Emilee is 15. She's cautious and skeptical. Thoughtful and meticulous (when she wants to be, her mother tells me).
A couple months ago, I noticed her making some intricate "friendship bracelets" with lengths of craft yarn--the attention to detail was obvious. I immediately envisioned her sitting behind a tying vise doing my bidding--crafting those size 20 tricos that man-hands just can't tie very well. So I introduced her to my fly tying materials in hopes of acquiring a devoted minion.
She sat down at the vise, and she disappeared into the experential aspect of the craft. She dug through my poorly organized materials and pulled out the predictable pink and white maribou and fluffy stretches of chenille. She called up a couple of fly recipes on her iPad and started tying.
Thread broke. She pricked her finger on streamer hooks a few times. She made mistakes... but then corrected them. A while later, she brought me her first creation--a pink and white Woolly Bugger with an exagerated tail and a tight wind of grizzly hackle. It was ... beautiful.
"That'll catch fish," I said confidently. I immediately envisioned an Admiralty Island salmon stream in July--choked with pink salmon and a few wily Dollies. This fly, stripped quickly through the stream would certainly catch a fish's eye, and it would no doubt entice a chase and a strike. I held the fly up to the light. "Yeah... that'll catch fish, for sure."
Emilee beamed. She lifted the fly out of my hands and literally skipped back to the vise where she tied another fly. And another.
Until two weeks ago, Emilee had never touched a fly rod. I put a long, supple tenkara rod in her hands on eastern Idaho's Birch Creek--a bottom-country sinks stream that flows out of the Beaverheads and disappears into the grit of the Big Desert--and let her swing flies with it. While she didn't hook up, I managed to hook a couple of small rainbows and give her the rod, in hopes that the tug would prove addictive.
I think it did, although she's pretty good at keeping a straight face. It didn't take her long to start pointing out where the trout might lie in the snow-bolstered stream. She turned up her nose in disgust at the litter left behind by thoughtless campers and she was clearly disgusted at the sight of an entire bag of trash deposited into a fire pit and left to burn and eventually fester.
But I wasn't sure I had her until she grabbed the tenkara and wandered off by herself to fish. I kept one eye on her, watching her swing a fat 'bugger into the current. She worked the fly through those likely runs and, while the fish didn't cooperate, I could see her skills evolve by the minute. I could see her applying that healthy curiousity as she became a bit more brazen with the supple rod. I could see her really trying.
Emilee didn't catch any fish on her own, and I bet she lost half a dozen flies that day on Birch Creek. But I'll never forget the hint of a smile on her face I noticed as she wandered back to the car after an afternoon spent fishing.
I've kept my fly tying vise out in anticipation of Emilee's next visit (who needs a dining room table, right?). I won't push her--I don't think I'll have to. I think she's hooked.
Even if she doesn't know it yet.