Lenny Harris was a family man with five
daughters and one son. He loved the outdoors
and though his daughters showed no interest
in learning the ways of a woodsman, Lenny was
blessed with an anxious pupil in his son, "Len jr."
Junior began his training at an early age, his
father taking the time to bring him squirrel and
pheasant hunting, northern fishing, long trips in
the small rowboat to check bankpoles, and along on
dad's favorite outdoor pastime, trout fishing.
Following his father up the streams like a caddy,
junior toted whichever rod dad wasn't using, be it
the "new fangled spinning rod" or the old bamboo
fly rod. Behind father isn't always the easiest
place for a 5 year old to be, it doesn't take much
water to come up to his chest. Whether on the bank,
or in the stream, junior was oft reminded, "keep the
tips out of the trees, and the reels out of the water."
Many trips the boy yearned to use the poles he carried,
watching his father Lenny catch trout after trout,
countless epic battles were etched into his memory
before that fateful day, the day Len jr. was to become
a trout angler.
Not wanting his son's first trout to be a "gimme," or
an easy fix, Lenny scouted hard for the right place for
his son to experience trout fishing. He wanted this day
to be special, he thought "too easy, and it won't mean
anything to the boy." He decided on a long deep hole,
not crowded by too many overhanging trees; a hole the
locals called "booger gut." It was perfect.
The way was long and hard; they marched over hill
and dale, wading here, through high grass and thick
willows there, Junior always taking care with the
rods, handling them the way his father had shown
him. Timed for the late afternoon, the moment found
them heading west, steeped in deepening shadow. The
young boy tires, and wants to quit, asking his father:
"Can we go home now?"
"No, it's just a little farther, enough carrying,
today is your turn, time for you to catch a trout."
Little Len's eyes lit up and a surge of energy overtook
him, the "little farther" seemed like eternity. Then
the willows opened up, and the river lay before a man
and his son. The young one began to get giddy, and
father sat him down explaining: "fishing is like life,
if it comes too easy you will not appreciate it. I am
not promising you a big trout here. I am not sure we
will catch anything, but when we leave here, you will
have experienced something special. Trout fishing.
Fishing, not catching."
Because he had scouted the water, Lenny knew that fish
schooled at the head of the pool. He had seen trout
working it in the previous outings there. The two
sat and watched the pool, teaching young Len this
was something special, something to be savored,
something unhurried. He had watched his father
catch countless trout, and carried those same trout
for miles on the stringer, a stringer that today
already suspended many nice trout. The biggest
was an 18" brown trout that junior had been admiring
all day. Getting more and more anxious, he thought,
"Now it is my turn to put a trout on that stringer."
His father, wisely deciding that a fly rod would be
too difficult for a five year old, handed junior the
spinning rod. "Len, which lure do you want to use?"
There was no doubt in juniors mind he wanted to use
the same one father had used to catch the big one.
"Ok Len, get it out of the box and tie it on." Junior
retrieved the spinner from its resting place in the
box and took care to tie it on exactly like he had
been taught. It was a small French spinner, a Mepps
with a red bead, a brass bead, a brass blade and no
tail. Little Len checked the knot, and bit off the
tag end, just like his dad.
The boy had been taught to cast the spinning rod
already, but father was worried about his casting
into tight cover, and asked: "Is it ok if I cast
the first one for you?" The youngster didn't want
to be a baby, having his dad cast for him, but the
father persuaded him, saying, "let me cast the first
couple times for you, then you can do it yourself."
Junior always listened to his father.
Lenny cast the spinner upstream of the hole, and
handed the rod to his son. "Keep the rod tip up,
and if the fish is taking drag, stop reeling or
you will ruin the reel and lose the fish. Now, you
may not catch any fish, but later, when you get
lder, there will be lots of trout for you to
remember." It was barely ten cranks of the reel
handle later, and the trout hit. Junior did not
need to set the hook like he had seen his father
do so many times, the trout was crazy, swimming
upstream like its tail was on fire.
"DAD, DAD" the youngster shouted, "ITS GOING TO
PULL THE ROD OUT OF MY HANDS!"
To which his father patiently replied, "hang on,
keep the rod tip high, don't reel."
The trout came about and charged right at them.
"Reel in and reel fast, tip up." The trout turned,
and coursed side to side staying deep within the
pool, finally running straight under the bank.
The line stopped throbbing.
"I think I lost it dad."
Lenny explained to his son, "the fish has buried
itself in the bank, let's try to get it out of
there, grab your line and back up 2 or 3 feet,
holding the line tight, if it takes off again,
let go right away."
The trick worked, and the trout put up two more
long runs before it yielded to the boy. "Let it
tire some more before you bring it in, keep
constant pressure and reel when you can. Don't
horse it." Junior followed the instructions,
but the fish came easily toward shore. Both
fishermen were eager to see the fish, and it
obliged surfacing not 20 feet from them. The
two responded in unison, "oh my gosh, it is huge."
After glimpsing its captors, the fish resumed
fighting for its life.
"Stay right there, and keep the tip up high," Senior
waded into the pool up to his chest, and netted the
fish. He pulled the net close to his chest, trapping
the trout, or rather the half of it that fit, in the
net. He quickly waded out, placed the fish near
junior and said, "unhook it, it will be a fine
addition to our stringer." The boy proudly unhooked
it, put it on the stringer, and marched it back to
the car. The trip passed in an instant.
The father and son took a moment to take pictures of
the days catch; Junior had to stand on the picnic
table to get at a level where he could take dad's
picture. Then off to the gas station, to show off
the spoils of the day. The locals wowed about the
largest fish on the stringer, a brown trout, some
23 and ¾ inches long, as measured by a plumber with
a folding wooden yardstick. Next it was home to
show the womenfolk, none of whom believed little Len
had caught the fish, (and didn't care much about
fishing anyway, it was for boys.) Little Len couldn't
wait to get the pictures back from the shop; He couldn't
wait to show them off. He carried one with him for 2
years, until it finally gave out and fell apart.
I was looking through some old photographs and came
across the picture of my dad, holding those fish.
Even though this happened 40 years ago, the memories
were as strong as if it had happened just yesterday.
I was there again, walking through the streams of
southern Wisconsin with my dad.
Lenny Harris died while deer hunting at age 41.
He left behind a family of 5 daughters, and one
son, Len Jr. age 10. Both his fly rod and his
spinning rod are on my wall above the picture of
him with that stringer of fish.
I miss you Dad. ~ Spinner