In late April, my parents came down for what is turning into their annual pilgrimage to the South. I mean, it's three years in a row. That has to be enough to start calling it annual, right? Especially if they're already planning next year? In a change from past years, this year they decided that rather than stay in a hotel they would rent a vacation cabin in Pigeon Forge, and I would come stay with them there. That way, we could have more family time, rather than us going to do things and then me hustling them back to the hotel.
It worked out well. We sat around, read books, went shopping, cooked meals together, and also dad and I went fly fishing.
Yes. I went fishing.
And I caught the most fish.
I'm getting ahead of myself, though.
My dad decided to hire a fishing guide, something I encouraged him to do after I met one while waiting for a delayed plane on my way home from my trip to Providence last fall, and he invited me to go, too. It turns out that no one actually expected me to say yes, but my dad and I rarely do things together. This is mostly because we live 14 hours apart, and also because when I go home to visit it's usually during hunting season, when my parents spend all day in the woods and I lay on the couch reading books. Even though I dislike the water and kind of hate boats, I figured that Dad would have a good time, and if I got bored I could just take pictures of the river.
Instead, it turned out that I actually liked fishing.
Our day started early, because we had to drive all the way through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the Tennessee side to the North Carolina side. I've never made the full drive before, but I've driven most of the way, and had to argue Dad into leaving early because he wanted to believe the guide, who side the drive would only take 45 minutes. Sure it does, if you speed, but I know that people who speed go straight to a special burning seat in hell, just like people who take more than ten items into the "Ten Items or Less" line at the grocery store. I blocked us an hour and a half of driving time, which let us set a leisurely pace and chat all the way there. Dad hadn't been through that part of the park before, and it has really spectacular views through the high mountains, so he got to look out the window the whole way since I drove, and we ended up getting to Cherokee fifteen minutes early.
We were supposed to meet the guide at the Cherokee Fun Park parking lot:
which did not look at all fun. It looked kind of sad and run down, like pretty much everything in the few parts of Cherokee that we saw did.
I have to go back there with my camera and nothing to do, soon.
Anyway, the guide met up with us, and then we followed him to a parking area where we left my car and he drove us downstream, so that when we finished we would be back at my car and could drive home. I'm sure we impressed him as serious outdoorsmen, arriving in a Volkswagen Beetle with a gold star on the rear antenna.
(The star didn't have ice on it at the time. I just don't have another photo of it.)
Our guide was thrilled to find out where I worked and that I had actually spoken to some of the football coaches over the last few years, and we spent the whole first hour or so talking about the Vols. I can do that, because I've become semi fluent in sportsball discussions. During that time he also put the boat in the water:
and then put me in the boat:
There I am, friends. I'm on a boat, and I managed to go the whole day without singing, "I'm On a Boat":
Dad brought his own poles and his own flies, so it was clear that he didn't really need any attention, and the guide focused on getting me up to speed.
"Joel, your dad says you've never been fly fishing before. Do you know anything about it?"
"Yes. I've seen 'A River Runs Through It', because Brad Pitt was in that movie."
Silence on the river. And not the kind of silence that means we're all communing with nature. More of the slightly awkward kind of silence.
"Uh... but, uh, other than that, nothing. I've never done it before. I've only fished off of docks."
And so our guide started with the basics. I learned to overhead cast, and then sideways. I learned to correct my line, and how to let my fly drift. And then, eventually, I hooked my first fish. And that's when we had our only bit of trouble, other than the times that Dad and I accidentally hooked each other's poles when we both cast at the same time instead of taking turns.
See, I'm left handed. That may not seem like a big deal, and it's something Dad often forgets because I am the only left hander in my family, but it meant that the poles that the guide brought to teach me to fish on were all set for right handed people, which means that when I hooked a fish, popped my fishing pole to set the hook, and then started trying to reel it in, I turned the reel in my natural left handed direction, rather than the direction that right handed people would crank the reel in.
Which meant I was letting the line out instead of reeling in the fish.
After a rapid correction, the guide got my sinister, gauche left hand under control, and suddenly:
I caught a trout.
AND I HELD IT, ALIVE, IN MY HAND:
The guide said that you had to hold it when it was your first fish, kind of like how Jennifer Grey had to drink the blood of the first deer she killed in "Red Dawn". (My mom says that's not actually a real tradition, and that you don't have to drink the deer blood, but I remain dubious.) I wet my hands (you have to, or else your hand rubs off the slime coating that helps protect the fish from parasites and injury), held the fish, and then threw it back in the water.
And then I caught another fish:
And by the end of the day I was doing overhead casting like Brad Pitt in that movie, and I was all, "Oh, hey, another fish jumped onto my line," and I ended up catching the most fish: seven rainbow trout and one brook trout, the only brookie of the day. Dad kind of implied that he somehow caught fewer fish than I did on purpose, so that I could bask in the glow of my accomplishment, but it's not like you can shake the fish off rather than reel them in, so I think he was maybe saving face a little bit.
What's important, though, is that Dad and I spent an entire day together, and we didn't argue or squabble or get on each other's nerves. He got to introduce me to something he loves, and I loved it, too. And he emailed all of his friends, and sent out the pictures to everyone, and he was so excited to come back to the cabin and tell Mom all about it.
And that's really all I wanted to get out of the day.
But I also caught the most fish.