By: Sarah Spalla Father, Friendships & Fly Fishing Growing up fishing … and fixing When you grow up in rural Iowa you go fishing. After you get off school, you go fishing. After softball practice, you go fishing. After Easter brunch, you go fishing… Like most Midwestern farm kids it was just part of the everyday vernacular and if your dad was like mine you spend every weekend with a rod in your hand. Some of my first memories as a kid was watching my dad tie a lure on the end of my line and take a fish off the hook since my 5-year-old brain thought they were “icky”. Fishing with my dad taught me a lot of things; how to bait a hook, how to back a trailer, how to drive a boat, and maybe the most important, how the quiet moments outside was somehow meditative. Oh…and how to lie about your catch to your buddies. I grew up working alongside my dad from a young age; he was a solo self-employed repairman, so it was either day care, or manual labor. I “chose” the latter. It was easy when I was young, but as a teenager it certainly challenged our father daughter relationship at times. It wasn’t exactly cool to be repairing the fridge at the local pizza shop while your classmates were on the other side of the counter having a slice. Even though we didn’t always see eye to eye during work and had the normal teenager/parent communication issues, we could always fish (even though we’d often argue over who got to drive the old aluminum boat). I’d cringe when he’d load his gear wearing one of his fishing t – shirts. They usually said something like “Reel cool Dad”, “Good things come to those who Bait” or some other eye rolling pun. Heading West While I was attending college, I decided I just couldn’t do another summer working for my dad, so on a complete whim, I applied and got hired as a whitewater guide in Colorado. I had been rafting exactly once and had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. But, it was time for an adventure, so I bought a truck, packed my bags, cranked up the Guns and Roses album and headed West. The first week of raft guide training was as hard as I expected. Physically, mentally, and socially since I didn’t know anyone, and all the senior guides were already close friends. During the second week I broke a bone in my hand “high-siding” on a fellow rookie’s raft, bringing a crashing end to this awesome summer I had planned. After talking to the Doc, I found out I was going to be in a cast for 6 weeks. I called my dad in tears… guess I was heading home. A few of the senior guides encouraged me to stick it out so I sold photos to rafting guests until the cast came off. Another Unexpected Turn of Events This season was during a drought year so our company sent half of their rafts to the Upper Colorado river, a float section that I could guide even if I wasn’t 100%. It was a tough season to be a river guide. Water, business, tips and morale were at an all time low. In order to get my training miles and practice in, I often rowed an empty boat along with an existing trip, offering to take the bulky lunch cooler. On one such day as I passed over a shallow section a glint of metal caught my eye…a lost pair of sunglasses. Since I was ahead of the trip and had some time, I secured my raft and waded out. To my surprise it was a pair of sunglasses…and an old fly. Discovering the Fly I had not been fly fishing since it required a different set of gear, and just wasn’t that common back home. After the multiple attempts to reunite this rod with its original owner failed it looked like I was about to learn. After spending a few hours taking apart the reel, cleaning the rod and buying a new line it wasn’t half bad actually. The other guides on the trip that day included a few anglers who immediately offered to head out after work to do some fishing. Since the whitewater was pretty much non – existent due to the drought there were lots of good opportunities to fish. I had spent the last 2 months as the awkward new girl, then awkward hurt girl, sent to this satellite office to be the awkward rookie, so it certainly felt good to be welcomed on this after-hours mission. While it was challenging using a fly rod, my years of fishing made the learning curve much more manageable. I spent the next few months heading out after work. Slowly, over many failed casts, snagged trees, and a few beers I finally started to get the hang of it and actually caught a fish or two (or 50 if my Dad asks). Removing Rookie from my Title Fly fishing opened up a conversation with the other guides, many donated some old flies, tippet, nets etc. and slowly my fly-fishing gear began to take shape. Most importantly I started to feel a part of this amazing team of guides I had looked up to all summer. Surprisingly fishing (not whitewater) made this eccentric, crazy, hilarious, sunburn group of misfits feel like family. On occasion I wonder where life would have led if I hadn’t landed that first river job, if I would have ran home after getting hurt, if it hadn’t been a drought year or if I hadn’t found that fly rod (which I still have among a few new ones). The Good ‘ole Fishing Days This state and the river quickly became home and 18 years later it still is. I make it home to Iowa when I can and still love fishing with my Dad, however the march of time has taken its toll on his health and our trips are less often and a little different these days. Now I’m the one backing up the trailer, doing the heavy lifting of boat repair, tying the knots his arthritic hands struggle with. He can still exaggerate the size of a fish with the best of them though.