Catch of the Day

Uncle Max, Uncle Ned, and the young man’s father have driven the group of cousins north to Cold Springs Trout Farm in Ogden. Whenever they visit Utah, Uncle Max brings them on this trip Cold Springs has seven ponds stocked full of trout. Bait your hook with some salmon eggs, and you will catch your limit in a few minutes. Take the fish over to the cleaning counter, and friendly workers kill, behead, and fillet the fish for you.

Almost all the cousins have bait fishing experience now, so Uncle Max has told them that they don’t get to catch fish the easy way–they are going to learn to fly fish. Uncle Max gathers the group of eight cousins together.

“You’re each going to get a fly,” he says, holding one up. Uncle Ned passes around a small tackle box with fly lures as Uncle Max talks. “Here’s how you tie the fly on to your line.” He demonstrates the knot and then waits, as they all hold up their poles, and start to tie the knot. Ned and Max walk among them, helping each kid to select a good lure and to tie the knot correctly.

Once they’re all secure with a fly, Max walks to the water’s edge and says, “All of you stay back up there and watch. The idea here is not to sink the fly. We want the fly to land softly on the top of the water, to appear to look like a real fly landing. And we don’t want to leave it there long because real flies do not hang around long.” He whips the fly around in the hair, then lofts it softly to the water. “We keep our eyes out for the deep holes where the fish come out of to strike. And just because you find a hole doesn’t mean a fish is going to come right after your fly. You have to make it look like a fly. Make it dance and flit over the water. Make it fly away and come back. You have to tease the fish. Now, kids, keep an eye out for the fish. See how they keep circling up and looking at it? But they’re not taking it? They’re cautious. I haven’t convinced them yet.”

Max keeps whipping the fly out of the water, whipping it over his head. “We keep drying out the fly by whipping it out and over head, then back to the spot.”

Now, a fish moves to strike. They can all see the silver flash.

“And you have a tiny hook, so when the fish strikes, you gotta yank just so to hook him.”

Max is an expert. He nimbly hooks the fish and reels. He brings it the short distance to the shore, reaches in with a hand net, and pulls it up. “And there she is. A little on the small side, so let’s toss her back and see if we can get bigger. We’ll go four at a time because you need space to do it.”

The young man steps forward while Stephen hangs back. Soon, he is whipping the fly around in the hair, tossing it out, watching the fish approach it, then swim away. He repeats the whip and cast five, ten, maybe fifteen times. Finally, he sees a fish going hard for the fly. As it breaks the water, he yanks . . . and the line pulls taut!

He reels now, and the fish is yanked along awkwardly, not jumping, though still trying to pull away. As he gets it to the pond’s edge, Ned kneels and grabs it with the net. “Not bad,” he says and brings the net up to chest level. “Wanna keep it or try for a different one?”

“It’s good sized. We can keep it,” the young man says.

“All right, well, I’ll unhook it and put it in the bucket over here.”

Ned leans down and grabs pliers from the tackle box. He cracks open the trout’s mouth, but the line and hook are not in there. “Huh,” he says. “That’s funny. Did he spit the hook?”

The young man gently pulls the line, and the fish twitches. “He’s still hooked.”

“Okay, but where?”

Ned flips the fish over and looks top to bottom and then says, “Ha! Look at that. Right under the dorsal fin on its spine.”

“Wow, that’s wild.”

“Probably decided at the last second not to take it, tried to turn away, and you caught it mid-turn.” Ned unhooks it, then tosses the fish into the keeper bucket. “Wanna give your brother a turn?”

“Sure,” says the young man.

He moves up the small bluff away from the bank and motions to Stephen. “Your turn, bro.”

Stephen heads down, and the young man stands with Ned Jr., who is about a year older than he is.

“You got one already, too?” Ned Jr. says.

“Yep. Hooked it right under its fin on top.”

“That’s nuts,” says Ned Jr. “I got a pretty good one. Should make good eating.”

At that moment, the young feels a smack at the front of his San Antonio Spurs cap. Then his cap flies off his head across the grass.

“What the–?”

Down the bank, Stephen is turned around with a puzzled look on his face. “Where did my line go?” He sets the pole down and starts tracing the line up the bank.

The young man says finally, “Dude, you just freaking hooked me in the head.”

“I did?”

“Yeah, you ripped my cap right off my head.”

They walk toward each other and meet over the Spurs cap. The young picks it up and works the hook out of it. “Awesome. Made a nice snag in it, too.”

“Sorry, bro.”

“It’s cool. Catch of the day.”

Stephen laughs.

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