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Illustration by Jonathan Carlson

Casting For Connection On The South Platte

A son learns to love his father's passion for fishing.

By |

The reservoir was a disappointment. But I didn’t realize how much of a disappointment until Dad told me we were leaving. “This is like fishing in a bathtub,” he said, walking along the muddy bank of the Aurora Reservoir toward the next unshaded spot where we wouldn’t catch a thing. This was quite the condemnation. Fish, like people, tend to hang out under shade, whether cast by a wooden pier or leafy tree. Bathtubs offer none and, therefore, almost no chance of catching fish. “Ten more casts and we’re out of here,” he told me.

Fishing with your father should bring to mind the sort of soft-focus imagery that sells caramel hard candies. In my childhood, it looked more like this: Dad paddling a canoe on some fetid body of water while I did everything possible, from reading to napping, to demonstrate that I couldn’t be bothered to care about his one hobby. After my parents divorced, my outings with Dad had a manufactured feel about them. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy them, but the movies, the bike rides, the fishing—they were designed to fill our allotted hours. Fishing was my least favorite activity, and he knew it. The books and the naps gave me away.

Today, Dad and I are pretty close, but I live here and he lives on a 100-acre farm in Nova Scotia. After my wife and I had a son, his lone grandchild, we agreed our annual get-together would involve Grandpa flying west. Thus, I was now saddled with the Pressure to Entertain. It was my job to find something for us to do—which meant it was my job to find someplace for us to fish. For the average angler, there are places in and around Denver that can provide a transcendent experience. Fly-fishers, for instance, will swarm the Arkansas River this month for the annual Mother’s Day caddis hatch.

My dad, however, doesn’t love fly-fishing. He’s a spinner rod angler who treats fishing as an action sport—tossing lures at different holes and moving on quickly. The Aurora Reservoir had no windows for my father to target. We just cast, waited, and reeled our lines back in. Between casts, I caught the boredom written on my dad’s face as clearly as my own tedium had been two decades earlier.

Then, about the time he announced our departure from Aurora, I remembered that Denver has a river. It’s easy to forget because the South Platte runs through some of the least scenic parts of the city. When I pulled the car over near the river, it seemed I had discovered a particularly squalid spot. We idled beside a fenced-off power plant that practically screamed three-eyed bass.

But once we scurried down a steep embankment, all we saw were riffles. There were placid pools in between the froth, overhanging branches supplying shade, and a stubborn duck swimming in the middle of the scene. As soon as we started casting, I began to realize, maybe for the first time, what my dad saw in fishing. We had marks to aim for and obstacles to avoid. We had upgraded from a tub to nature’s version of a neon-lit arcade.

The light was short, but the fishing we did there, a mere 15-minute drive from Coors Field, was better than anything we had experienced all day. I even got locked onto something big, fast, and angry enough to snap my lure clean off the line. Once it escaped, I looked at Dad. He was excited. So was I. As we scrambled up the riverbank, my thoughts turned to my son at home. I finally understood how difficult it must have been for Dad when I didn’t enjoy our limited time together—and how good it felt, at last, to establish a connection. The Pressure to Entertain was gone. Now there was just an unspoken agreement: Next year, we’d be back.

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