Recently I had the opportunity to fish a trout river on a weekday. I relished the expectation of having the river largely to myself.
To my chagrin, I discovered that I had chosen the week of spring break, and thus resigned myself to deal with a crowded river.
The forecast called for light rain and cool temps in the mid forties, and that did thin the herd a bit. I found plenty of water to fish, but abandoned hopes of solitude.
Resigning myself to make the best of it, I encountered several friendly anglers. I enjoyed meeting and chatting with each whose body language or salutation indicated they were open to conversing.
I was pleased to see quite a few young (mainly early teen-aged) anglers on the river that day, enjoying their respite from school. Most were accompanied by adults. I visited with several of them as well, and enjoyed their stories of success, discovery, and frustration.
In particular though, I noticed two schools of thought from the adults who were overseeing teens.
The first I will call the “bad sports parent” model. This father hovered over his sons and badgered them with a barrage of terse corrections, each of them negative. I shared the river for five minutes with this dad. “Too much slack! That’s why you keep missing fish! SET! SET! You can’t expect to set the hook like that! No, mend the other way! You’re done, you let the current drag that drift, do it again, and do it better this time! No don’t cast across that seam you just spooked all the fish closer to you!” Never was there a single encouragement uttered, only hyper-focus on the perceived failings. His boys looked like whipped pups, shamed and resigned to not living up to dad’s expectations. I left to find friendlier waters.
Later I came upon two other boys of similar age. They were fishing within fifteen yards of one another, but clearly fishing together, chatting back and forth. The man I will call “confident content dad” was a good fifty yards downstream, tending his own water.
The boys engaged me in conversation as I walked past. I enjoyed listening to their fish stories and what flies had been working for them. They were excited, skilled and knowledgeable. We traded stories and I went on my way.
I stepped into a run below the boys and fished for over an hour. Their dad never came over to help tie on flies, untangle leaders, land a fish, or offer corrections. He was enjoying his fishing, as were the boys. It was a stark contrast to what I had observed earlier in the day with the bad sports dad.
I realize I am making some assumptions here, and perhaps this is as much for me as anyone else. I am assuming both dads really love their sons. I assume both also really love fly fishing, and want their sons to love it and be successful. I will go out on a limb and assume that these sons want the approval of their fathers dearly. So it isn’t desire, love, or intention that separates how the two dads went about coaching their sons in fly fishing. It was delivery. One pushed their knowledge on their charges, the other passed it along when it was requested.
I have been guilty of being one who has pushed (mostly my wife, sorry honey). I love my wife immensely, and I love to fly fish, and I wanted so much for her to catch her first trout with me, on a Colorado stream, on a dry fly. I pushed, corrected harshly, and ruined that day for us. Passion and patience are yin and yang.
What I learned from this experience is it was all about me…my perception of my competence as an angler and teacher. I wanted to be in control (codependent much?) and I wanted to receive praise from my wife on my great teaching skills when she had hooked and landed a nice trout. Her enjoyment would only be a byproduct of my success.
That was a few years ago, and I have been on a path since then to become a better husband, dad, friend, and coach. I have been the bad sports guy. I am working to become the confident, content guy on that continuum. I haven’t arrived, but I am on the trail.