Youth Essay Contest Winner
Spencer Belson, Andover, Mass., Ninth grade
No right-minded fly angler would consider where I live a trout fishing mecca. I’ve often dreamt of leisurely getting out of bed and arriving at a legendary river before the crowds swarm the popular pools, but I’ll have to keep dreaming. Sure, my suburban town north of Boston is within driving distance of some of Maine’s storied brook trout and salmon waters, but even then many of the prime spots are behind private gates.
I don’t blame my parents for settling down in this area; after all, they had no way of knowing I would develop the deep passion for fly fishing I have today. Neither of my parents ever seriously fished, save for a few times with family.
Despite my parents not knowing that I’d love fishing in the future, I’m lucky enough that they enjoy the outdoors. Our house is just a 2 minute walk from one of Massachusetts’ larger state forests, Harold Parker. It is an expansive swath of woods and wetlands and features seven ponds for anglers, paddlers, and swimmers to explore. Growing up in an area without many outstanding freshwater fishing options, this park has fostered my love for the sport.
At first, I used conventional gear, casting to the warmwater species that inhabit the numerous ponds. For years, I was content developing my skills as a spin angler. I became a master of the park’s ponds, scrutinizing other anglers intently to see if they were fishing the right lures or in the most productive spots. That was until one day, when I was surprised to spot someone fishing out of a kayak using a method I had seldom seen locally. He had a long pole in one hand and thick, neon green line in the other. Suddenly, he lifted the rod powerfully and the line shot back behind him. Then, the line catapulted forward and dropped to the water as gracefully as a dandelion puff settling on a glassy lake. Within seconds, he lifted the rod again, but this time his line was tight, and a bass shot out of the water 40 feet from his kayak. I stood mesmerized, unsure if I was watching art or fishing. I had been aware of fly fishing for a while, but always thought of it as an aristocrat’s sport of catching salmonids in pristine waters. Never had it occurred to me that the same method could be used in the ponds right in my backyard!
When I received a fly rod for Christmas that year, I knew exactly where I’d be trying it first – Harold Parker. The next summer, I spent many days hiking to the dam on one of the ponds and attempting to learn how to use the foreign fishing tool. Despite countless tangles, many lost flies, and very few fish to show for my efforts, I knew I had found a hobby I will continue for a lifetime.
Soon I became obsessed with fitting as much fly fishing into my already crammed schedule as possible. Without warning, this became easy as COVID-19 caused my schedule to become wide open. My meager 3 hour virtual school day was consistently followed by a much longer fishing outing, during which I arguably learned more than I had during my mind-numbing time online. The forest became my classroom, its flora and fauna my teachers. My schoolmates, namely the great blue heron, Canada geese, whitetail deer, and others, all welcomed me as I left the monotonous life of a student behind and entered their world.
During the days of remote learning, I woke up early each morning to run in the park while my other friends were still sound asleep. Throughout the school day, they griped of boredom and grogginess. The energy I got for the day came from the forest, awakening me like a splash of cold spring water. My morning jaunts only seemed to enliven me, and while I watched my friends succumb to addictive video games to fill their time alone, I could only think about how lucky I am to live where I do. Although I may have taken it for granted in my early angling career, the park offers something not even a technical tailwater could: a place of solitude where one can enjoy the simplest aspects of angling without the stresses and crowds of modern life.
Today I teach children to fish in the very pond where I learned not long ago. Sure, I enjoy seeing the smiles on their faces when they reel in their first fish, but the true reward is knowing that in a priceless public space, they’re developing a passion for the outdoors that could last a lifetime.