Wade Robertson

The opening day of New York’s trout season was nasty, indeed, but despite the freezing weather a few stalwart fishermen braved the 20 degree temperatures. Here, Gunner Ling displays a beautiful 2.5-pound brown trout he caught on a salted minnow and 4-pound test line. He was a proud little boy.

You may have read a recent article of mine detailing some of the more extreme weather conditions the New York trout opener has been subjected to.

Anything from hot, dry, drought-like August weather or, on the other end of the scale, freezing cold, snowy weather, more like January than April. Anything is possible this time of year, it appears.

I was somewhat dismayed on Wednesday when the weatherman predicted dire weather for the opening of trout season the following morning. I was astonished to hear our rather balmy meteorological conditions were to deteriorate overnight. Oh, no, not again. But the forecast called for up to six inches of snow, temperatures in the 20s and high winds. Are you kidding me? Cut us a break, for crying out loud.

Weather forecasters love to predict the very worst possible scenarios on the nightly news, it seems. If the weather turns out better than the forecast, everyone is thrilled. If the weather is worse, a lynching or public stoning is possible. So, they paint the worst possible picture just to be on the safe side. People making plans based on the weather forecast are oftentimes an unforgiving audience.

Alan Huff was riding with me at the time of the radio broadcast and was unimpressed. Alan, it appears, has for years watched front movements and he believed that though the weather forecasters were often right on, this time they were overly pessimistic and the worst weather would actually be further to the south. He thought we might get an inch of snow at the most and expected the higher winds to be well south of us as well until later in the day.

Well, I certainly hoped he was right. Anyway, I’ve fished on the first day of trout season no matter the weather since the ark came to rest on Mt. Ararat and Noah and I hit the streams. And I was fishing no matter the weather this year; it’s tradition.

When the alarm went off at 6 a.m., my body sensed it was nasty outside and seemed determined to stay in bed, but I dragged my

reluctant carcass from the covers and dressed warmly. Dave and I looked outside and were thrilled it hadn’t snowed at all. The thermometer hovered at a very chilling 28 degrees and the flag whipped in the breeze, but thank goodness, Alan had been correct, the weather could have been worse.

Today, we were taking Dave’s son, little Gunner, along, and his mother, Kelly, had risen and was making sure he was dressed properly. Gunner never seems to stop smiling and as his Mom pulled, snapped and tucked him into his warmest clothes that smile never stopped.

It was barely light enough to see, the far horizon a faint, washed out yellow against the black hills, when we climbed into the truck. At the last second I pulled a double thick stocking cap over my lined hat with the big ear flaps. It promised to be chilly, indeed.

When we reached the stream Dave Sr. was already waiting, in his warm truck of course. There were few fishermen in sight. A small group huddled around a warm wood fire laughing, joking and trying to keep their hands warm. After a few minutes it was light enough to see your line clearly and I couldn’t stand it anymore, jumping out and grabbing my pole.

I had so many clothes on I could hardly wiggle into my fishing vest; Dave Jr. had to help get it on. Then, we walked to the creek and began.

It was several minutes before the light increased enough for the fish to hit and every five casts or so your line would freeze to your tip. Gunner, grinning as always, was struggling to hold the pole, watch his line, distinguish a hit and set the hook. After all, he was only five, but he was determined to master all the data and advice being heaped upon him and train his body to react accordingly. Luckily, the trout were cooperating and he soon landed a couple small browns. Dave Jr. decided to try a salted minnow and cast it out, handing the pole to Gunner. Suddenly the line shot out, the pole buckled and almost was pulled from Gunner’s grasp. Then the fish was gone along with the minnow. Gunner’s mouth flew open in surprise and we all glanced at each other. That had been a nice trout and we were all talking excitedly. Dave threaded on another minnow, cast and handed the pole to little Gunner.

He held the pole up and watched the tip intently. Again, it was jerked violently down and he struggled to hold onto the pole. All three of us were shouting advice, but I don’t know how much Gunner absorbed, he was much too busy just holding on and hoping not to slide down the steep bank.

It was bedlam.

Gunner was desperately holding on, trying to keep the tip up and reel at the same time while we shouted advice to each other and Gunner. The battle dragged on and several times I thought the trout would pull the pole from those small hands, but at last the trout was close to the bank. I slid down and readied the net.

Gunner’s eyes were as big as saucers as he stared at the brown close up and he forgot to keep reeling. Both Daves quickly encouraged him to do so and at last I was able to slip the meshes under a beautiful 2.5-pound brown.

Gunner was speechless, he just stared and stared, that grin wider than ever. I fumbled for my camera and the poor kid had to undergo another barrage of instruction on how to hold the fish properly.

As the morning progressed Gunner caught several other nice trout, but he kept wandering back to stare at his big one. He was a very proud fisherman no matter what the temperature and how cold his hands were.

I stopped for a moment to appreciate the situation. Four generations of us stood there, reveling in the magic generated by fishing. Dave Sr. was only 16 when I first taught him; he’s a granddad now. Dave Jr. was no bigger than little Gunner, shamelessly borrowing hook after hook from me as we walked the streams, and now little Gunner was standing there thrilled with his trout and his inclusion with the adults. I was deeply moved and a little tear trickled down my cheek.

Heaven must be built on moments exactly like this.

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