Traditions: Pig tails and pink spots

Dustin Wichterman and daughter Brooklynn quickly pose with a West Virginia brook trout before releasing the fish.

By Dustin Wichterman

To say that angling has always been a big part of my life is probably an understatement.

It has been imprinted from both sides of my family, and after finding out that several of my forefathers and mothers where Adirondack guides, I think it’s safe to say that it’s in my blood.  

After I lost my dad at a young age, my grandfather used fishing to distract me from my woes. This fueled my obsession and began a great mentorship in cold, clean water. By the time I got my driving permit, I spent every spare second in the pursuit of trout and little else.

Two decades later not much has changed, and I’ve realized that I have used fishing as a way to connect with my late father. That’s because out there on the stream you think about what you chose to think about. Well, that, and the next strike and casting place. 

I’ve patiently waited many years to fill the hole in my heart that losing a dad, best pal and fishing buddy leaves. Now, a little blonde-haired girl is here with more than enough questions, love and excitement in her eyes to put a 100-year flood on anyone’s heart.

Even at 3, Dustin Wichterman was a fishing fanatic. Here he's trying his luck in a small tributary to West Virginia's Gauley River.

Last week after I came home from a much needed fishing trip my daughter caught sight of the fishing rods and began jumping up and down, screeching frantically, “Fish rod! Fish rod! Daddy, I catch big fish! Mommy, I catch big brook trout!”  

Proud does not even come close to how I felt that day, hearing those words and that much excitement with no coaching from Mom or Dad.

Brooklynn and I hadn’t been out on the river much since September because of weather, work and the regular sniffles a 2-year-old brings to your home. I immediately checked out the weather and my wife’s work schedule so I cold plan our next outing.  

Sunday morning came. After what seemed like two hours of prep for a fishing trip that probably wouldn’t last that long, we embarked on our usual trek. I couldn’t help but feel grateful to live in the mountains surrounded by trout water. Our journey to the stream would be short — an incredibly valuable advantage with a 2-year-old.   

On the drive up to our spot Brooklynn, whose name literally translaters to “Stream of the Valley,” lit up as soon as we hit the gravel road to the honey hole, recognizing exactly where we were headed. 

“Daddy, look at the trees!” she exclaimed. “Daddy, look at the rocks! Daddy, a waterfall! A waterfall!”  

Our spring and summertime hideaway, a narrow, steep, rocky ravine with plunge pool after plunge pool below, was beckoning. The birds were chirping, and for a short few hours on this January day, we had our own little world back. 

Casting was rough, since it had been so long for both of us. Reminder: Don’t bring the most technical rod you have — a fiberglass 2-weight — to cast with your youngster.

Dustin Wichterman's mother, Betty Lewis (left) shows off a 16-inch-long native brook trout pulled from a small West Virginia stream in the mid-1970s. Wichterman's family has a long fishing tradition and now he is passing that love of trout along to his 2-year-old daughter.

The first two pools were tough, but we managed to bring one fish to hand, and that piqued both of our interests. After promising her that the fish would indeed, not tickle her hand, we cooperatively released it quickly back into the water. 

This was followed up with a, “Daddy, I’m cold.”  I scooped her up and back to the truck we went. I glanced at the clock, and thought to myself: “An hours’ worth is a pretty good trip, and one fish is 100 percent better than no fish.” 

As we made our made way back down toward the valley floor, we came to the confluence of our small tributary and the larger river. 

“Daddy, see the creek? See the waterfall?” she said. “Daddy, I want to fish more.” 

Let me tell you, to “Mr. One Last Pool for One Last Cast,” these are the sweetest words to ever hear.

So off upstream we went, up the mountain and on to the next pool, Brooklynn eager to catch the next trout and me grateful to have been blessed with the kind of day for which a father waits his whole life.

Dustin Wichterman is the project manager for Trout Unlimited’s Potomac Headwaters Home Rivers Initiative in West Virginia. He has worked for TU for 4 and a half years, and is proud of the work TU does to make fishing better and to protect public lands, so all anglers have access to the kinds of wild trout fisheries he loves.

 
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