I know I’m not the only person in the world who can say that I grew up fishing.
I started young; I was about five or six. Like many family traditions, fishing had been passed down to me from my father, as it had been passed down to him from my grandfather (who I affectionately called “Papa”). I get the feeling that my father couldn’t wait until I was old enough to go fishing; as the oldest child (even though I’m a girl), I became Dad’s fishing buddy. My grandfather, an ardent and dedicated fisherman, was still alive when my fishing days started. But at this point in his and my father’s lives, if they had gone fishing together, one of them would have been thrown into Lake Michigan by the other. They had THAT kind of relationship.
As the years passed, I gained two siblings – a sister and a brother – and Dad attempted to get them into fishing. My brother took to it; my sister… not so much. But we still managed to work fishing in to our family vacations, whether it was a small lake in Michigan or the Gulf of Mexico from the beach in Florida. I loved fishing – everything about it: being outside; spending time with Dad; learning about the science of it all. And then in my early 20s, I fell in love. I fell hard. The object of my affection? Fly fishing. I became enamored with the casting. It looked so beautiful: the grace, the rhythm, the precision. By this time in my life, I’d already been bitten by the travel bug, so fly fishing appealed to me as an adventurer and it also helped to fuel my wanderlust. I suddenly began to dream about mountains and trout streams; I needed to be in Colorado or Wyoming or Montana.
Shortly thereafter, I came across a job listing in the Chicago Tribune, advertising seasonal employment opportunities in Yellowstone National Park. I applied, not really knowing what to expect, but several weeks later I received a packet in the mail. I was hired. This proved to be the first in a series of events that would end up changing my life forever.
Before I left on the cross-country journey to Yellowstone from my home in Chicago, my grandfather supplied me with countless maps and AAA TourBook Guides, and one very special item: his forty-year-old fly rod. He knew I would be doing some fishing while in Yellowstone and said it would be a shame if I didn’t do any fly fishing while there.
So began my summer of teaching myself to fly fish. On my days off, I would drive to Yellowstone Lake and practice casting from the shore. I studied others’ casting methods and asked a lot of questions of my male, fly-fishing co-workers. I didn’t catch any fish right away but I knew I had fallen in love. And then the day came: I caught my very first cutthroat trout! It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
I returned to Yellowstone to work the following year, and my Papa’s fly rod made the trip back with me. I got to use the fly rod a few more times that summer before it just fell apart. It was so old; it was beyond repair. I managed to stave off the sadness of losing the fly rod until friends and I did an overnight on the Slough Creek trail. As I hiked through the meadow alongside the stream, I could hear the water, like it was talking to me, and I wished I’d had Papa’s fly rod. We passed other hikers, some of whom had their fly rods strapped on their backpacks, and my heart just broke. Then we passed a father/daughter hiking duo; when I saw that they both had fly rods, I was on the verge of tears. It was at that moment that I made a vow to myself that I would return to Slough Creek one day with my very own fly rod.
I haven’t made it back yet but I have tried to keep fly fishing a part of my life. I attended some workshops and took a fly tying class. I even taught my father to fly fish, just as he taught me how to cast, and about lures and types of bait all those years ago. I have a daughter of my own now, and I’ve been dreaming about teaching her to fly fish since the day she was born. What better place for her to learn than Yellowstone, where I learned to fly fish, and the one place in the world that holds a very special – and very large – space in my heart. I envision my daughter and I hiking the Slough Creek trail, fly rods strapped on our packs, just like the father and daughter I encountered all those years ago. That’s why it is so important for us to support the park’s efforts to maintain the health of Yellowstone’s fish populations. Otherwise, my dream – as well as the dreams of an unknown number of other anglers, parents, and nature lovers – might not come true. We need to protect Yellowstone’s waters, for my daughter and the generations to follow.