Family, falling in love, and fly fishing

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.

My very first cutthroat and me

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.

Slough Creek – Yellowstone National Park

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.

This is my submission for the Trout UnlimitedSimms, the Yellowstone Park Foundation and the Outdoor Blogger Network – Blogger Tour 2012 contest.

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45 Responses to Family, falling in love, and fly fishing

  1. Steve Zakur May 21, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    Francesca – Excellent story. I only wish I had taken to the outdoors at such an early time in my life. I’m making up for lost time. 🙂

    • Francesca May 21, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

      Thank you, Steve! I was lucky to be exposed to fishing at such a young age. It really taught me to love and respect our natural world. And that’s saying a lot since I grew up near downtown Chicago!

  2. Raul May 22, 2012 at 8:47 am #

    I learned something really interesting about you with this writeup. And it makes me wonder what I may be missing out what being totally clueless about fly fishing – or any kind of fishing for that matter. The serenity that fly fishing must give is appealing!

    • Francesca May 22, 2012 at 9:38 am #

      Thanks so much, Raul! You’re right, fly fishing is so peaceful and serene. Being on a stream with no other people around, the only sounds being the movement of the water and the whisking of the fishing line…. it’s heaven to me.

  3. Laura Raffae May 22, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    Such an amazing story. I can almost picture you and Lucia fishing at that beautiful location. You have always had the ability to make me want to get to Yellowstone and while I haven’t made it there yet, you once again made sure I had it on my bucket list.

    • Francesca May 22, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

      That means a lot to me, Laura. I hope you get to Yellowstone soon. It’s such an amazing place.

  4. Jamie May 22, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    I have never had the opportunity to fly fish anywhere, but if I ever do I would want to do it in Yellowstone. I am trying to get back to that park as well! I hope you fulfill your dream some day very soon.

    • Francesca May 22, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

      Thank you, Jamie. Yellowstone was the best place to learn to fly fish but at the same time, I’m spoiled now. Nowhere else even compares!

  5. chibrian79 May 22, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

    I love the picture. I can feel the excitement!

    • Francesca May 22, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

      Thank you, Brian! It was so exciting. I hope I get to recreate it very soon!

  6. Karen Murtagh May 22, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    Francesca, this is so well-written, a beautiful testament to family and nature. I’ve always wanted to visit Yellowstone and now I’m adding fly fishing to my list of things to do. Such a nice story that I almost (but clearly not quite) resisted the urge to ask you if your sudden interest in fly fishing had anything to do with Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It because that was my first introduction and a very lovely one at that.

    • Francesca May 22, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

      Karen, I can always count on you for a kind word and a chuckle. Thank you. The truth is, I had seen A River Runs Through It prior to arriving in Yellowstone. I definitely enjoyed the movie but it’s not how I fell in love with fly fishing. I developed more of an appreciation for the movie AFTER my time in Yellowstone. But I have no idea what you mean about Brad Pitt and being lovely…? 😉

  7. Jenn May 22, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    You were meant to fly fish! What a fabulous hobby to pass down in your family. My memories of fishing were riding my bike to “Lake Ellyn” with a homemade fishing pole made out of a piece of wood and hotdogs (bait). I never graduated to a real fishing pole, but I hope you get to celebrate your love again as it’s obvious that fishing runs in your blood.

    • Francesca May 22, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

      Aw, Jenn, thank you! I miss you. Thanks, too, for sharing your fishing story at “Lake Ellyn”. Too cute!

  8. Clinton May 22, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    Francesca, wonderful story. I’ve known you for many years. I’ve always known your passions for fishing, photography, and hockey 🙂 You did a great job of painting an incredible picture of Yellowstone. Feels like I’ve already been there. Although I haven’t, I definately want to go now. I think Lucia is very lucky to have a mom like you that can help her become intrested in such a variety of different activites. Let’s plan a trip to Yellowstone so you can teach me how to fly fish. 🙂

    • Francesca May 22, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

      Oh, Clinton, you totally made me cry. Thank you for such kind words. My family and I will gladly plan a trip to Yellowstone with you, Daphne, and the girls. Yellowstone is so incredible; I want to personally share it with those I love most.

  9. Rebecca Lopez May 23, 2012 at 6:02 am #

    Such a beautiful story ! It brought back tons of memories with my dad and fishing ! Wish I knew more about it to pass down to my kids !
    Good luck 🙂

    • Francesca May 23, 2012 at 7:21 am #

      I’m glad I could help you relive some memories of your dad, Becky. Thank you! xo

  10. Amy May 23, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    What wonderful memories Francesca!! Neither if us has fished much, but we’ve started with the kids. They got fishing poles for their birthdays!!

    • Francesca May 23, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

      That’s so awesome, Amy! I hope you, Eric, and the kids enjoy your time fishing together! Maybe we can plan a little family fishing trip with you guys later this summer.

  11. Jill May 23, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    I’m not 100% convinced that I would like fly fishing (I have no patience) BUT your post has almost convinced me. You make it seem like so much fun!

    • Francesca May 23, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

      It is fun, Jill – and relaxing and peaceful and a great way to enjoy nature. Now are you 100% convinced? 😉

  12. Julie May 23, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    What a wonderful story – three generations of fly fishing! I have always admired your love of and dedication to the the outdoors and fishing. I have to admit, I especially love your attire when you caught your very first cutthroat trout – that sweatshirt brought you luck!!! 🙂

    • Francesca May 23, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

      Aw, thanks, Julie! And you like my sweatshirt, huh? I still have it – can you believe that?!

  13. john murtagh May 23, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    Great story. I know nothing about flyfishing and little about any other kind, but I do love family traditions and yours is a great one.

    • Francesca May 23, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

      Thank you, Mr. Murtagh. I appreciate your stopping by and your comment. I’m trying to uphold the traditions I was raised with and preserve them for my daughter; fishing is just one of them.

  14. Mark May 23, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

    Love the story and your love of fishing! I can’t wait to watch you teach Lucia how to fly-fish!!

    • Francesca May 23, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

      Thanks, I can’t wait to teach her!

  15. mike May 23, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your passion for fishing and passing it on to another generation. Yellowstone sounds like the perfect place to do that.

    • Francesca May 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

      I plan to pass it down to your granddaughters 🙂

  16. Traveling Ted May 23, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    Awesome article. I have never fly fished, but I have spent many summers fishing with my dad in Quetico. Would someday love to learn to fly fish. Very inspiring story.

    • Francesca May 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

      Thanks so much, Ted. Ah, Quetico…. I’ve always wanted to go there. Some day soon. Any time you want to do some fly casting, let me know. I’ll teach ya 🙂

  17. Daphne May 24, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    I loved reading your story! As others have posted, I too can picture you and Lucia walking the trails with your fishing rods strapped to your backpacks. Your reason for wanting to maintain the health and the fish population at Yellowstone is heartfelt and genuine. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience what you did growing up You know how Clinton and I feel about family time and traditions with our children…’s a priority! We look forward to planning a trip with y’all!

    • Francesca May 24, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

      So sweet, Daphne. Thank you. We are definitely going to plan a little trip for our families!

  18. Leah Travels (@L_e_a_h) May 24, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    {sniffle, sniffle} This is so well-written, Francesca. I didn’t know your love of fishing. What a special thing to share with your dad and pass along to your daughter. Good luck in the competition. If there’s an entry better than this, I’d like to see it. 😉

    • Francesca May 24, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Leah, what a tremendous compliment. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. As I told you earlier, you were my inspiration to enter this competition. xo

  19. elatlboy May 24, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    Lot’s of great family memories and many more ahead with your daughter and others. I’m a little more intrigued about fly fishing then i was before. Keep following your passions! 🙂

    • Francesca May 26, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

      I plan to, Aaron. Thanks so much!

  20. lola May 25, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    LOVE this post, Francesca. some of my happiest memories with my grandpa were fishing together (until he told he i had to take the fish off the hook) 🙂

    good luck with the contest. you’ve got my vote!!

    • Francesca May 26, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

      Thanks a bunch! And why can I just picture little Lola REFUSING to touch the fish and take it off the hook?? 😉

  21. Marty D May 27, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    You can really paint a picture! Makes me want to give fly-fishing a try.
    What great memories for you.

    • Francesca May 31, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

      Thanks, Marty! I hope you do get to try fly fishing… ya know, that pond behind your house would be the perfect place to learn to cast 😉


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