During the first half of my life, the opening day of trout season was something I looked forward to with great anticipation.
For weeks before the first day, I spent countless hours preparing my tackle or simply dreaming of making that first cast of the season. Sometime during the early 1980s, however, the first day of trout season ceased to be an all-important annual ritual for me. That wasn't because I lost interest in trout fishing, because if anything, my fascination with trout and trout fishing was stronger than ever.
With so many special regulation areas and a few entire streams open to year-round trout fishing here in this region, I could and often would fish all winter long. I also became committed exclusively to fly-fishing for trout, so being part of the crowds and the sometimes carnival-like atmosphere of opening day finally lost most of its appeal.
In spite of that, I have always held fond memories of all those opening days in the early years of my fishing career. Last year, I rekindled some of those memories by being on the water at the opening hour and had a wonderful time.
This year, I was excited about the first day of trout season once again because my brother Dwayne and I had made plans to take his 5-year-old daughter fishing for the first time. My niece Halee is undeniably more a princess than a tomboy, but she likes to play outside and has always loved the water.
When my brother asked her if she would like to go fishing with us on opening day, I was delighted she was all for it, especially since he promised that Uncle Walt would supply her with a rod and reel fit for a princess.
I enjoy few things more than taking a young person fishing and always want it to be a positive experience for them. That is why I will never hand a rod and reel to a kid, or any beginner for that that matter, that I wouldn't fish with myself.
For that reason, I resisted the urge to get her some cheesy plastic outfit decorated with a picture of Barbie or some cartoon character, opting instead for a sweet little spinning combo that she was able to handle quite well after a session of casting practice Friday afternoon.
My brother lives literally a stone's throw from the stream, we were able to walk to our fishing spot and enjoy the beautiful spring morning while waiting for the 8 a.m. starting time. I showed Halee several different bait and lures I had brought and let her pick what she wanted to start with. She chose a dab of Powerbait to tempt her first trout to the hook because it looked like Play-Doh, one of her favorite playthings.
On the second cast, a 12-inch brook trout grabbed her offering, and then the fun really started. I held a landing net in the water in front of her and instructed my young angler to reel the struggling trout into the net, which she did so perfectly. As I scooped up that brookie, I'll never forget the look of wide-eyed wonder on Halee's face when she finally saw her first fish.
If we hadn't gotten another bite, the day would still have been a success at that point, but more fat brook trout liked what Halee was serving them, and it wasn't long before five trout were sloshing about in the five-gallon bucket I had brought along.
I explained to my niece that she now had her limit for the day if she wanted to take those fish home. Or we could let them go and catch some more. I wasn't surprised when she opted for the "catch and release" program and was aptly rewarded with another seven trout before her attention waned.
Her dad and I couldn't have been more proud of her. Most important, she had fun while spending time in the outdoors with family and friends and will no doubt want to go fishing again.
I can't wait to see a nice bass put a bend in that little spinning rod for Halee sometime this summer. And congratulations to all the other dads, moms, uncles, aunts and grandparents who were able to share that special moment of watching a youngster catch his or her first fish this weekend too.