They say when you guide fishing trips you get all kinds. They also say that you learn something new with every day on the water. I can’t tell you the name of the creek or the eight high school boys involved, but I can tell you that both of those axioms were underlined for me over the past week as I attempted to teach fly fishing on a trout stream in southern Virginia. So I feel it is my duty to relay the lessons I’ve learned to you, should you, sometime in the future, concoct an unnatural desire to maroon yourself from outside resources with a gang of pubescent males.
First, friends together are astronomically more destructive and outrageous than friends apart. Make half of those friends brothers of the other half, and the difference is increased exponentially. Apart they take an interest in fishing, and fade with time in the running water of the creek and the almost-there rhythm of a false cast. Together, group think rules, buttocks brandings occur while dosed up on sobriety and the counter-intuitive need to establish clout at two o’ clock in the morning, and the thought of fishing dies like epidermis on hot metal.
I should mention that, though it may at first seem like a dominant move, having your butt branded is in fact quite submissive, especially if the burn bears a striking resemblance to male genitalia in the cold light of day. Also, most brandings can probably be classified as first- or light second-degree burns—not an emergency that requires evacuation, but an injury that will ruin many activities for the following several days. If you were asking my advice, should you develop an unshakeable desire to get branded on skin you use frequently, attempt to wait till the end of the trip. It’s more comfortable.
Second, Ramen Noodles are better than lasagna. That’s not my personal opinion, but one crowdsourced from a group of study participants recently exposed to the 18-cent meal packs. However, if you live on Ramen, Coca-Cola, freeze pops, chips, donuts, and Pop-Tarts for four days, nothing is good, and the world is pain. That’s my personal opinion. They’re “fine.”
Third, eight kids is probably enough, particularly considering the overpopulation of the Earth. However, if you should have eight boys of roughly the same age, and regularly confine them to the same space, you might be doing the overpopulation issue a favor, but it will, more than likely, subtract drastically from the length of your own life. But no kid is bad, just excited, or a maker of poor decisions.
Fourth, when you and another 22 year-old are tasked with teaching eight high school boys, you earn their respect by being familiar with faddish 20-year-old rappers and laughing at out-of-touch sex jokes. When that’s not possible and they place unopened Coca-Cola cans in the fire and nearly cause a forest fire, your only move is to dish out clever burns harder than they can, hide the rest of the coke, and make them beg. You are the adults, after all.
Fifth, if you hook a 20-inch fish on a light line, your first move should be to get downstream of the fish with a net to use the force of the current against the fish and tire it out. If you hook a 20-inch fish on a light line from the bank of a creek while six of eight boys uninterested in fishing bounce around you flailing fly rods and line, screaming, and blasting bass from stereos, your first move should be to try to hand the fight off to one of them. When they refuse, and the other two stumble through the creek chasing the fish with two nets, your best bet is probably to stay put and become ok with losing the fish. It’s the experience that counts, anyway.
Similarly, and finally, the harder one works for a fish, the more glorious the catch. Trophies are relative. Every fish is worth celebrating. Even the ones that get away, are broken off, or missed entirely. Especially those. And when a kid that doesn’t get to fish often makes all the right moves and lands a good fish, you party till the cows come home. It’s a fine moment.
*Originally published in The Rural Virginian