently cast time after time waiting for that bite that never came. Still she wanted to fish again. Last week while the two of us camped at Casini Ranch on the Russian River, she worked the river with her first lure, a shiny Kastmaster trailing behind a floating rig. Next I will take her to a trout pond, there are two nearby, Hagamen’s near Bodega and Smith’s on the western slope of Mt. Saint Helena. There she will learn how to fight a fish, land it and work the complexities of rod, reel and net. Great excitement awaits her. Then we will be ready to fish with grandpa for “reel”.
Thinking about teaching her to fish brought to mind my own career which started with catching blue gill, my dad called them ‘poggies’ at Lake Pillsbury. Dad also took me to the Napa River to fish for striped bass among the muddy banks of that tidal river. I may have caught one or two but I don’t recall ever meeting the sixteen-inch minimum size requirement, it is still part of the fishing regulations. Later I fished for trout, both trolling and stream fishing. In my teens I used an old fly rod and two-pound test line to fish the many creeks of Sonoma County; I always looked forward to opening day in April each spring. The little devils took the tiny hook and salmon egg or worm and fought like crazy. Today fishing the same streams is forbidden, the idea is to leave the baby steelhead trout alone to repopulate the species.
As an adult I had an urge to try fly fishing, it seemed so elegant, watching the fisherman cast the line back and forth in a graceful arc. The line settling out in a straight line, the fly and the last thing to float to the surface. I dug out my old rod and started flailing the air with it, I would hear a light popping sound behind me as the line whiplashed, snapping off the carefully tied fly. I kept at it until I lost them all in the grass. I put it all aside until my twenties. I read about a fly fishing class by Brian Wong, still a prominent figure in local fishing. I signed up for his class and learned to rig, cast and prepare for basic fly fishing. My father told me I was nuts, “Why don’t you fish like a man!” He was old school to be sure. I kept at it and took fly tying classes from an old lion of the sport Grant King. Grant taught hundreds of local fishermen and women how to fish most any style but his passion was fly fishing. I also took a class in rod building, another related hobby. It had its own appeal independent of fishing. The first time I hit the water on the Eel River just below Scotts Dam, I was in for a surprise. Selecting a spot with a gentle curve, I waded out and began to cast with my hand-made rod, home-tied fly and great hope. The cast uncurled perfectly and the end of the leader drifted down just where I wanted it. The fly floated to within ten inches of the surface when a trout jumped out of the water and took my fly. I was so startled I dropped the rod and reel in the water at my feet. The trout spit out my fly and went on his way. Hopefully Taylor will be better prepared.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.