Learning to Fish

This season is my first at fly fishing. I’m learning many things...such as how to cast, how to place the fly where I want it, and how to make a drag-free presentation. How to not get my fly caught on the nearest tree. How to catch a wild, spooky trout on a fly, and how to release it unharmed.

So, when we spotted the mother and cub bears fishing along the far bank of the Merced River, I could relate. If fly fishing is tough, then paw fishing must be worse. The blondish mama was poking along in the shallows, while the jet-black cub hopped playfully from rock to rock and watched her as she worked the shallows. We pulled over and observed from our truck. No need to get out, slam doors and disturb the bears as they fished. Fishing lessons are an important and special part of growing up, and we didn’t want to spoil the moment.

Inevitably, we were spotted by passing tourists and a crowd began to gather. Directly in front of us, a minivan disgorged a family of four in bright white clean shorts. They could have been part of a Tide commercial, their colors were so bright, their whites so white. Dad was armed with the obligatory video cam. I was immediately reminded of a similar scene I had witnessed in Colorado: a family of six eagerly filming a huge rutting bull elk as his harem of cows crossed the road in front of us. The bull was practically faoming at the mouth. Mr. Moron Tourist had his kids with him, outside the vehicle. Idiots. Luckily, there was no attack...that time.

This time, Papa Tourist plunged noisily over the embankment and down into the trees beside the river bank, eager in his quest to get a better video of the cute bears. Meanwhile, the commotion attracted Mama Bear, who immediately crossed over to our side of the river, curious cub in tow. Papa Tourist filmed. Bears approached. Soon our tourist had no hope of escape if she decided to charge. We shouted warnings.

Papa Tourist retreated, clumsily pulling himself up the steep embankment through a scatchy-looking thicket. We chuckled to ourselves. Knowing how to avoid (and clean up after) poison oak is in the same category as knowing how to avoid dangerous wildlife. Tourist karma would be making Papa Tourist itchy and uncomfortable for a good three weeks.

Enjoying nature is about more than just avoiding danger. It’s about making a small footprint: walking softly, giving plenty of space to the wildlife, and not altering its behavior by our arrogance. Let’s share the woods. Learning to fish requires concentration and practice...whether it's fly fishing or paw fishing.

Text and images 2001 by Stuart Helmintoller @Streamside.

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