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Etowah River Family Fishing Lessons

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:

Lure Of The Islands

Some of my best summer memories are of catching and cooking fresh fish in The Bahamas with my wife and daughters.
When you live on the Florida Atlantic coast, the lure of the islands just 60 miles east is impossible to resist. It's an awesome family fishing and diving destination.
For many years, my wife and daughters have joined me on trips to remote, beautiful islands like Grand Cay, Chub Cay, and Guana Cay. We take our boat, and join up with other boating families. Together we've caught everything from big wahoo, to exotic groupers, to great-eating lobsters.
These are memories we'll always look back on fondly.

Blair Wickstrom, Publisher, Florida Sportsman Magazine

Every Summer Since Then

These days my 18- and 21-year-old daughters are more interested in boyfriends, shoes and the latest iPhone apps than they are in fishing, but I think it's just a phase they're going through.
It wasn't long ago that their favorite summer activity was threading a worm on a hook and casting into a bluegill pond. Interestingly, with my girls, the big fish wasn't what they were after. Often, the smallest fish got the most squeals, oohs, and ahhs. To that end, I found myself using small fly-fishing hooks with a worm and bobber, all in an effort to catch the smallest sunfish possible. In their world, where they had tiny doll houses, with matching miniature cars, clothes, and furniture, it made a lot of sense that a small fish was better than a big one. After all, who doesn't like kittens more than grown cats?
Even traveling farther afield with Dad, the smaller fish got the most attention. On one memorable trip we camped in the Canadian Rockies on the banks of the Kootenay River, and took the 4X4 deep into the backcountry to fish a tributary rumored to hold big, native cutthroat trout.
On our way to the river we hiked through a clear-cut and saw a large herd of elk grazing on the greenery sprouting up from the traumatized ground. We crawled (upwind) from stump to stump so as not to disturb their feeding. I had my eye on the larger animals — not because I'm much of a hunter, but because I don't like getting stomped, and I wanted to maintain a safe minimum distance. The girls, of course, picked out the smallest animal they could see and told their mother all about the "baby elk" when we returned.
The creek had an impassable falls near its confluence with the main stem, and upriver, there were indeed, untarnished Westslope cutthroat trout up to 18 or 19 inches — not bad up in these mountains. We had one fly rod between the three of us — intentional because with kids this age, you need to leave plenty of time to pick flowers, build rock weirs and collect pretty stones along the shoreline. In some pools, the fish were close enough that the girls could make a cast and catch a trout on their own. In other spots, where it was more of a reach, I made the cast and quickly passed the rod off to one of them. (They were already to the age where they realized that there was more to the fishing than just reeling in a fish after I'd hooked it.)
The "trophy" of the day was a 9-inch cutthroat that was dull-colored compared to the large, golden-yellow adult fish in the river. And because its mouth was so small it had a hard time even drowning the #10 Royal Wulff, let alone getting the hook into its mouth. I made the cast up into some deeper water along a logjam. Big fish water, I thought — and passed the rod to Ashley. The little trout poked at the fly one, twice (she shrieked with delight), and on the third time the little cutthroat finally got ahold of the fly and hooked itself.
Of all the trout we caught that day, the "baby" was the one they wanted a picture of, and it's a photo that has sat on my desk every summer since then.
Those girls might not fish right now, but they'll come back to it. Maybe we'll even go back to that little creek with my granddaughters.

Ross Purnell, Editor, Fly Fisherman Magazine

The New Quinn Family Tradition

Dad grew up in the Bronx and never fished, but as English professors, he and Mom enjoyed extended summer vacations when we'd travel to visit relatives in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York.
When my brother, Tom, and I were old enough to hold a fishing rod, he'd take us to one of the region's many lakes and row us around while we fished, or he'd drop us off by a trout stream to pass the afternoon. We couldn't wait for our next fishing expedition. Dad never was eager to catch a fish, but he enjoyed watching us learn the sport.
Tom and I were fascinated by the natural world, so different from life in the 'Big Apple. ' We grew to love aquatic environments and the fish that lived there. When it came time for us boys to find a job, the fish business beckoned. Tom took the scholarly road, becoming a fisheries professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, as well as an avid fly fisherman for the many salmonid species of that region. I eventually found work as a fishery biologist in Georgia before moving to Minnesota to become editor of In-Fisherman. Along the way, my son, Dan, grew up an avid angler as well. He found his career in a different role within the fishing industry, as Field Promotions Coordinator for Rapala, the world's largest lure company. With busy schedules, we cherish opportunities to wet a line together. Grandson, Mac, is only seven months old, so he'll have to wait a bit to continue our family tradition.
"On a spring excursion to the San Juan Islands in Washington, the Quinn boys (Tom, left; Dan, center; Steve, right) display a trio of fine ling cod."

Steve Quinn, Editor, In-Fisherman

Of Bass And Boys

One of my most memorable fishing days occurred just two summer's back. I had taken my son and several senior Scouts from our troop (and their dads) on a weeklong wilderness canoe trek into the heart of the Adirondacks.
The fishing was red hot and the boys caught over 175 fish in five days. One sweltering afternoon, while fishing our way down a deep channel that connected two of the lakes we were passing through, my son, Jack, gave out a shout. His lightweight spinning rod bent double and we all knew he had a big fish on.
He fought the fish well and a few minutes later, he landed a beautiful bass that probably weighed 3 pounds or more — a big fish for that part of the world and the biggest of our trip. Later that evening when we made camp, the boys cleaned the fish and we prepped a bed of coals to bake him on. The boys added a little butter, some spices and then stuffed the bass with some spicy New Orleans-style rice they had cooked up before double wrapping the fish in foil and placing him on the coals.
Twenty minutes later we feasted. The bass was cooked to perfection and we ate every morsel right down to the bones. There were smiles all around the campfire that night, but none bigger than Jack's. Long after I'm gone, I hope that's a day he'll remember as fondly as I do.

Todd Smith

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