BOISE, Idaho — I’m not sure I want kids. I mean, I love kids, and I really enjoy the opportunity to teach them for a living, but I’m not sure I have the desire to sacrifice everything it takes to be a father.
That said, I love being the fun uncle. I really do. The chance to sit down and play whatever games a kid has cooked up in their imagination renews my spirit and gives me a new lease on life. I can laugh and cry and immerse myself in the moment fully, as kids just sort of have that power to make you drop everything and join their world. I’m just there as the potholder to make sure they can handle whatever they’ve cooked up without getting burned.
On occasion, imagination needs something to guide it, and few things can capture a child’s imagination quite like fishing.
Though I have a ton of blood relatives, my family is larger still.
My brother Gabe married Rylee Salutregui, and I immediately hit it off with her family. So when I had the chance to pass through Boise on my way east for this summer’s road trip, her parents, J.B. and Aleisa, offered to let me stay.
The Salutreguis are insanely generous people, and they fed me dinner, contributed to my trip in numerous ways and then planned a fishing trip to a private farm pond while I was there. I was picturing a stagnant little pond choked with weeds, when we pulled up to a gorgeous, spring-fed pond several acres in size and full of structure, I was stunned.
J.B., his oldest son, Jace, and Jace’s son, Jex (7), let me tag along to this hidden gem they’d long had access to but rarely fished. We walked up and immediately saw bluegills suspended above the weeds, so we put on small jigs, baited them with a piece of worm and let Jex set to work showing us how to catch the tenacious little guys. Bluegills — especially big bluegills — never disappoint, and we got more 10-inch class bluegills than we could count before Jace and J.B. started talking about the bass that we could clearly see through 10- or 15-foot deep, crystal-clear water.
Though we tried to convince him, Jex wouldn’t pose with his first few fish in hand, so we held them. He smiled wide as we snapped a few pictures.
In between catching bluegills, taking pictures and sharing stories, I ran over to put on a Whopper Plopper (an easy-to-fish topwater lure) to catch some bass. Instead, I caught myself. One hook buried itself up to the shank in my thumb when I tried to hurry back to the crew and caught my lure on the lip of the tailgate. I shielded young Jex from the violence as I braced myself and pulled out the barbed point with pliers. It wasn’t great, but it didn’t hit bones or tendons, so I counted myself lucky as we tried to figure out the bass with the limited bass arsenal we had.
When J.B. and Jace doubled up on bluegills and mentioned that bass were following them in, it hit me: This was private water.
Once you hit the Rockies, virtually every state allows the use of live bait, but the little slice of heaven we call the West Coast typically doesn’t in public waters. But this was private water, completely disconnected from any public waterway and stocked by the landowner. In private ponds not administered by state agencies, anything goes.
With one rod, I put on a micro rig and caught a tiny bluegill. On another rod, I tied a 1/0 circle hook to my leader with no weight or swivels, hooked the half dollar-sized bluegill and tossed it out. Almost immediately I watched a bass come up from the depths and devour it. It came about with my bait and an education as the hook popped free, but by then, everyone had seen the scene unfold and was hooked much better than my bass had been.
We took turns catching tiny bluegills and soaking live baits until everyone had caught a few respectable bass. Watching Jex battle the fish on a full-sized rod was a treat, and he quickly got the hang of it.
By the end of the night, Jex was holding fish like a pro, thumb in the mouth with another hand supporting the weight of the fish. Seeing him repeatedly think about whether or not the fish would bite him through several feints and ultimately overcoming his fear made me smile.
His confidence grew, too. Though we’d been hooking up fish and letting Jex fight them earlier in the evening, by the time Jace and I packed up the gear, we heard J.B. call us over. Jex had hooked a bass all on his own, fought it to shore and posed for a picture with his dad and grandpa. Then, he triumphantly walked over to the water and let it go.
I don't know — maybe I see the appeal of fatherhood. ...