Like all of us, I have many hats. My fishing hat hangs on a hook close to the door for easy reach; I grab it every opportunity I can. Few hats hang closer to the door than my fishing hat, but there is one. There is a hat dearer to me than any other. It's my father's hat. That hat, my father's hat, does not hang near the door. That hat IS the door. That's the hat reserved for my vivacious, red-headed 5-year old. That precocious little me. My son.
Perhaps more often than is fair or right, I get to wear both my fishing hat and my father's hat at the same time. Those are generally good days, very good days indeed. Yesterday was such a day, and since it involved big fish and it's almost Father's Day, I thought I would share this story with you here on this board.
Normally, I take my son swimming on Wednesdays. I have watched his love of water from an early age grow and evolve into something more complex. He no longer just loves the water, he is drawn to it in fascination and delight by its very nature and by what lies beneath it. Meanwhile, I am fascinated by him while he dives down and swims along the bottom with his mask and snorkeI chasing pretend whales and sharks in this indoor cement hole we call a pool.
On Wednesdays, at the pool, I watch as my son develops the start of a life-long relationship with water. I am reminded of the rivers I have waded, the oceans I have dived in and the lakes I have floated on, most often in the pursuit of fish and the world of fish. I wonder what stories with and through water my son will live to experience and tell.
It was Wednesday yesterday, but we did not go swimming. We skipped it. It wasn't planned, but my son had mentioned wanting to go to Trophy Lake in Port Orchard. I was so excited he wanted to go fishing, but he rapidly absolved me of that notion. He explained that he wanted to go to Trophy Lake to drive golf carts. So, while I was thinking about big, surface-sipping rainbow trout weighing 6 or 7 pounds, my son was thinking of driving golf carts. Well, I figured, I can work with that, so we headed to Port Orchard and waved at the pool as we drove by it on our way to Trophy Lake.
Now, for people like me who live in Seattle, there are basically two ways to get to Port Orchard. The first way is to drive all the way through Tacoma and over the Narrows Bridge. This will burn about 4 gallons of gas out of your tank each way, cost five bucks round-trip for the bridge toll and take about an hour and fifteen minutes depending on traffic. A more relaxing route to Port Orchard from Seattle is the Vashon ferry that leaves from West Seattle next to Lincoln Park, a worthy fishing destination in and of itself. This way will burn about 2 gallon of gas each way, cost $12 round-trip for the ferry and take about an hour and fifteen minutes, with half that time spent on the ferry where you can watch for orcas, take a snooze or make your boss believe you are in the office wirelessly.
When you get off the ferry in Kitsap County, be prepared. It will take you away from the Seattle metropolis and back in time to what seems like a different era of the NW. Life on the other side of a Washington ferry always seems to run at a slower pace. As I drove off the boat yesterday, I looked at the wide expanses of trees, the big properties, the rural landscape and the waters of Puget Sound. They made me think of the Indians, the people who lived here before there were cars or roads.
My mental meanderings lead me to an idea. I tell my son that I need to run an errand before going to Trophy Lake. "What is it?", he asks. His voice tells me he is not keen." "Well, I have an eagle feather. We are going to offer it to the Indian people who live here." "Indian people live here?", he asks. I explain to him that they do. I ask him if he can guess how people got around when they lived here in these woods and on these shores before there were cars or roads. With a few clues, he guesses kayaks (close enough), horses and walking. His curiosity is piqued. He is interested. I am happy.
We stop by the Indian Cultural Center and offer them our eagle feather. My son meets a real Indian. He is feeling shy in front of her. We are invited to visit the museum, which is not really open right now. We look at the baskets, dugouts and old pictures. Outside, we spot a fox. Later, in the truck, my son asks me why the Indian lady had a mustache. I tell him that's a great question and thank you, crossing myself inside, for not asking me that question in front her. I explain to him that all women have hair on their faces, but it shows more on some. "When will we get our eagle feather back?", he asks. We are on the road. Trophy Lake is in our sights with its monster rainbows and Kamploops trout.
In case you did not know or guess this by now, Trophy Lake is on a golf course, Trophy Lake Golf & Casting, to be precise. The 18-hole course sits on a dramatic manicured property peppered and surrounded with evergreen forest and wildlife. Eagles, deer and other native species are all around. On a clear day, the views of Mount Rainier here can take the breath away.
In the truck, my son is even more impatient than me to arrive to Trophy Lake, but it's close to lunch time and I want to get him fed. I decided a while ago that I would not eat in the truck with my son, so I am keeping an eye out for a place to picnic. I see a sign for Bremerton Raceway close to our destination, so we head there. My son questions need for a detour. We arrive at a closed, but not locked gate. The gate looks like someone tried to ram it down with their car, drunk and late at night, I imagine. I open the gate, drive in, and close it behind us. We drive up to the groundskeeper or perhaps the owner. His look is not welcoming.
"You are not allowed here," he says. "I closed the gate," I tell him as he approaches the truck. "I was hoping we could have a look around." His face softens when he sees my son in the back seat. We chat and he lets us go park in the middle of the old runway that is now a drag strip.
It's easy to imagine both the approach in an airplane as well as the sound of dragsters as we sit in our folding chairs next to our truck, all alone, in the middle of this wide, mile-long scar in an evergreen carpet of second or third growth forest. The expanse of grass next to the runway and taxi strip looks unending from where we sit. The air is calm and peaceful, but not quiet. The sound of birds living in and around this giant piece of land fills our ears with song, our background music for this picnic on a race course.
The groundskeeper had told us we could drive around as long as we did not hit any cones, so I took a couple runs on the quarter mile strip with my son announcing "the race" as we barreled down the old runway. It was more exciting than I had imagined when we hit 80 MPH. Unfortunately, the groundskeeper's face was inclined more towards a grimace again when he caught up to us to clarify that we could drive around at 10 MPH. "Oops, sorry about that", I told him as we headed out. I felt bad, as if I had taken advantage of this man's goodwill towards my son and me. I guess the thought of hitting a cone at 10 MPH had never occurred to me.
With our bellies satisfied, we finally were on our final stretch to Trophy Lake, a short hop down the road. As we get out of the truck, I admire the golfers as they gather, laugh, and give each other shit or praise for their game. Golf seems so opposite of fishing, but here at Trophy Lake golfers and fishermen co-exist in mutual admiration and respect.
In the pro shop, I pay $15 for an hour of fishing, which includes golf cart. My son wants to know what number cart we will have. He says 12, 24 and 45 are his favorite numbers and hopes he will get one of these. The only cart on the line was 19. "That's close to 12", he tells me. My hear is full of love for this boy as we get in our cart.
It only takes a few minutes to reach the two spring-fed fishing ponds at Trophy Lake, but we take the long way so that my little dude can "drive". We drive in partnership with me steering and him controlling the pedals. I am reminded of my crazy driving instructor from years back. We pass waterfalls, streams, sand traps and beautiful green lawns carpeting the small hills and valleys.
We arrive at the pond to behold what I can only describe as a spectacle of semi man-made nature. Mayflies are hatching visibly. We can see a dozen trout showing themselves as distinct dimples or splashes on the water. A flock of sparrows is making dive-bomb runs over the small body of water, splashing their bellies on the surface. I have seen sparrows do this elsewhere. It's hard to believe from watching them that they can catch insects this way, but this is what appears to be happening.
I string up my fly rod and start making a few casts. My son gets antsy quickly. "Go play a game on your iPod and I will call you when I have a fish", I tell him. We had agreed to this plan on the way over. He loves to catch fish, but he is still too young for the parts in between. He likes me to hook them, which is my favorite part, so the arrangement is well-suited for us both.
I pull my rod from the cart and begin tying on a small mayfly. My hand is trembling at the sight of the concerted feeding ballet before me. I make a cast and let the fly float there. Nothing. I cast again. I can see the fish swimming up to the fly and turning back to the bottom at the last moment. I am not dissuaded. A few seconds pass. A swirl, a head right next to my fly. I see the trout's head. Its mouth is open and he rises a few inches above the water and then violently dives down right on top of my fly. I raise my rod with excitement. He is big. My 3-weight bends down and the slack line in my hand goes tight. I feed out all my extra line and my reel starts to scream. He is headed for the middle of the lake, to the deepest part.
I yell out to my son. Fish on. He runs down to me wearing his socks and I give him the 7 1/2 foot rod, which towers above him. His tendency is to drop the rod. "Keep your tip up", I tell him. He understands from his iPod fishing game that too much tension in the line will cause it to break. I know that's especially true with such a light setup and such a big fish. I help him only as much as he needs to tire the fish and bring him in.
We can see the fish in the clear, spring water. I tell my son to lift the tip of the rod and walk backwards. I pull in the fish. It's a bright, 28-inch Kamploops trout, strong and healthy. My son is radiating from his every cell, his face reflects focus, exhilaration and pride. I feel like his being at this moment in time, in the act of catching this fish, is primal in nature, a moment connecting us to the Indians once again. Yesterday, at Trophy Lake, I felt like I saw my son grow and his relationship with water get set just a little bit more.
Epilogue: The hatch at Trophy Lake lasted all afternoon. We caught 7 or 8 rainbow and Kamloops trout in the manner described above, all on the surface. The fish ranged from 18 to 28 inches. Trophy Lake charges $15 per hour to fish. Families are welcome, but some fishing experience is required to ensure fish are released unharmed. The people at Trophy Lake are friendly and the whole operation is first-rate. Peninsula Outfitters organizes fly-fishing lessons and seminars there.
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