There was something magical about going fishing with Dad. He was an expert fly fisherman who firmly believed in catch and release — so the fish would be good sport for another day. We also fished with barbless hooks. It made it a little easier for the fish to escape once hooked, but was a challenge to the fisherman to land the trout expertly and gently. The battle was more fair that way.
We discussed where we would fish that evening. It was easy. The Cumberland Valley in south-central Pennsylvania abounded with beautiful cold-water limestone streams where trout fishing was sublime.
One of my favorite spots was Green Spring, a tiny stream that wandered through fields, woods, and a farmer’s pasture. When we arrived, we would park the car and start to prepare for our time on the stream. Hip boots were donned, bug repellant was applied, fishing jacket with its many pockets was slipped on, net was hooked to the back of the jacket, and finally the fly rod was assembled. Dad would light his proverbial cigar. “Smoke keeps the gnats away,” he would mumble.
Then we would walk to the stream to see if there was a hatch in progress. That meant we wanted to find out what kind of insects were hatching and flying above the water. Finding a hatch was exciting. Dad would cup his hands to capture an insect so we could identify it and try to match a dry fly. I was passionate about fishing dry. I loved casting the line upstream and watching the fly settle lightly upon the water and float towards me. The anticipation of a strike required careful observation of the lure.
Light or glare on the water could make it difficult to follow the fly. Obviously, in shaded water, a light colored fly was easier to see, and in water reflecting sunlight, a darker lure was better. But matching the hatch was critical, regardless of lure color and visibility. Riffles could also mask the fly in the splashing channels as the water found its way through rocks and varying creek-bed terrain.
Live fly activity would usually increase as dusk approached — the crowning hour for a fly fisherman. Unfortunately, the growing darkness carried with it a regret that the fishing would soon be over. Eventually it would grow so dark, we would not be able to see our fly. That made it difficult to see the fish strike and respond by setting the hook.
The visions of Green Spring remain vivid in my mind. In the haze of a humid, summer evening, the creek sparkled and giggled as it flowed through the verdant fields and woods. I recall sections of the creek by the trout that lived there.
A favorite riffle was the home of Flippy, a trout named for his habit of flipping his tail as he leaped out of the water. I have no doubt that Flippy allowed me the sport of catching him on several occasions. He would always give me a good fight, showcasing his trademark leaps. I think he knew he would always be gently released.
Releasing a trout is an art in itself. A spent trout was to be guided gently to the angler and handled as little as possible. If the hook could be removed in the water, my Dad encouraged that. However, with my awkward, youthful hands, that was not always possible, I often had to lift the trout out of the water to remove the hook. If the trout rolled over on its side or belly-up after being returned to the water, Dad had taught me how to massage the gills gently to increase oxygen flow; it was done by moving the fish forward and rearward in the water. It always worked. Slowly the trout would regain its equilibrium and then swim away. Dad always encouraged me to thank the trout for the sport.
As I worked the water, I entered the section of the stream that flowed through deep woods. Around one bend lived a huge trout, easily 25 inches in length. I had named him Tremendous. He was a worthy opponent for my father with his years of fly-fishing experience. I always fished that part of the stream with great respect for that trout. Dad was fortunate enough to hook Tremendous a few times, but he was never able to land him.
As the stream exited the woods, it flowed past a beautiful farmhouse. The farmer owned a Brittany Spaniel named Zeke. When Zeke was loose forget about fishing. Anytime the dog saw a fisherman he came dashing to the creek in anticipation of “going fishing!” He would watch the line intently, with tongue dangling and ears flicking forward at any unusual motion. My Dad used to swear that Zeke would “point” trout. When a trout was hooked, Zeke would make a flying leap into the water and retrieve the fish, bringing it to the angler. Took all the fun out of playing the trout, but Zeke thought it was great sport.
This farm was also home to a herd of black and white Holstein cows. On evenings when the fishing was slow, I would set aside my rod and venture over the barbed-wire fence to “talk” to the cows, mooing my lungs out. Usually the cows ignored my foolish attempts, but one evening they, too, must have been bored. When they saw and heard me, they decided to investigate. Instead of plodding over slowly, they came galloping towards me. Even though I was a country girl at heart, I was afraid of cows. I thought all cows with horns were bulls! I hadn’t yet learned to look on the underside to confirm sex. I panicked, bolted over the barbed-wire fence, and got hung up on the top strand. A barb ripped into the soft skin on the inside of my thigh. No matter how I struggled to free myself, the barb stayed embedded. My father had to come and untangle me, all the while chuckling quietly to himself.
Another evening, at that very same spot, Dad fell into the creek. Water flooded his hip boots and drenched his trousers and socks. He took off his boots and socks and hung them over the fence to dry while he proceeded to fish in his bare feet. Considerable time passed, and eventually Dad was ready to move on. He returned to pick up his wet garments only to find a cow standing by the fence lazily finishing off his socks.
When darkness settled upon us we would stop fishing. Our return to the car was accompanied by the smell of water and fish mingled with cigar smoke, sweat, and insect repellant. Our rubber boots would thonk and swish with each step as we exchanged stories and matched numbers of fish caught that evening. Tree frogs trilled from the treetops as the tips of our rods disappeared into the darkness. We walked the final mile in silence — a father and daughter intertwined forever by their love for the outdoors and each other.
*note: I took this photograph of my Dad one evening as the sun was setting, circa early 1970’s. I scanned the print and attempted to rescue it a bit in my photo-editing software.