Fishing with hoodlums (Part Two)
Hoping I was wrong about the Park Ranger, we took the students on a hike the next morning up Lava Creek. The hike itself wasn’t bad. We got down to the river, across, and then to where the creek feeds into it. To cross the river, students had use a suspension bridge, which wobbled and bounced under their feet as they trod across it, proving to be highly entertaining. Typical of Middle Schoolers, a few took an immense amount of joy in the uneven footing and decided to try a variety of methods crossing it: skipping, running, hopping, walking backwards, dancing…you name it, they gave it a go. And, every time, one of them would get slightly unstable with their step, their eyes would grow big with momentary fear, and then a giant smile would spread across their face accompanied by a goofy laugh as they realized they’re safe.
There were about 15 students of the 30 who really wanted to try to fly fish, which was a greater turnout than I was expecting. That group was also up for a bit more strenuous of a hike, so we broke off from the larger group and increased our pace significantly. Two of the 15 are experienced fishers and they’re right behind me on the hike, so we’re keeping a running commentary about the fishing as we go along. After about a half mile up the Creek, the general consensus is that there is no fishing to be had here. The Creek is too narrow and flowing too quickly. Plus, there is no place for any fish to hold that we could even hope to catch something out of. Beyond that, the banks of the creek (as far as we have gone at least) have a ton of vegetation which would make a proper back cast a pain in the ass.
This is not the place for beginners, despite the Park Ranger’s best intentions.
We turn around and meet back up with the main group, telling them our thoughts. I feel like total shit about it, because I should have just looked at a topo and known it wasn’t a good situation. Some of those kids were exceptionally excited to fish that morning before the weather got too hot and that wasn’t going to happen.
Everyone sits down for a lunch break and spirits are still relatively high. These kids have an amazing way of being positive in almost any circumstance. They talk about the bison we had to pass, the Bitterroot that we saw on the way in, and how they were excited for what else the day had in store.
After we make it back to camp, one of the Dads who didn’t go on the morning hike told us about a creek that looked to be flowing cleaner than anything he had seen so far that day. We feed the kids a brief lunch, load up the bus and head to Obsidian Creek. When we get there, the campground is closed because of construction further up the road and there is no one around. I show the students how to set up the rods, explain the connections between the line, leader and tippet, and talk about the flies. The students pair up and we start them casting. After fixing a few of the typical errors with beginning casters and reminding them that their back cast is just as important as their front cast, we get them on the creek.
I wish I could say these kids slayed it….but the conditions just weren’t good for that. I had brought enough nymphs and dry flies, but the fish weren’t going for anything. The water was still incredibly murky and flowing pretty quickly. One of the more experience kids caught a small Brookie on a hand-tied, white Wooly Bugger, but that was the only catch.
But besides all of that, the kids had an incredible time. When they got tired of fishing, they jumped into the creek and started playing in the water. They learned to set up and cast a fly rod. The two more experienced students ended up putting their fly rods to the side and helping a couple of their classmates cast when I was working with other students.
It may not have been the most successful fishing trip if you’re defining success as the number fish brought to hand. But it was entirely successful if you’re measuring success by how many students’ lives you’ve positively impacted and brought into the fly fishing community.
Welcome to the addiction, 8th graders, we’ll see you on the river.