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First Fish

This may very well be where I caught my first fish.

Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I wasn’t necessarily born into a hotbed of angling. My family wasn’t a fly fishing family. However, like so many kids in middle America, my dad and grandpa did take me fishing.

And this might have been that first spot.

I have some vague memories. Sunfish. Kernels of corn from a can. Rooting through my dad’s tackle box.

That tackle box actually stands out more than the pond or the bluegill or the day. Giant, one ounce weights. Old, crusty soft plastic worms. A rusty fish scaler. But the organizational element of the compartmentalized trays with the curious arrangement of lures and tools was enthralling.

Perhaps that’s where the gear obsession began. Or the semi-diagnosable compulsion to have said gear systematized. Or fishing. But probably the former two.

In all seriousness, I do recall that day with a confident level of clarity. Again, we didn’t fish often. I can positively say that it was years in between fishing outings. That initial trip stood out though. As a kid, I would have probably said that “I go fishing.” I did catch a couple of fish, or, at the very least was present when a couple of fish were caught.

Of course there will be some children that will hate fishing. Fish, bugs, being outside: it isn’t for everybody. But for those kids who are exposed to angling and it sticks, that first moment is pivotal.

Angling was just one of the activities I had the opportunity to experience growing up. There are other scenes from childhood that were more vivid; locations with richer memories. But I’m thankful I got to spend a few minutes here. I’m thankful that I could think about this place in the context of who I’ve become as a fisherman. And, to a certain degree, in the context of who I am.

I love telling the stories of people who love fly fishing. It has been fun revisiting some parts of my own story this week. I don’t mean for it to sound all touchy-feely or even therapeutic. Going back to the places where you grew up might serve that purpose for you. And you might need it. Or, it could just be a simple: “cool, that is where I fished when I was little.”

At the very least, you can have a fuller picture of your story.

I encourage you to understand your own story. Ask your parents or grandparents. Look through old picture albums. Drive around your hometown. If you fish, take a rod to those first ponds and creeks. If you don’t have the time for that at least take a few minutes to walk, be outside, and think.

The information available on angling at Blackwell Forest Preserve in Warrenton, Illinois was minimal. Sunfish, largemouth, and catfish are present. There are some docks for accessibility. No one was out fishing in the chilly March morning air. There are manicured trails, parking lots, and the sound of the nearby state highway. It seems like any other pond in the Midwest.

I couldn’t locate with any assurance the spots where I plucked corn kernels out of a can or fiddled with an ancient Jitterbug. Much less the spot where I actually became a fisherman. But the pond seems familiar enough. Both my mom and dad confirmed that this was someplace we’d been, over 25 years ago, from time to time. So it is part of my story. No epic fights with giant bass, no 20-trout days, no wolf pack encounters. But I do remember being with my dad, and learning about this whole fishing thing for the first time.

And that is okay. It is a part of my story. If all I remember is the fish, I’m missing out on what I’m really doing out there.



  1. Being several generations removed from you and born in Chicago, I wasn’t raised a fisherman. All my memories from those years are black and white. I remember blimps flying over Lake Michigan. I remember air raid drills, I remember Miss Goodimote, my kindergarten teacher. I remember a man in a horse drawn wagon singing, Rags and Old Iron. But it wasn’t until I was grown and came back that I learned to appreciate the beauty and water that was left behind.

  2. Gary Emmert says:

    This brought back great memories. Fishing and camping were always a part of our Montana summers. Fishing with grandpa, great uncles, dad, brothers, cousins, and friends. My mom’s family had a cabin on a lake that our generation now has control and responsibility of. My fly fishing experience didn’t start on that lake as it is a warm water lake, but I fly fish it now.
    I remember the first time fly fishing a creek with dad’s Eagle Claw combo rod with an automatic reel. I still remember the exact spot I hooked my first fish on the fly with that rod. A small cutthroat.
    My brother and friends also fished a small creek for brookies. We kept our fish ,pulled pig weed, potatoes , and a few apples from the neighbors trees; slept out and cooked it over a fire. What a feast!
    Though things have changed a lot , I can still fish all of these same places and I never really appreciated what is here until I moved to Alaska for 9 years. Don’t get me wrong . Alaska has great fishing but it took me longer to get out of town than it does to get on the water now and be in total isolation.
    Now that I’m back I would have to be chained to a truck and drug to ever leave again !

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