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To celebrate Father’s Day, all week long we’ll be publishing a series of stories all about dads—about their companionship in the outdoors, about them teaching or encouraging us to hunt and fish, and about how we wouldn’t be where we are, or who we are, without them. Fittingly, we’re calling this series “Thanks, Dad.” 

Do you have a great story to share about your dad? Submit it to our Father’s Day Contest for a chance to be featured in the F&S journal and win a prize package valued at $500.

Last March, I surprised my dad with a flight to come visit me in Colorado. I’d been living here for about two years and had discovered some good trout waters that I wanted to share with him. There was, however, one catch. “You leave in a week,” I said.

Not giving Dad time to procrastinate and buy his own ticket was the best way to get him out here for our first-ever Western fly fishing trip. One that was long overdue.

In 2022, Dad drove cross country to help me move, but we never got the chance to fish before he left. This time, fishing would be the purpose of the trip, along with a reunion to one of his favorite settings—Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

I told him that all he had to pack was warm clothes and that I’d take care of the rest. A week later, he and I were driving west through the Eisenhower tunnel to one of my favorite trout rivers.

***

My father is a lifelong outdoorsman, but by the time I was born, hunting and fishing were becoming less of a mainstay in his life. My two older brothers were more interested in the baseball field than fishing in the bay, and my dad didn’t force the outdoors on any of us. I also took to sports, but Dad’s hunting and fishing stories—especially those from his stint in Colorado, 44 years ago—captivated me in a way sports couldn’t.

I never grew tired of hearing his tales about sunken boats, violent storms, giant fish, big bucks, and limits of mallards taken in blizzards. Before I could even cast a rod, I knew every one of his stories by heart. When I was finally old enough to start joining Dad on fishing trips, it felt as if I were in the big leagues.

Our first adventure together—or, the first one I can remember—came on Father’s Day 2006, when I was 8 years old. We spent the day fishing for striped bass near our home on Long Island. After going all morning without a bite and running out of bait, a clam boat came in from the ocean and docked at a marina nearby. We motored over to the dock, and the deckhand gave us some clam bellies for free and tossed them onto our boat before we headed back out. Not long after, I reeled in my first striper.

A boy in a white shirt and red shorts holds a striped bass in front of a boat
The author proudly shows off his first keeper striped bass—with a little help from his dad. Ryan Chelius

What I remember most about that bass was Dad coaching me through the fight, saying, “You got it, Ry!” At the time, the striped bass limit was one fish measuring 28 inches or longer. Mine was 28, on the dot. So was the one Dad caught later that day. We took our fish home, and my mom took pictures of us with them on the front lawn. Later that night at the dinner table, while eating fresh striped bass, we shared our first fishing story as a duo. I was finally a part of Dad’s adventures.

***

As we continued driving along the interstate, with the sun just beginning to rise over the snowcapped peaks, my dad and I shared stories—just like old times. Most of mine were anecdotes from my first two years out West. Most of Dad’s were from his early Colorado expeditions in 1979.

When we finally arrived at the pull-off, I began rigging both of our rods. Dad can be a little bit slower these days, but his excitement for adventure is still there—especially for fly fishing, which he picked up later in life. We made our way down the bank before reaching the river. I stood upstream to block the current and help Dad across. When we reached the run, I told Dad where to cast. After a couple of warmups, he got the size 22 Juan midge where it needed to be. The indicator disappeared.

A fisherman stands in a river lined with trees holding a rainbow trout.
The author’s dad caught this stunner of a rainbow during their trip in March. Ryan Chelius

“Keep ’em tight!” I yelled.

Dad got the fish on the reel, and I scooped it in the net. He was ecstatic as he gazed down at the fish—a beautiful 17-inch rainbow. I removed the hook and took a photo of Pops with his trout, before he released it.

The morning continued on with more of the same result. I coached Dad on where to cast and when to mend, and he did the heavy lifting when it came to hooking fish and bringing them in. It was a mix of rainbows and browns that all came on tiny midges over the course of two days.

Toward the end of the last day, I hooked a giant—the type of fish you know is huge the moment you stick it. After a long fight, my buddy who joined us netted the 19 ½-inch rainbow—my biggest Colorado trout yet. On the bank, I heard Dad yell from a distance, “That is insane!”

***

Somewhere along the way, since we caught that pair of Father’s Day stripers 18 years ago, our roles as a team shifted. I can’t remember when this happened. We never discussed it, and to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. At some point, I was the one who set the decoys, netted the fish, and handled the dirty work in the field. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is our love for sharing hunting and fishing stories.

This last trip was another addition to our collection of family fishing tales and one we’ve discussed many times on the phone since. In fact, it has already sparked plans for our next trip. I have a few places and rivers in mind, but Dad won’t find out where we’re going until a week before.