Kids clinic serves up the catch of the day

“Last Wednesday, while rousing music spilled out of the Evergreen Music Festival’s big top, restless schools of young patriots cast their eyes toward Evergreen Lake’s sparkling waters, where, thanks to Evergreen Trout Unlimited, fishing rods, wily prey and summer adventure awaited.”

Spending the better part of a glorious Fourth of July lounging around in the sun listening to music may be big fun for grown-ups, but the average kid prefers entertainments of the applied variety.

Last Wednesday, while rousing music spilled out of the Evergreen Music Festival’s big top, restless schools of young patriots cast their eyes toward Evergreen Lake’s sparkling waters, where, thanks to Evergreen Trout Unlimited, fishing rods, wily prey and summer adventure awaited.

"This is the 13th year we’ve done our Fourth of July fishing clinic," said floppy hatted Trout Unlimited stalwart John Ellis, his multi-pocketed fishing duds heavily accoutered with tools specific to his avocation. "We won a youth education award for this program, and the kids just love it. We always tie it to the music festival because, as long as they’re here for the music, they may as well do some fishing."

That’s pretty much the way Evergreen resident Tanya Rodgers sees it, and the fishing clinic is now a big part of her clan’s Independence Day observances.

"It’s something they really enjoy, and it’s a great activity that the whole family can do together," explained Tanya, as her kids — Sophia, 6, Moriah, 8, Addi, 11, and 12-year-old Nick — sat patiently waiting for the 10 a.m. start. "And it’s free, which is nice, because it’s getting hard to find an outdoor family activity that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg."

Last Wednesday, as on most summer mornings, an unbroken fence of fishing poles surrounded the lake, most wielded by practiced anglers with well-stocked coolers and a deep understanding of the secretive ways of fish. What chance could youthful amateurs have of snaring a prize among such company? With a little rigging by Trout Unlimited and the Colorado Division of Wildlife, a pretty darned good one. Earlier in the week, DOW had netted off the small bay just south of the Lake House and decanted some 1,500 smallish rainbow trout into the biggish fishbowl thus created. The stocking operation went smoothly, which hasn’t always been the case.

"One year they stocked it before they put up the net, and all the fish swam out," Ellis said. "Then they put up a net, but restocked it on the wrong side of the net. They wound up stocking it three times."

At 10 o’clock sharp, the first group of 20 kids mustered for a brief tutorial on subjects like fishing pole mechanics, proper casting techniques, fish identification, fishing etiquette, and the ethics of fishing. The Trout Unlimited volunteers also recommended catch-and-release tactics, and not just because they’d rashly volunteered to clean any trophies the children opted to keep.

"It’s mostly rainbows, but I’m sure I saw a tiger muskie in there," grinned Ellis, pointing to a dangerous-looking torpedo on a full-color fish chart. "You’ve got to be careful if you catch a tiger muskie. They’ve got really sharp teeth."

Like her brothers, 6-year-old Isaac and 4-year-old Ian, 8-year-old Isabella Mohr listened politely, but was plainly eager to begin the hunt. Though new to the sport, her powers of exaggeration were already formidable.

"I caught a rainbow last year, about 2 feet long," said Isabella, patriotically decked out in a glittery shirt reading "America Rocks" and a pretty red-white-and-blue hair ribbon. "We ate it. It was really good."

"This teaches them respect for wildlife," said the trio’s dad, Rich. "And it gets them outside, away from the TV. They have fun, but they have to use their minds."

At 10:15, the children were marched down to the Warming Hut access road, issued fishing poles and set loose. What followed was a very entertaining 45 minutes of combat fishing that would discourage any Columbia River salmon-run veteran. About two dozen Trout Unlimited volunteers ran up and down the 150-foot line of waving fiberglass baiting hooks, unsnarling lines and trying to keep their excited charges from snaring themselves or each other.

Though technically unsophisticated, Isabella fished with zest. After each cast, she’d peer down her line into the gloomy depths with terrible concentration, almost willing the fish to bite. Isaac’s style was more energetic: cast-and-reel, shock-and-awe. For his part, young Ian took an almost Zen-like approach to the sport, seemingly content to watch his bright red float bob gently on the surface.

An enthusiastic fisherman with a reliable 10-yard cast, Nick Rodgers brought every weapon in his small arsenal to bear.

"I started with worms, but I switched to Power-Bait," Nick explained. "It doesn’t smell very nice, but the fish like it. And you have to be patient. A lot of these kids just throw it out and pull it in. You have to give the fish a chance to smell it."

For no obvious reason, the teeming rainbows appeared impervious to every style and subterfuge. Volley after volley of mouth-watering worms and pungent "fish eggs" sailed into the water, only to be reeled in a few minutes later, utterly unmolested.

"I think they’re all on the other side, over there," said Isabella, waving vaguely off toward the Lake House.

"They might be scared of all the noise," offered Nick, "or they might not be used to the bait."

At last, after some 15 minutes of furious effort, Isaac’s vigorous approach paid off with the day’s first catch — a handsome 10-inch trout. "I threw the hook where the fish was," explained Isaac, generously sharing the secret of his success.

A long moment later, 7-year-old Nino Delany hauled in a nicely speckled rainbow, which he gladly surrendered back to the lake. "I don’t really like fish," Nino admitted. "I just like fishing because it’s relaxing."

In fact, that foot-long trout must’ve looked kind of puny to Nino, considering the scaly monster he described catching last year on Upper Bear Creek. "It was a ‘river pig,’ " he said, in dead earnest. "I think it was about 6 feet long."

The hourglass had nearly run out on the 10 o’clock anglers when 8-year-old Jamie Schultz, dropping her line hard up against the net barrier, snared a surprisingly contentious 7-inch rainbow. The waist-length string of blue beads around her neck swinging and rattling wildly, Jamie managed to reel it in while simultaneously jumping up and down and screaming with excitement. Then she watched in complete satisfaction as a Trout Unlimited volunteer netted the annoyed creature, removed the hook and sent it back to the depths.

"I think it was my technique," Jamie explained later, with all the animation that an 8-year-old girl can summon, which is a lot. "I picked a big worm, (I let my mom put it on the hook) because I thought, ‘Something will bite on that, for sure.’ Then I saw the fish sitting there and I thought, ‘Why is it just sitting there?’ Then I thought, ‘Oh, it’s on my line!’ "

And then it was 11 o’clock and time for the next round of hopefuls. If only a handful of the 10 o’clock kids caught fish, there was nothing to prevent them from signing on for another session. By day’s end, maybe 200 kids had checked into Evergreen Trout Unlimited’s Fourth of July fishing clinic, dozens had landed rainbows, and all went home feeling much better for the experience. Ellis’s threatened tiger muskie must have been attending a holiday barbecue in another lake, somewhere.

To be a good fisherman — or at least a happy one — requires a certain philosophical turn of mind. Although Nick’s best efforts and subtlest stratagems failed to net a trout, he took it on the chin and remained unbowed.

"I didn’t get so much as a mosquito bite today," said Nick, bravely. "Some days you catch ’em; some days you don’t. But I’ll be back. They’ve gotta eat sometime."