Steelhead season is going down the tubes. Six weeks into what will become the wettest winter in memory, the rivers are over their banks and gouging new channels with explosive fury. I have just cancelled yet another fishing trip. Like last week’s much-anticipated trip to the Olympic Peninsula, and countless other days on my local rivers, this one is toast.
My three-year-old daughter and I had planned to go steelhead fishing together for the first time today. But instead, we sit by the woodstove reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the thousandth time and listen to the rain lashing against our house.
I am going insane.
A slight break in the weather. Not enough to bring the rivers into shape, but enough to send us out of the house and into a light but steady drizzle. We’ll put on our rain gear and venture into the woods. It’s not a fishing trip, but at least Skyla and I are going outside together.
Skyla dashes up the trail, splashing mud and sliding through a carpet of downed foliage. She kneels to examine the difference between maple and alder leaves. She throws fir cones into dripping ferns. She clambers up onto a fallen cedar log and careens down its length yelling, “It’s a big tree slide!”
At the edge of a steep ravine, we can see that the normally dry bottom now contains a tiny creek brought to temporary life by weeks of torrential rain.
“Daddy,” she says, “let’s go down there.”
“Nah,” I say with visions of us sliding down the precipitous hillside and the grueling slog back up. “It’s too steep, and besides, what do you want to go down there for?”
“To go fishing in the stream!” she says.
I tell her we don’t have fishing rods and there aren’t any fish in there anyway. I tell her it’s starting to rain harder and we should head home. I tell her we’ll get muddy and wet.
Predictably, we scramble and skid down anyway. At stream level, we discover a perfect little river winding through a gravelly bed of miniature riffles, runs and pools. Skyla hands me a bent willow stick and finds one for herself. “Here’s your fly rod, Dad, and here’s mine.”
She crouches at water’s edge, and with intense concentration, swishes the stick through the small pool. At last, a current-born maple leaf folds itself around her stick, and she lifts it triumphantly for my inspection, shouting, “Fish on! I got one!”
We measure it. We admire it. We discuss it. Ultimately, we decide to release it.
“Daddy,” she says, “now it’s your turn to fish.” We alternate for nearly an hour, landing dozens of leaves, deciding where the best spots are, naming the pools. We laugh and high-five. We forget to eat the lunch in our pack.
“Dad?” she says, folding her icy fingers into my hand, “I’m having a lot of fun fishing with you.”
And suddenly, it occurs to me this may be one of the best fishing trips of my life.