Much needed redemption started with a turn down Chicken Dinner Road as we headed towards the Owyhee River…
Not the kind of ‘redemption’ from something someone needs saving from, like on the Bob Marley song, but more of the shallow-type like when a fish addict gets their big catch. I know it is silly to say fish have redeeming qualities, but when you have not caught a fish in a while, and you love them (I am strange), then a big catch is always on your mind.
Before today, the need for the shallow-type of redemption was brewing like a crock pot chicken dinner soup. Yesterday was the kid’s fishing derby in Caldwell and just like an elf getting ready for Christmas, I spent hours scheming, collecting, rigging up and buying fishing paraphernalia for the fun day of fishing with my kids. In my mind, my kids were going to win the award bikes for the biggest fish and it would be glorious, and it would be grand.
Well, my giant expectations were met with the harsh reality of a cold day and kids that only wanted to fish for about ten minutes. I found myself saying things like this to my kids:
“You can’t go to the bouncy castle until you try to catch a fish”, “If you are hungry, try to catch a fish”, and last but definitely the worst, “If you guys don’t try to fish when we take you, then we will just not take you fishing anymore”. Horrible, I know.
My dreams of sitting in the chair next to the creek, while my kids confidently maneuvered their fishing rods and reeled in trophy trout, were derailed by a toddler trying to throw his pole or himself in the water, 2 fishing poles that were tangled beyond hope of recovery, and a hooked (more like grazed) finger early in the game- which led to about an hour of sobbing. At the end of it, all of the kids were in the car and I was out there with the Cars Movie theme fishing pole, throwing worms on and trying to at least catch one for the kids (was it really for the kids?). My husband delicately said I looked crazy and we should leave.
I threw a fit and tossed the chair in the back of the car, just like I push the basket as hard as I can into the basket corral at Walmart after a stressful shopping experience- (come on we all do this). My son said “sorry” and eventually I said, “me too”, realizing I had sabotaged family day by trying to fit everyone into my play dough press of expectations.
I guess it all stems from my last couple of unsuccessful fishing trips- unsuccessful in that I did not bring in any fish (gosh I sound so pathetic). I whined to my husband that maybe I just am a horrible fisher woman and now my kids are horrible fisher people too- with their minimal attention spans and their desire to jump in a castle versus catching trout. He reminded me that the times I have fished recently have been for about an hour each time, in high wind, in flooded rivers and usually rushed in order to get to kids. He also reminded me that our kids are under the age of 7, which I somehow forgot… I was like the angry parent at the baseball game trying to live out my dreams through my kids- if coach would have put me in, we would have won state! 😉
So this morning he woke me up for mother’s day and said we are going to the Owyhee River. I said no because I don’t want to be the crazy mom out there fishing while her kids are stuck in the car and I was feeling guilty for being a strange mom yesterday- I realize my trout addiction may be affecting my parenting (you think?). My husband said we will make the day fun and he will play with the kids while I throw a line around for a bit. We rush and buy day licenses, load up the car, check the Anglers Habitat and Idaho Angler fly shop fishing reports and make our way towards Oregon. As I turn down Chicken Dinner Road, I start to wonder if the Brown Trout will be fishing well and I start to dream again of catching a monster fish (this is my first time fishing the Owyhee).
The canyon is beautiful- high desert red tinted rocks, with yellow flowers blooming and the smell of sage in the air. The wind is consistent, but the sun makes up for the potential for coldness. We drive around the bend towards the river and I expect not to find a parking spot- but when we get to the river there are hardly any cars. We find a nice place to park right next to a bunch of sand (side note: way to go guys that are obsessed with fishing for staying home on mother’s day, versus hitting the river!). We quickly unload and I throw on my waders, put my rod together, tie on a yellow sally and my son puts my mother’s day necklace on me.
My husband says “go have fun” and I think, “see you in ten hours, sucker”, no I don’t- I think how did I luck out with such an amazing husband that knows how to handle my ‘crazies’ and encourages me to fish while he watches the kids? Then I remember father’s day is next so I had better use the time he gives me so that I can repay him on father’s day.That justifies time on my own on the river right?
I hug my kids and crawl through the thick brush that protects the river like a curtain on a stage. On the other side of the curtain I find a beautiful trout river, spotted with perfect boulders, shaded sections, runs and riffles. The wind blows hard for a minute straight and my fly dances chaotically around and then falls unnaturally into the water.
When the wind stops, the water calms quickly and out of the corner of my eye, I see a fish kiss the surface. My heart starts to race- the brown trout are here. I wade out to situate myself below the cluster of rocks and cast up stream to let my fly float right down through the rocky area. I stand there silently casting, stripping in and mending line for about five minutes. All of a sudden I am surrounded by brown trout- they start a feeding frenzy and I hold still for a moment just to watch them rise to the surface and gracefully roll their backs down into the water like dolphins surfacing for air. The little ones dart out of the water and sometimes the large browns attack and slap the water like a crocodile.
I switch over to a Tan Dun fly (PMD) as I see them fluttering all around me. My first cast floats naturally as I mend the line once and STRIKE, a monster surges out of the water at my fly. I set the hook! REDEMPTION! First dry fly fish of the season! I don’t need to pack my fly rod away for the year; my time in the desert (not catching anything) is over.
The fish takes off towards the rocks and I carefully play her back away from them. I have not landed a fish like this since fishing for Chars in Alaska. I run through the process in my mind and try to remember what it is like and what I should do to make sure I land this pretty lady. She darts to the side and just when I think she is worn out, she takes off again. I hope no one is even near me because my commentary is hilarious- “Come on Bessie”, I say out loud while smiling a ridiculous cheesy smile. “Come on girl”!
Finally I get her to the net and she bends in the net like my 4 yr. old son trying to sit awkwardly in the baby car seat. She is huge! She stares at me as I hold her in the net in the water- I think she is saying “you tricked me, now let me go you crazy lady”. I take a few pics and even though I want to stare at her longer, I pick her up out of the net and gently hold her in the water; her huge fin brushes on my hand as she swims only a foot away from me and rest on the river floor next to me. I take a few more pictures of her resting there and then stare at the red canyon, trying to calm down my child-like excitement. That was freaking amazing!
I cast again and the wind roars through for a minute, so I hold my place and clench my hat, anxiously waiting for the calmness to hit the water again so I can try to fool another Brown. The next one I hook is even bigger and has a bright orange color side with darker spots on top. I carefully work my line and do the dance of reeling in and letting out manually because my reel has some gravel lodged in it. I hear my little family trying to find me and through the brush curtain so we are yelling back and forth- all while I am trying not to break my rod or fall in the river as I reel in the monster. After about 10 minutes of back and forth fly line dancing with big brown, I rush the process to net him before he darts into the log jam and as I go to scoop, the compromised position of my rod and line causes the line to break right below where my tippet was tied on. Arg!
My husband is playing Marco-Polo, trying to find me and he hears me yelling what he thinks are cuss words, but they are actually slightly off sets of cuss words. My posse make their way through the brush curtain to a sandy spot. I wade up river to them, out of breath from the epic battle I just endured and smiling even though I’m annoyed I didn’t get to show off my big brown trout to them. My kids are covered in peanut butter sandwiches and sand. My husband has the little one in the back pack and I think how funny we look to others out fishing today: the mom is out there fishing and talking to fish like a crazy lady, while the dad is wrangling kids on the shore. Gosh I’m so blessed. My husband says, “See, I told you!” and I say, “I owe you big time”.
We drove to another spot during nap time and my family is asleep in the car so I sneak down to another stretch of high desert river. I thought I had the money spot down below, but this stretch of river was even better. I catch two more big browns and two little 6 incher browns on dry flies within an hour. I am sort of missing fishing with streamers and nymphs from the winter fishing months so I try a wooly bugger just for kicks. My second cast stripping in is hammered by a big, big fish of the day- I am sort of worried about my 6wt rod and my 5x tippet breaking so I play it for a long, long time. I forgot my net in the car since my daughter was playing ‘catch butterflies’ with it- so I had to tire him out to land him. He is beautiful- I hold on to him for a minute and as I try to grab back my wooly bugger he jumps out of my hands and breads the line off. Darn it, I hope he can shake the hook soon, I don’t want his family to think he has turned Goth because of the black furry lip piercing he will be sporting.
I do a quick happy dance from the excitement and notice the guy fishing downstream from me saw it…your welcome for the show. I have to force myself to leave and stop the addict that is welling up inside that wants to stay here till dark or forever. It’s hard to leave because it is the magical time of the day where bugs are dancing in the air and the sun is hitting the water to make it sparkle. I head up to the car full of sleeping beauties just in time. I tell my husband it is his turn to go down to fish and what he says blows my mind:
“Na, let’s take the kids up to the dam to go exploring instead and have some family time. I’m so glad you caught some fish finally”.
Who is this person? How did he know I needed a day of redemption and to hold a fish in my hands? I don’t need fish to be satisfied, but I do know that for me, getting outside and experiencing nature like this refreshes my mind in some way that I cannot explain. The ‘catching a fish’ part I guess only helps me feel better for choosing to use my time to fish- and I also desperately want my kids to love the outdoors like my husband and I do. Maybe if we force them to like it, they will.
We spent the rest of the day looking around at the sights and scheming for upcoming camping trips with the kids- as well as possible baby sitters for day trips together. Even though I selfishly wanted a sporty picture of me holding up a monster brown trout like all the women in the magazines, I was more than satisfied with my time on the redemptive Owyhee River. My favorite picture was actually my little brown trout thumbs up picture (beautiful fish and look how long my nails are haha):
What a perfect balance of a day- sleeping in, drinking coffee with my husband, fishing monster browns by myself and then time with my kids exploring. Now that I have caught my big fish, I can go back to being a ‘normal’, sane, parent and stop trying to force my kids to catch a fish in order to fill my own desire for trout time! (Don’t judge me)
This idea of balancing time and making sure my fishing addiction does not take the place of what God has for my life with my kiddos is very important to me. This quote popped into my mind that may make you think about your time as well…
And…If you see my husband, Eric, give him a hug or $5 for a coffee because he truly is a good human being for putting up with me and my strange ways. Father’s day is going to be epic….as long as we are not near a river, or any body of water (eye twitch).
Thanks for reading another awkward mama adventure story! If this is not an awkward adventure turned amazing, I don’t know what is! Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner…..Road.