Gone Fishin’, A summertime story of a girl, her dad, and the fishin’ pole

By C.E. Miller

A boy carries a fishing pole down a dirt road, at his father’s side. It’s an image we all recognize, most memorably from the credits of “The Andy Griffith Show.” There’s only one problem with that snapshot of America. That boy was sometimes a girl. Like me.

Around the time I was 4, I think my father decided he needed a son, and I’d just have to do. Or maybe he decided I’d be the child to share the outdoor activities he loved, whether I liked it or not. Either way, some of my earliest memories consist of me, Dad, and the shimmering motion of fish swimming away from us. Hour after hour, I would watch “my” line (Dad set it up, of course), and he would watch his. I’d sit on some convenient boulder during trout season while Dad stood nearby in his waders, the mountains closing in around us like soft green arms. Fishing for bass in some quiet lake, amid mountains marching in blue ridges to the horizon, we would identify the birds we saw while we waited for a strike on our lines. To this day, I remember the thrill when the little yellow bob on my line ducked under the water, and my dad congratulated me on catching our supper.

Looking back, I think Dad decided I couldn’t use any fishing equipment taller than I was. Since he didn’t mind setting up a line and letting me call it “mine,” I was good to go in preschool, but I was about 10 before I could handle a “real” rod of my own. Well, actually, look at a real rod. Before I could actually use it, I had to know everything about it. Understand, my dad wasn’t a fanatic about fishing. But he was a perfectionist. He demanded that you be able to not just use equipment, but also know how it worked and how to maintain it. This didn’t apply only to fishing rods. It applied to cars, snow blowers, toasters, and anything else you can think of. As a result, I couldn’t use my rod (or anything else) until I knew how to take care of it.

Since my father’s definition of “take care of” involved everything but carving the rod and reel myself, this took some time. I had to know how to wind the line around the reel, how to attach the reel to the rod, how to thread the line along the rod. I learned, over the course of many summer hours, how to attach the little floating ball my dad called a “bobber,” the sinker, and—at great hazard to my fingertips—the dreaded hook itself. If Moby Dick had seen my first few attempts, he’d have laughed his white whale tail off.

Finally, I was allowed to move on to the next step— bait. Since we lived in the country, we usually caught our own. I didn’t mind that at all. Stowing earthworms and crawlers in a jar of dirt came under the heading “Fun.” As for learning the right way to put squirming worms or frantic minnows on a hook—well, I was 10. That was just a new way to freak out my squeamish older sister.

At last, as that memorable summer lazed into August, the day came. Dad took me into the back yard to teach me how to cast. This sounds ridiculously easy. As I watched Dad flick his wrist so that the line made graceful curves in the air, it looked easy. I couldn’t wait to try. He walked me through it: Let out so much line. Here’s the release. Take the rod back. Bring it forward. Release at the right moment.

In print, simplicity. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find that right moment. I tried. I tried until my arm ached and my wrist felt numb from all my attempts at “flicking” the way Dad told me to. I spent hours in the back yard, hooking the line into the maple tree, the back of my T-shirt, my baseball cap, and occasionally something that was actually in front of me, like the hayfield. I even snagged my sister’s shirt when she walked innocently across the yard about 20 feet behind me. Clearly, the fish were the only things not in any danger.

Then, one day, when I’d decided to give up, it happened. My wrist flicked. The line flowed. The cast went on for what felt like forever, but was probably about 30 feet. I reeled in my line, let it out just a little, and tried again. Another perfect cast! I must have cast that line 50 times that afternoon for the sheer pleasure of seeing the way the line floated. It was beautiful.

Later that month, Dad took me on my first real fishing trip, to his favorite lake up in the mountains, with his buddy and his buddy’s son. There aren’t any words to describe the pleasure of relaxing with a cooler of icy drinks nearby, the breaking whisper of the waves, the sun bouncing white off the water. Just as there aren’t any words to describe the pride I felt when my dad’s buddy and his son both told me, “Nice cast.” It didn’t even matter that all I caught that day was a trout that didn’t know we were fishing for bass, or that I got a terrible sunburn.

What mattered was that I was a kid carrying my rod down a dirt path, with my dad next to me, carrying the bait pail.

C.E. lives in Charlottesville and enjoys exploring the mountains and occasionally dropping in a line.

Enjoy some reel fun in the great outdoors with your kids in a sport that they can enjoy for a lifetime. There is nothing quite like feeling the tug of a fish on the line and there are many valuable life lessons to be found in fishing. Such as how to be a responsible sportsman and patience. Lots of patience.

Don’t expect to land your limit or reel in The Big One to mount on the wall on your first trip. Just have fun. Don’t be intimidated about knowing the proper fishing technique either. The hook needs to make it to the water – that’s all that counts.

Here are a few spots for your aspiring young anglers to try your line… Enjoy!

Beaver Creek Lake in Crozet is well stocked for fishing and allows boats. You can relax at shaded picnic tables, wander a trail into the woods, or go swimming when you need a break from the sun. 296-5844 Crozet: From Rt. 250W, cross Mechums River, right on Rt. 680, left into park.

Chris Greene Lake Park is popular for swimming and fishing. Canoe rentals available and a recently built handicap accessible pier provide lots of choices. 973-3790 Earlysville: From Rt. 29N, left on Airport Rd. At stop, right on Rt. 606. Turn left on Rt. 850 (Chris Greene Lake Road) and into park.

James River Reeling & Rafting (286-4386) and James River Runners (286-2338) are both located in Scottsville. As outfitters, they can provide transportation and basic equipment for camping and fishing along with tubes, rafts, canoes and kayaks for simple day outings or for an extended holiday.

Mint Springs Valley Park is beautifully surrounded by mountains. Lake swimming, grills, and a small playground round out a day fishing. Site of County’s annual Trout Fishing Day each Spring. 974-3790 Crozet: From Rt. 250W, right in Rt. 240W. At stop sign in Crozet, turn left then immediate right on Rt. 788. At fork, turn right on Rt. 684 (Mint Springs Road). Park is 1/2 mile on left.

Rivanna Reservoir supports good populations of bass, crappie, bream and channel cats, with occasional walleye and muskie. There is a public boat ramp near the filtration plant of the Charlottesville water-supply reservoir. Take Rio Roadwest to Va. Route 659. The ramp is at the end of Va. 659.

Rose River Vineyard & Trout Farm visitors can fish ponds for rainbow trout raised in the spring waters of the Rose River flowing from it's mountain sources in the Shenandoah National Park. No license is required. Bring your own pole. 540-923-4050 Located near Graves Mountain Lodge in Syria on Rt. 648.

Shenandoah River Trips offers canoe, raft, kayak and tube trips on a remote section of the legendary Shenandoah River that meanders along the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Skyline Drive in the heart of the historic Shenandoah Valley. 1-800-727-4371

Sherando Lake is great for boat fishing and also has a designated reservoir for bank fishing, too. Spend a few days and camp out or just come for the day to fish and perhaps enjoy a swim, too. (540) 942-5965 64 West, exit 96 and turn left onto 624. Go through Lyndhurst to the community of Sherando. You'll keep going straight, but the road number changes to 664. Entrance 4 miles on right.

The State Fish Hatchery isn’t a place where you can go fishing exactly but it is a very cool “fish outing” just the same. Each year approximately 170,000 newly-hatched brook, brown and rainbow trout are nurtured to maturity at this rearing station, then released to stock all trout waters east of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Fish at various stages of maturity are visible in cascading pools. Picnic tables and restrooms are available. "Fish food" available so children can feed the fish. Close to Crabtree Falls Rt 690, off Rt 56 in Montebello, 3 miles from Blue Ridge Parkway. 540-377-2418

Totier Creek is a great spot to “get away from it all” (it means plumbing) and enjoy a quiet day boating and fishing. 296-5844 Scottsville: From Rt. 20S, right on Rt. 726 (James River Rd.), left on Rt. 845 (Totier Creek Rd.) to Park

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is the complete resource on where to fish, how to fish, licenses, safety, and pretty much everything you could possibly want to know about fishing. (804) 367-1000 http://www.dgif.state.va.us/

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