By Nick Simonson
With a click and plop, the gray splitshot tugged at the payload of three mousies on the tiny red hook which spun haphazardly on its way down into the clear waters of the impoundment. In the moment it took to put the bail back in position and watch the yellow foam bobber go upright, the float was already following the bait-and-weight combination, but not due to the pull of gravity. A large bar had joined the marks on the Vexilar screen and I did a confirmatory check of the far hole as the yellow float steadily inched its way down the cylinder.
Handing the rod to my son, AJ, who will turn four this weekend, I watched his eyes light up as he felt the fish at the other end of the line begin tugging, enthralled by the quick start to our late-day fishing trip. He needed no instruction and just started cranking on the reel. The bend in the rod signaled a firm connection, and the fish came up with relative ease until it hit the bottom of the hole. There, the curved mouth and green back of a twelve-inch rainbow trout struggled to escape the youngster’s zealous cranking, and after a couple short runs and two bonks on the head from the bottom of the ice, it bounced into the hole and came up to the surface, flipping and splashing water across the icy floor of our fishing area.
With my hand wetted, I lifted the fish into the near-evening sun and tweaked the hook loose from the bottom lip of the purple-tinted trout and handed it to AJ. He laughed as the slippery salmonid wiggled in his hands and he momentarily lost his grip, and then stabilized the trout in a perfect horizontal hold. After I had snapped a few pictures of him and his first rainbow, he volunteered to send it back into the lake, and giggled with excitement as he set it back in the hole. Dazed for a moment, the trout gave a flip of its grey-green tail with tiny dark spots and we watched together through the clear water below as it meandered off back into the depths.
I flipped through the just-taken photos and it hit me how fast my son had become a walking, talking little person. Like the surprising trout at the bottom of the lake that gobbled up his hook just a few moments before, the realization came upon me suddenly that these days I had been wishing for during those late-night bottle runs, a couple weeks of potty training and the entirety of the terrible twos (which really run from 18 months to age three), were beginning. Caught up in the moment and the amazement at how fast 1,450 days can go by, I began to wish for a way to slow the process down as we rebaited and reset our rods and flipped the shack tent back into place.
Almost allegorically, the rest of the afternoon would be comparatively calm, as a few fish moved through but none were as willing as the first to take to either the baits set under our bobbers or those we jiggled on the trebles of our tiny spoons. So, we goofed off and ate popcorn, throwing it up in the air and trying to catch it in our mouths. He challenged me to an auger race, cheering me on as I punched a dozen holes through the 20-inch-thick ice and we walked the Vexilar around to each one along the old creek channel as the sky began to turn orange and pink above us, but no color flashed back from the depths below.
As the sun set, he announced he was ready for the return sled ride to the truck, and we reeled up our rods and packed our gear. I hooked the snow shovel into the sled shack’s rope and set him in the chair. Across the white drifts over the frozen blue surface of the small reservoir we made our way, pausing every so often to listen to the hills that began to echo with the yipping and yelping of a den of coyotes to our south, and one lonely howl of a songdog to the north. AJ’s eyes lit up and he laughed as we started our trek again and traded our own howls back and forth until we arrived at the tailgate and the end of another day…in our outdoors.
(Featured Photo: The author’s son with his first rainbow trout. Simonson Photo)