Etowah River Family Fishing Lessons

A dad's competitive spirit drifts away just in time to enjoy life.

Many folks think fishing is all about sitting and waiting for a red float to sink. That's fine for some, but my boys and I are more like predator anglers. It's not that we're in it for a kill, in fact, most of our fishing is catch-and-release. It's just that we're always on the move. We'll pound a secondary point for spotted bass, pick apart a seam for brookies, and do what it takes to get a bend in the rod.

The problem with this type of fishing is that you can miss the best part of the sport. I learned this lesson recently while fishing the headwater of the beautiful Etowah River among the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Georgia.

I had two of my four boys along: Johnny, 12, and Brennan, 10. We woke early and drove until the dirt road ended. We rigged up our rods and stepped into the clear stream at the southern end of the Appalachians. The creek was cold as we pushed past mountain laurel and rhododendron. Fog rose around us. Surging water muffled all other sounds.

Although we walked in together, soon we fanned out and struck off to catch the first fish of the day. I was in my own world. Here and there, up or down the creek and around bends, I'd catch a glimpse of the boys casting, retrieving or dead-drifting.

After an hour, I had caught a few 8- and 10-inch rainbows. I redoubled my efforts, looked for virgin water and secretly hoped the boys hadn't caught anything bigger.

That's when it hit. Not a fish, but something better. In a flash, I suddenly realized that I was making a big mistake. Catching is better than just fishing, but at what cost? How many more times would I be blessed to have the opportunity to wet a line and talk with these guys in God's beautiful creation about, say, the ethereal iridescence of a wild rainbow trout? Or the chance to pass on woodsmanship, like how to tell the temperature by the angle of a rhododendron's leaves? Or to hear their thoughts, away from the anxieties of life, on friends and girls? Men intrinsically know that competition can heighten any experience, but it was as if I had not been fishing with my boys, but against them.

I walked over to my first-born and watched him work a shallow pool. The blond-haired teen was almost as tall as me. He'd be a man before I knew it.

I resisted telling him to add a split shot and fish deeper where it was more likely a brown trout lurked. He dappled while I sat on a rock and watched. We talked about fishing, his friends and challenges he was having in school.

To my surprise, his line straightened and the rod tip strained. The boy caught a nice 14-inch carryover brown trout! There was no describing the pride I had in Johnny's persistence and skill. And to think that I almost missed it.

I congratulated Johnny and slowly stepped upstream to see his brother, the most intense angler of my brood.

It was about time to work our way back downstream to camp for breakfast, yet Brennan hadn't hooked into a catch like Johnny had. Brennan had caught a few small ones and released them. He was looking for the Moby Dick of the creek. He covered that water completely. You could see he was planning each cast as if it were his last. I wouldn't have made the same choices, but I stayed out of his way, watched and hoped for him. Either the bite slacked off, or there just weren't any trout in this part of the creek.

We navigated rocks and fallen trees back to the final bend before our campsite. His energy was about tapped. His shoulders drooped like rhododendron. In my head I was rehearsing a talk on sportsmanship, that is, how to deal with falling short of your goal after giving it your best shot. But he had a few more casts in him.

Suddenly his line pulled tight. A silvery trout broke through the surface, flipped into the air and splashed back into the water. As I prayed that the line wouldn't break and the tiny treble wouldn't pop out of the fish's mouth, the plump 16-inch 'bow came to the boy's hand. He cradled it and turned to look at me. His smile was wider than I'd ever seen it.

I stood in the Etowah and thought again about all I would have missed if I hadn't seen the light early that morning.

At camp, we built a fire, gutted the trout and fried them in butter and parsley on a hot iron skillet. We all agreed there's nothing like fresh-caught mountain trout for breakfast with some of your favorite people in the world.

Summer is a great time to fish with the family to create some great memories. We asked our editors to tell us about their favorite memories of summer fishing and family. Here's what they had to say:

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