Big Bows… and Slobbering Lake Monsters
By Nelli Williams
Oh, how, I hope he loves this.
The rain-laden wind whipped my face. My hands, gripping a steaming mug of tea were ice. My three-year old, with his face buried in my chest, giggled with uncontrollable glee as my husband sped the boat around a bend toward the lake.
It was before dawn on day four of a five-day do-it-yourself fishing trip in the Bristol Bay region. We had pulled Mason out of bed (slightly bribed by a Spiderman glow stick), rolled him into his rain gear, and hopped in the boat to try to be the first to a nice run that had been fruitful the day before.
Waking a sleeping child is a game of roulette most parents know well. It’s a roll of the dice. We could have easily had a crying cranky kiddo on our hands, but instead, he was giggling. I took a sip and enjoyed the moment.
We reached the seam. And, after getting a snack, searching for and finding the prized stick left in the boat from yesterday, and retrieving the glow stick from a quick swim, both my husband and I had lines in the water. We celebrated the small victory. As my indicator drifted, I off-handedly mentioned the legendary lake monster I had learned of earlier this summer from some local kids, thinking that he would be occupied with quietly trying to spot him in the rocking waves while I could concentrate on my not-yet-easyto-come-by-dead-drift. Rookie move.
“Momma, what color is the lake monster?”
“Orange,” I said without hesitation, I’d played this game before and hoped the idea of an orange (his favorite color) lake monster would satiate his curiosity for a while. Wrong again.
“If he was black he’d be hard to see.”
“Yep, he really would,” as the sun started to lighten the clouds and I finally had a nice line placement.
“Daddy, does he slobber?”
A moment spent contemplating the orange sea monster with purple slobber. I made another cast. A gust of wind. Great, the split shot wrapped around my strike indicator.
“How many teeth does he have?”
“At least 20,” I muttered with line in my mouth dealing with the tangle and another hand frantically searching for those M&M’s I’d stashed in my pack, never mind that the sun hadn’t risen yet.
“Where is he? I don’t see him!”
“You might not see him, he lives under water.”
“Will he eat us?”
“Not likely. Look, Daddy has a fish on! “
“Mommy, do you think the boat will be crunchy?”
“Likely, do you want to touch daddy’s fish?”
“I sure do!”
Whew, lake monster at bay, a happy, if question-filled, toddler, and the first fish brought to the boat and released—a fairly smooth start to another good day on the river.
My husband and I had gotten a few raised eyebrows dragging our toddler on a five day fishing trip to remote southwest Alaska. Even though he was the seasoned co-captain of our drift boat for weekend outings, we knew five consecutive days in a boat would be a challenge. In the end we had gone with our gut, kept our fingers crossed and threw rules about no chocolate before lunch out the window.
Watching our son race back and forth with joy from one end of the boat to the other to hang over the side of the boat to see the fish before we released them, playing astronauts on gravel bar “rocket ships,” and hearing him giggle with uncontainable joy as he helped dad drive the boat erased any second of our doubts.
We fished fewer hours, likely caught less fish, had to keep the foul language to a minimum when the big one got away, couldn’t carry on an adult conversation for more than 30 seconds (except when the little guy was passed out in the pack during naptime), and were completely exhausted by the end of each day.
But it was worth it right?
It has to be worth it I kept telling myself, and through moments of question, deep down I knew it was.
Fishing trips are now much less about the fishing, less about slowing down and finding peace on a river. Now they are about snacks and giggles and chaos when you manage to hook a fish and ensure that your kiddo and rod all stay in the boat. But most of all its about doing all that we can to show our son the wonders of a river, and the gifts of wild places.
Toward the end of the day, Mason reeled in a tiny rainbow trout nearly all on his own. We helped him unhook it and he gripped it, as gently as any excited just-turned-3-year-old can. His eyes were brimming with sparkle. After admiring it a few seconds, he wound up with his best overhand throw, and tossed it back into the river.
I hope in 20 years, he is on a river, soaked to the bone and rain whipping his face, with a sparkle from a five-inch trout still alive and well in his soul. I know he very well he might decide he doesn’t like fishing, and live far away from Bristol Bay’s wild rivers. But between now and then I am going to do everything I can to nurture that sparkle into enough of a flame to keep him coming back to the river for more. We’ll see if it takes.
Oh, how I hope he loves this.