There is an enduring grin on my face...I cannot help it.
My oldest is 15 years old, now. Some of you have seen Emma grow up on these pages from previous trout fishing trips and some occasional flytying.
She is a busy young lady these days: active in beach & indoor volleyball, church youth group, learning to drive, volunteer work, friends, etc. So when she mentioned that she wanted to camp with me at a special river, I was curious about her intentions. Her mom and sis' usually come along at this destination but would not be attending this year: I can't baby sit Emma at camp! I was frank with her and said, "Emma, without your mom and sister present: this will be a Steelhead Camp. And this river is legendary for being a tough safe to crack. Its steelhead secrets do not come easily. I have heard of some anglers going for years before they get their 1st steelhead on this river. The trails are tough to navigate. The rocks are slick to stand on....etc.etc.etc.".
"I still wanna go, dad" she says, "I wanna experience steelheading". I mention to her that all my usual steelhead buddies might be there...is she okay visiting with them and hanging out by the steelhead campfire listening to stories and geeking out over weird stuff...she was good with that.
Well, here goes...
Gotta set up camp first
It's around 8pm in the evening after setting up camp and making her feel at ease, and she says "Aren't we gonna fish this evening?" Man, I was thinking maybe the morning after she gets a good night's rest. "Umm, yeah! Are you ready? Got your headlamp?"...we are on the river lickety split.
I spent the first 30 minutes explaining the speycast, the swing, the dry fly technique, and what to do if a steelhead eats...FYI: I never got to refresh her 2handed casting prior to this trip, so I did not know what to expect, but she did well enough
I told Emma we couldn't fish in the dark, so maybe reel in by 2115hrs (anyway, it's tough to see your dryfly in the darkness, even if its Todd's pattern, the Little Wang - which we tied on). It was a nice way to get her boots wet for a first session until...
"Dad! I got a fish!!!" "What?!", I respond...reel goes off, "Whoa! Swing your rod to the bank"
Sometimes I just can't believe what happens on the river. It was surreal. But there I am hearing my little girl laughing, the reel screaming, I see the rod bucking...it's not a dream. Emma goes 10 rounds with this beast in the dark. More than 3 long runs. Her arms are getting sore. She says "When is this thing gonna stop?!". We see backing again, I tell her we gotta stop this fish...just start cranking and don't let him take line. Now or never and if he gets away, it's okay.
Emma is exasperated. Her arms are jello. She is grimacing.
We see leader. I see the steelhead and yelp out something strange...it's a very nice steelhead buck for this river. I attempt to tail it and her fish goes bananas and I can't hold on. Emma belts out "No! Dad!". Flashing back, I vividly recall losing her nice trout when she was 8 yo as it swam between my legs and broke off the fly. Her then little voice yelling "Dang it!". I can't imagine what would happen if I lost this steelhead. I remain calm on the outside and tell her we got this, he's beat. Just reel and we'll land him good.
I rarely yell on the river but I might have scared the bats away that evening. Oh sweet glorious moments! Emma and I were walking on air. I don't know how she did it. I still can't. But it ain't over.