When Teaching Becomes more Important than Catching Fish

It occurred to me the other day, in April, when our oldest daughter and I were in a small creek looking for steelhead—rainbow trout that live in Lake Michigan, but enter the tributaries to spawn each spring and fall. I had taken what is probably the final step in my fishing life: I no longer need to catch fish when I have others fishing with me to enjoy the outing. I’d much rather have them catch the fish. (But company is not required for me to go fishing.)

Don’t get me wrong, if the fishing is good and the fish are cooperating and plentiful, I have no problem catching my share, but when the fishing is tough, I prefer to let the person I am with catch them. I’ll just take photos.

We all go through several stages in our fishing lives. First, we fish as much as we can and keep all the fish we catch—quantity is everything. It proves, to other fisherpersons, that we know what we are doing in the fishing world.

Then we “advance” to wanting to catch the biggest fish we can— no matter what the species. No fish is ever big enough. Trophies, that is what it is all about. We also get heavy into catch and release.

Eventually, we evolve into what I consider the “challenging/satisfaction” part of our fishing life —using lighter tackle and only artificial lures. (Some call this “quality fishing.”)

Then after “traveling through” all these phases, some of us are fortunate enough to enter what is often the final phase—teaching. We get to show others how fishing enhances and adds to the joys of being outdoors. I do that, specializing in fly-fishing. I try to get people, including kids, started on the right foot in the sport. I also tell and teach them, if they have the time and desire, how to expand the sport via tying their own flies.

It has been through these classes that I learned there is another, even more final phase – watching others catch fish. When I teach, I don’t fish, but I get just as much enjoyment watching other people, especially, those who have never fished before and/or the kids, hook and hoist their first fish out of the pond and try to grab it as it swings at the end of the leader. Most of the time it is a small bluegill, but they are thrilled.

I now realize, that when those fishing with me are members of my family, or my friends, it is even more enjoyable: i.e. with our oldest daughter, mentioned at the beginning of this tale, when we went looking for steelhead. Here is how that day went:

We met at the bridge where the stream crossed the highway. We had been there the week before and seen only one fish. We hoped for a better day this trip.

The creek was still very low and clear, the water temperature was 44 degrees—last week it had been 43. (We had had no rain and not much in the way of warming weather the past week.)

As we walked the well-worn path on the creek’s edge, this is not a wilderness-difficult-to-find-stream, we spotted a fish, working a redd, about 10 yards ahead.

As we cautiously approached, I instructed our daughter, Chris, where she should enter the stream and how she should cast and drift the fly to the fish. (This would be her first steelhead and I really wanted her to hook up. They are so challenging to catch. Especially on a fly rod, which is what we were using.)

She did as “coached” and did well. I stood off to the side and watched, reporting to her what I saw happening: the fish would hold at different spots on the redd, make it a little bigger by fanning with its body, then move off into the deeper, darker water. It would not spook, just slide off the redd.

After many minutes, she came back to the shore and said, “You give it a try. I’m moving downstream to see if I can find more cooperative fish.”

I did, with the same results. No, that’s not quite true. I left one of my flies decorating an overhanging branch. (It added a bit of color to an otherwise drab landscape.)

Throughout the next three hours, I saw three fish and Chris saw five. All on redds, but never for any length of time. They would move on and off. We fished to each. We also drifted the deeper holes where fish would normally be holding. The only hits we got were from some small—really small—nibblers. I saw the flash of one; it was maybe five inches long. I have no idea what kind of fish it was.

At one point, Chris had two steelheads holding in the current three feet from her feet. That got her both excited and frustrated all at the same time (we who fish for steelies, have all been there). She even put her fly on one of the noses and it never budged.

Eventually, the 44-degree water got to her feet and we figured it was time to go home, which we did.

So, that was the trip. It was while I was watching and photographing our daughter that I realized that in this phase of my fishing life, I really enjoy seeing the people I’m fishing with catch fish. Particularly, when they are family.

Jerry Kiesow enjoys all aspects of the outdoors and shares them in many ways through his photos, words, and workshops—including his fly-fishing classes. He has written a book, “Tales of The Peshtigo Putzer” that makes a great gift. Check it all out at his website: jerrykiesowoc.com.