By Nick Simonson
The pop-up clouds bubbled on the western horizon, fueled by the hot southern winds that brought the first real sensation of summer to the region. With the truck’s digital thermometer bouncing between 88 and 90, I hooked up the puddle jumper and turned extra-wide through the pre-rush traffic to grab my boys from daycare and haul them and the aluminum craft into the warm evening west of town and toward the small trout lake just over the first break in the hills.
As we pulled into the dusty lot of the boat launch, a few large drops of rain pecked at the dirty windshield marred by the splatters of countless bugs that met their end on the glass over the previous week’s worth of driving around the region in search of fish of all stripes. While a vacation from my recent vacation was in order and some adulting needed to be done, I felt it was important that I get my boys out on the last of a fast bite before the stocked salmonids slid their way to the depths of the small lake in order to hide from the oncoming heat of summer. The precipitation tapered as the small grey-bottom cloud moved its way to the east and I backed the boat down the cement ramp and tied it off to the metal dock, fully loaded for at least an hour or two of fishing – depending on the kids’ attention spans.
With the last click of the connectors on the life jackets, my oldest boy, AJ, stomped hard on the trolling motor pedal and we were off from the launch, winding through the shallows of the dammed creek and out into the main basin of the forty-acre lake. The wind blew against us as he zig-zagged our craft along, correcting each over-correction with another one until, with a little assistance, we found a happy middle point and headed toward the steep banks that I hoped would hold some fish in the quick transition between the shallows and the thirty-foot basin of the impoundment.
As I lowered the anchor, a shadow crept over from the towering bank our boat paralleled, and I looked up to see the grey bottom of a cloud which blocked the sun. The deep water reflected the sudden darkness in the sky, and the cloud let loose a shower that rattled against the metal trim of the boat and thunked hard against the back of my life jacket. I corralled both boys in front of me, stood tall and arched my upper back and shoulders as the raindrops turned the surface of the lake into a dancing white froth for a five-minute stretch. While my youngest, Jackson, let his disapproval at the conditions be known with all the frequency and volume of a three-year-old, AJ laughed and turned his face to the sky, sticking his tongue out to collect as many drops as he could before the cloud moved off and the sky cleared again. Ending my duties as a makeshift weather shield, I looked down to see that I cast just enough coverage to leave a three-foot swath of dry carpet in the small craft where the boys had avoided most of the rain. I figured that fell into the “other duties as assigned” in the job description of fatherhood.
Turning back to the regularly assigned tasks of the job, I baited two jigs under orange and yellow slipfloats and cast them out for the boys. The rods remained in their hands for about seven seconds, which was all the time it took to discover the half-full box of nightcrawlers on the floor of the boat. They eagerly played with them, stretching and racing the brown worms as I flung a small red spinner toward shore and missed a couple of quick hits by the post-squall trout patrolling the area. Watching my line on a retrieve, I saw AJ’s bobber disappear and I quickly handed the red-and-blue Spiderman combo to him and after a fast fight, he hoisted a small, stocked rainbow into the boat with ease.
Another fish followed a few minutes later on Jackson’s rod, but after a few cranks, he passed the duties on to his older brother and a stockier fish came up. AJ asked if he could land it, and I took the rod while he scooped the fish up in the soft black mesh of the net with a laugh. Both boys returned to their worm races as I cast after the fish that seemed to revel in the quick cooldown brought on by the passing clouds and shot of rain.
The joy of fishing with kids can’t be understated, especially when monitoring their equipment for them in those times in between casting, reeling and watching a bobber settling in. As I glanced over for the yellow top and orange top of their assigned slipfloats, I struggled to find the latter and followed the tightening monofilament back to the boat to see AJ’s rod jump with the surge of a running fish. As I handed him the rod, I took note of weight at the end of the line and heard the protesting half-grind, half-wail of the spincast reel as the drag mechanism engaged, releasing more mono to the run of the fish.
He made no progress on the retrieve of the surging opponent, and I cautiously helped him turn the dial on the base of the kiddie combination that was bent in about as big of an arc as a three-foot pole can be. Bit by bit, the fish came closer to the boat, but remained deep below us. Finally, I saw a flash magnified by the volume of water between the transom and the fish and I gulped hard, and tried not to startle my son with the size of the large holdover rainbow that had found his offering amidst the hungry masses of this year’s stocked fish. While below us, it looked like it could have been 25 inches, I knew it would still be the biggest I had seen in the little lake, and certainly AJ’s largest fish of any kind thus far. As it came up through the column, taxing every turn of AJ’s reel, it didn’t shrink much, even when it breached the surface and ran around the net three or four times, attempting to shake the jig stuck in the corner of its mouth before a pass provided an ideal moment to finally corral the trout. At 21 inches, it was the largest small-lake rainbow I had seen in more than a decade.
With a bear hug, AJ held the trout for a quick photo before releasing it back into the lake with a splash. The three of us watched the trout sit dazed on the surface for a moment before the quick flip of its tail sent a spray of water into our faces and the fish zipping into the depths of the lake and our memories. The trout made our three-man crew content with the hour or so on the water, so I pulled the anchor and the boys took turns hitting either side of the trolling motor pedal with their hands until we arrived at the metal dock, bringing to a close an exciting evening of rain and rainbows…in our outdoors.