In June 2004, I went fly fishing for the first time on Mill Creek in Montana with my father and brother. By the end of the day, I was pissed because my older brother Logan had invaded my fishing hole and stolen fish I thought were mine.
I had been working an eddy behind a big boulder without success. The fish were there. And then Logan moved up behind me. He made one cast into the hole and immediately hooked a monster brown trout. When I told the story to my dad, he became angry and responded with one of his classic reactions: “WTF?”
My dad respected etiquette and promoted good manners. When you find a fishing hole and get there first, he told us, it belongs to you. It was an incentive to learn how to read water.
I’m thinking of my Dad now and the lessons he taught me as I write this first column. This is the time of the year when the three of us would be together on rivers or mountain lakes somewhere in the West. I’m still in high school but fishing has been my life, more important than other things I do outside. It was the thing I did with my dad, Alex Diekmann, and the last time we waded in a stream together was September 5, 2015 at O’Dell Creek in the Madison Valley. It is the place where we spread his ashes .
On that day, I realized fly fishing is more than just my “hobby”; it’s a lifestyle and part of my identity when I think about my relationship with Dad. Seeing him out on the river for the last time brought tears to my eyes—the thought of it still does—because he carved time out just to be there with us, at a time when he fighting for his life. It wasn’t the fishing that gave him relief. What we shared I can’t easily put into words.
Fly fishing brings peace to me, joy, and a feeling of being home, knowing that my father is always by my side for every cast of the line. I can hear him. Still. From the first to the last cast with my dad, my eyes were opened to a new beginning.
Our first big fishing trip was up north to Alaska. Together with our mom and dad, we drove up the coast of British Columbia in a camper stopping at nearly every river to fly fish, catching salmon here and there. The most memorable place was the Kenai River. During spawning season for salmon, you can see fishermen for miles, all casting in sync on the Kenai. It was amazing.
At some points in my fishing days, people would ask me how the swarms of bugs seemed to not be biting me. The truth is I was so focused on fishing that I didn’t notice them. But once I got home I would complain that my body itched and my dad, with dismay and pride, would point out I was covered in welts from mosquitoes and horseflies.
People have told me my father was one of the greatest conservationists in Montana. I’m learning what what they mean by that. To me, he was just Dad. Never taking no for an answer, he often brought my brother and me fly fishing to properties he helped protect. I guess for that reason you can consider me a spoiled fly fisherman, if there is such a thing. But if I was spoiled with anything, it was having a dad who had a good eye for trying to save places where trout populations are healthy and recognizing rivers that contained great fishing holes.
As I progressed in my casting technique, I also struggled along the way, especially with getting my line tangled and becoming frustrated trying to get it undone. Most of the time I would just get my dad to do it for me.
At some points the tangle was so bad I would have to cut the leader. My dad taught me that too. Tying knots took me the longest to learn and was the main reason why I would lose a fish. The little things, dad told me, can make the biggest difference.
I still like to use only one knot, the clinch knot, because it is easy and I don’t want to screw up tying the other types of knots. My dad always said fishing is best when you keep it simple and maintain your cool.
Out on the big rivers and also smaller streams our go-to fly has always been the Royal Wulff. When we weren’t catching anything, Dad would focus on capturing some of the flies to match the hatch. Nature tells us what we should do, he would say.
Growing up with an older brother who is good at doing lots of things made me strive to catch more and be the better, smarter fisherman. My father tried to defy his age as a cross-country skier, mountain biker, and trail runner but was never the competitive type when he had a rod in his hands. Maybe his calm as a fisherman came with “old age.” But I will never think of him as old. He just liked to watch us fish and have fun. From time to time, he might go wander off to cast alone, but he was always there by my side.
Through the years, my father taught me to be nice, to be honest, to strive to be a good person—and, most of all, to enjoy life. Most people on earth, he would say, don’t have the fortune of knowing a trout stream.
I learned to approach fishing as an opportunity to interact with nature and appreciate the pursuit of fish with grace and beauty. Now I want to pass his knowledge and teachings on to future fly fishermen and fisherwomen to come. I miss my dad.
EDITOR’S NOTE: in Liam Diekmann’s next column he’ll be writing about a trip that he took to Belize with his mother and brother in search of permit, tarpon and bonefish.