Against the dark green leaves of a mountain laurel, my eyes track a cream-colored mayfly fluttering through the air. The near-translucent mayfly slows as it nears the water, and, with an odd rhythm, touches its abdomen to the water like a reluctant child dipping their toe into a cold pool. Suddenly, my wandering mind is interrupted by the splash of a trout, rising to grab the insect as its next meal.
Before I can form a thought, my son exclaims, “Dad, did you see that fish? It took that bug right off the water!”
“Where, where?” My daughter looked and only saw the dissipating rings of the disturbance.
Within seconds, another fish rose, which my daughter spotted quickly. “There!”
“There are so many of them!” My son reiterated.
“Cool, huh? This is a hatch.” I felt some pride connecting my kids to my world of fly fishing.
I had to fight the urge to run back to the truck and get my fly rod. I lingered, watching the fish rise before me as my kids moved ahead on the trail. Certainly, keeping up with them was more important than grabbing my fly rod.
Foregoing my weekend fishing session is an anomaly over the last seven years. Low water conditions have increased stress on local fish populations and increased the difficulty of fishing, so when presented with the chance of hiking with my kids in lieu of fishing, I picked hiking.
There was so much to discover and observe during the hike. Often when I fish, the trout are always a problem to solve. Where are they feeding? How do I catch them? My brain goes into a stimulus-response catalog effort. Instead of an analytical effort, I was left to wander and wonder.
I observed a father teaching his daughter how to fly fish, warming my heart. I saw my kids exploring the riparian buffer, looking at the vegetation, boulders, and topography. We talked about nature and life. It was a way to connect to each other and to nature that, through fly fishing, I often miss. “How many ferns grow along the stream?” The answer was at least six.
My hike also allowed me to see the stream differently. I was able to walk farther and look more broadly. The mystery of nature calls for exploration. Seeing fish nearly leave the water to eat an insect is mind-blowing to someone who has never seen it. When you look at fish merely to evaluate how to catch them, you can miss the beauty of their lives. If everything is a problem to be solved, you miss the wonderment. Part of the appeal of fly fishing is connecting to the mystery of what is lurking below the surface and what initiates the response of another creature. Surprise mingled with adoration–it’s part of falling in love with anything or anyone. Sometimes you have to take a hike to see that and appreciate it.