Monday, August 24, 2009


We chose an olive E/C caddis, our go-to fly, a fly that drew at least a dozen hard strikes from wild rainbows during our trip to the Ishi Wilderness a couple of weeks ago. On that trip, my niece Kennedy was really getting the feel for casting and her dead-drift presentation was nearly perfect. The sudden strikes startled her, though, or made her laugh so much she either didn’t think to set the hook or she snatched the fly away from the fish’s eager mouth—much like her uncle does.

On this trip, we were fishing the edge of a Desolation Wilderness lake we’d backpacked to and we could clearly see the fingerlings schooling around sunken logs and sedges. We spotted an occasional three-inch lunker so we decided to cast a fly. “We’re going to need a really small hook,” Kennedy said, leaning in to study the open fly box with me. That's the main reason we chose the olive caddis. It was simply the smallest fly we brought along.

When her younger brother, Riley, caught his first fish on a dry fly he launched the little creature through the air and onto the granite slab behind him. Kennedy was going to be more cautious when she had a fish on, she said, and she was. Despite being photographed while suspended in midair, the little fish was returned safely to the water. Actually, the fish in the photograph was the second fish she had on the hook. The first fish on was eaten right before her eyes by a bigger fish: a true National Geographic moment.

Kennedy was thrilled to catch her first fish and considered the fingerling an excellent starter fish. I was thrilled by everything associated with the moment: the five mile, uphill hike she handled like a trooper; her ability to pitch her own tent and help me and her Auntie Kathy establish a comfortable camp; and her willingness to pump water and tend to other camp chores. But I was especially thrilled by her genuine excitement over the four weight outfit I put together for her before the trip.

Kennedy and I consulted several times during what she believed was a hypothetical selection process. We decided a four weight rod around eight feet in length would be just right for the kind of streams we fish on our backpacking trips. My friend Larry had recently loaned me his copy of Lefty Kreh’s Presenting the Fly so I was under his influence and chose a rod Lefty designed. Jason Hartwick helped me match the right line to the rod and loaded it onto a reel that had been waiting in the fishing closet at home for some action. “Is this a surprise?” he asked, eyes smiling, when I told him the rod was for my niece.

After her first fish, we walked along the lake watching for signs of active feeding. Ducks flushed and grumbled. The afternoon turned into evening. The wind picked up and we tied on a slightly bigger fly, a yellow humpy, hoping to draw out a bigger fish. We also wanted a chance at seeing the fly on the darkening water.

Kennedy’s second fish of the day and her life was bigger, that’s a fact, but it was little more than bait itself. Two fish on a new fly rod was more than enough for us to declare victory, though, and I suggested we head back to camp and help with supper. I smiled when she asked for one more cast, then one more, and another.

Walking toward camp in the dark, Kennedy twitched and wiggled her new rod, getting to known its personality. “Uncle Shawn,” she said, “I think this is going to be my lucky fly rod.”