Kids can be a blast to hang out with in the outdoors. They’re fascinated by so many things that we just take for granted and most of the time their expectations are just to have fun, something that’s often way down on my “to-do” list when I head to the river. I couldn’t wait to start fishing with my son but I had this nagging sense of dread as to whether he’d eventually join me, willingly, on trips in the cold, crappy weather that makes me love living and fishing in Michigan.
We started with summertime floats on the river for smallmouth, a perfect segway from the foam spiders and bluegill pond. Good times indeed, each of us enjoying a beverage of choice, talking about turtles, trying to identify bugs flying around, watching the sun go down and feeling the heat push out of the day. Summertime smallmouth fishing is a low key good time and hard to beat. It’s simple. Pack a cooler, grab a couple rods, maybe even a spinning rod because why not? Casting a topwater Zudbubbler or the ever deadly Rebel Craw and just kick it down the river. In the back of my mind I thought about steelhead fishing and whether this would be where it ends for us. The weather can be brutal, turtles and signs of life are nowhere to be found, those bugs and sun are gone and fish are few and far between
I decided to take a small step toward steelhead fishing by doing some salmon trips on small water to give him a sense of the creatures that migrate into our rivers in the fall. Our first trip was a September day on the Pere Marquette during one of those years when the fish were everywhere. My dad joined us that day and the little guy managed to get one in the net. A guide who patiently waited in his boat with clients until we had it in the bag tossed him a reward Reese’s peanut butter cup as they passed by with both clients laughing and congratulating him. It was perfect and yet I still worried whether this would be where it ends or if steelhead fishing might just happen
My dad wanted to join us on our steelhead trips looking to make some memories. I realized that I was outmatched with my dad in his 70’s and an 8 year old. I pictured double-duty rigging, un-snagging, cooking, and I threw in the towel. I hired a guide and it was the best decision I could have made.
The first trip he fished a few hours and played angry birds for the last couple hours of the day. He was 8 and I figured making him fish would eventually backfire on me. On the second trip I casted for him most of the time and he fished about half of the day and ate twizzlers and talked about whatever was on his mind. He was happy and that was all that mattered. On the third trip he thought it was hilarious to step on my line when I went to cast. During the fourth trip he got into the game. He asked lots of fishing-related questions and began wanting to catch fish. He started getting competitive with me and it was awesome but he was on the struggle bus when it came to fighting fish. On the fifth trip he figured out how to fight fish, when to apply pressure and when to take the hand off the reel and let the fish run. During the last few trips he has pretty much figured it out.
It hasn’t been easy and we’ve had a bunch of fish-less days together which is just not that big of a deal to either of us. Sometimes trips get shut down early and somedays we push on. On one of our first smallmouth trips we never launched the boat. We spent the afternoon up at the Croton dam catching crayfish, trailered the boat up and went back home. I’ve learned to reacquaint myself with what makes fishing fun, hanging out with a buddy and taking what comes our way.