"Heck with that, when I get married and have kids I’ll be the one teaching them how to do this!” blared a comment over the chatter surrounding a glowing campfire. The gathering consisted of six college students, all members of the Northern Arizona University women’s golf team.
It was early September, and the annual ritual is something I look forward to. Every September my dad and l load the members of the team into our boats and take them trout fishing on our local river, Oregon’s McKenzie River.
My boyhood friend, Brad Bedortha, and I, grew up very near the McKenzie River. Today Brad is the women’s head golf coach at NAU, and he’s had a noteworthy career there. Every September he tries to schedule a tournament for his girl’s team in the Willamette Valley. That’s where Dad and I come in, along with my wife, Tiffany.
Cleaning their trout was just one requirement of every angler. They also had to bait their own hooks and cook fish at the end of the day.
Our fishing adventure isn’t an ordinary, guided-type trip. There are certain rules that apply, and it starts the moment we set foot in the boat. Dad and I each row a boat, and that’s the extent of our involvement.
Before shoving off from the ramp, we give the girls a rundown on all the gear we have and the different ways they can fish. If they want to drift-fish worms, cast spinners, run a diver and bait or bobber and bait, they can. They have to bait their own hooks, be it with worms, eggs, or shrimp. They have to help each other net the fish, then kill it, unhook it, bleed it, and put it in the cooler.
There are a couple of long stretches in the run we make, so each girl gets an opportunity to learn how to row a boat. These sessions are brief, as my greatest fear is having them be sore for the tournament the next day, throwing off their swings; fortunately, that’s never happened.
When everyone has their limit of five trout each, we pull over to the bank and the girls clean their own fish. This is where they learn how to clean a fish in preparation for cooking.
Amidst a setting sun, warm temperatures and leaves transitioning into their breathtaking fall colors along the river, the last half-hour of the float is for simply relaxing. Here the girls take in the beauty of the river, reminisce about the afternoon on the water, share stories, snap selfies and just have fun.
Five minutes after taking the boats out, we arrive at my home. Here, Tiffany has everything ready for the girls. An open fire is going in the fire pit in the backyard, the pellet grill is out, a gas grill is ready to go and a small barbecue is heated and prepped for cooking on. Planks, wraps, fish baskets and a number of other items related to cooking fish, are available. After brief instructions from Tiff’, the rest is up to the girls.
Most have never cooked fresh-caught fish, let alone the whole trout. They each cook a trout or two, anyway they want, and Tiffany continues to offer guidance and suggestions. The evening culminates with the girls gathered around the campfire, making smores. This is where Brad and I catch up, as he’s not allowed on the river because the girls need some time away from their coach.
Sitting back, hearing the girls talk, is the highlight of my day. They share stories of their time on the water, including what it was like baiting their own hooks for the first time, how they felt killing and cleaning their fish, and how surprised they were with the taste of the trout. Sure, golf and homework enter the conversation, but it always comes back to the day on the water.
“The girls really like golfing here in Oregon, but going fishing with you guys is what they remember most,” shared Brad as we sat on the porch, away from the girls and the fire. “Over the years, as girls come and go through the program, many comment that the highlight of their golfing memories is this road trip to Oregon, where they get to go fishing. Many of these girls have never fished, and they come away knowing how to do it all, start to finish, that’s a real confidence builder, and you all make it fun for them!” That’s what motivates Dad, Tiffany, and I.
A fun afternoon of trout fishing on the river with members of Northern Arizona University’s women’s golf team culminates with them cleaning and cooking their catch.
Trout fishing isn’t rocket science. Trout can be fished multiple ways, be it in rivers, creeks, lakes or ponds. They are easy to clean and this time of year, as water temperatures cool, are beautifully marked and excellent eating. In other words, they are the perfect species to get someone hooked on fishing.
Hearing the girls talk about how they can’t wait to take their family members or boyfriends fishing, is the ultimate compliment. Instilling memories like this is tough to beat but is eclipsed by the girls having the knowledge, confidence and desire to pass along what they learned. They want to keep fishing. They want to have others experience what they did, and that’s what the day is all about.
As summer gives way to fall, consider introducing someone to trout fishing or any form of fishing where they can go out and do it on their own and easily share the experience with others. It doesn’t have to be a youth, as there are people of all ages eager to learn how to fish.
Whether you take five people or one person fishing, the priority is the experience. After all, it’s the experience people remember, and if it’s positive, they are more likely to engage in the sport so many of us grew up doing, one we often take for granted.
- writtten by Scott Haugen