Playing hooky for trout in Pennsylvania
In the grand scheme of life events, turning 6 might not be the epitome of all-time milestones. Try telling a 5-year-old it’s not a big deal, though, and he or she will convince you otherwise. In their little eyes, eclipsing the sixth year means they are now big kids – deserving recipients of later bedtimes, greater responsibilities and perhaps a new dinosaur toy.
That’s why, when my son Foster’s big day rolled around last month, I decided to use a half-day of personal leave in the morning to take the birthday boy fishing. Since he is an afternoon-only kindergarten student, he’d simply be missing his AM daycare session (not the actual PM instruction), so I figured this mild instance of “playing hooky” would be an excusable trade for a memorable birthday celebration in the outdoors.
Our destination was Sweet Arrow Lake. Knowing we only had a few hours to fish, we left the boat at home, and decided to simply fish from shore. Anglers had been catching good numbers of stocked trout in this location over the previous week, but recent rains had the water stained a chocolate brown from the runoff of nearby creeks, making fishing conditions a bit trickier than usual.
Upon arrival, we found the local regulars – a close-knit group of older, retired guys who fish here daily – already manning their posts. One generous man saw Foster joyfully carrying his fishing rod from the parking lot and promptly relinquished his spot.
“Here you go boys! You can fish right here if you want,” he said taking in his line. “I was just trying it for a little while. Not too many bites though.”
We thanked him for his courtesy as Foster proudly proclaimed that he had just turned 6 today. His chipper, talkative demeanor prompted a rise from the other men, who offered congratulations and encouragement, proposing he might have more luck than they had this morning.
We set up chairs and rigged our rods. The birthday boy selected the bait for each line – one each of earthworms, salmon eggs, PowerBait and canned corn. I lobbed the enticing morsels as far into the lake as I could and propped the four rods in a manner by which we could easily watch the tips for any action.
Foster lounged back in his chair, almost with a satisfied look on his face that read, “Ah, this is the life.” A neighbor’s random peacock stopped by to beg for corn, and an eagle soared gracefully overhead. The breeze blew riffles across the water’s surface as I smiled at my little fishing buddy, who happens to be growing up so quickly.
Within a few short minutes of waiting, the rod baited with earthworm began to bounce. Foster quickly sprang into action, grabbed the rod and started cranking its reel. I loosened the drag as the rainbow lunged from the water with a slap and a splash, announcing to all in attendance that the youngest angler at the lake had just hooked up.
The old men hooted and hollered as he bore down on the reel.
“That young man is doing pretty darn well over there,” I heard one murmur.
He didn’t realize Foster is already a fishing fanatic, having done this many times before. He continued to patiently work the fish and finally got it close enough for me to net it. Everyone cheered. With a hug and a high five from Dad, my boy yelled, “Hey guys, I caught one!”
“We saw that! Way to go, you little fisherman!” one man replied.
“What did you catch it on?” another inquired with a big smile.
“My hook,” Foster cleverly responded, to which everyone erupted with hearty belly laughs.
Moments later, the kid had another rainbow on the line, only this one took the salmon egg. He squealed and reeled as the trout cut and ran, bending a nice pulsing rhythm on the tip of his rod. Astonished, the men heckled and cheered as the comical dance between boy and fish ensued once more.
Upon landing this second trout, the same man who asked what Foster was using after his first catch further ribbed him.
“Oh, come on, won’t you tell us what bait you’re using over there?” he quipped.
“No way — we’re not telling you. We hit the jackpot!” Foster replied with a big toothy grin.
Again, the whole crowd cracked up, and I had to subtly remind my son to stay humble. I suppose he follows the school of thought that successful anglers never reveal their secrets. Just don’t tell him I shared his bait selection in a blog – 6-year-olds don’t enjoy spoilers.
After putting on a brief fishing clinic for the Sweet Arrow faithful, the birthday boy was eventually pried away from the water, knowing I had to get both of us back to school by lunch time. But I can think of no better way to have spent the first few hours of my son’s sixth year than by “playing hooky” with a few eager trout in nature’s own classroom.
Yes, I suppose turning six is a pretty special occasion after all.