A Priceless Bag of Coyote Hair - A Mayfly Project Outing, North Idaho, By Kaitlin Barnhart

You know you’ve arrived as a mentor when your mentees run to your car with a net in hand they made from a laundry bag and zip ties, and a ziplock baggie full of coyote hair. The 3, 14-year-old boys jumped in my car, eager to share their stories about how their neighbor saved their chickens from the villain, coyote. One of them said, “That’s pretty gross you want this hair”, and I told them, “Ya, fly fishing folk do some strange things with roadkill too -- keep your eyes out for a dead, red fox, boys!” They laughed, no doubt thinking they have never met a gal *that* excited about a dead coyote (I was more excited they thought about us and about river-time, actually).

We made the long drive to the river, chit chatting about starting high school in a week, playing
DJ on the radio, and swapping stories about our summers (I also learned cool facts like drinking Mountain Dew limits your sperm count and how to fatten a lamb for 4-H).

I had been gathering wading boots all through the last year, asking fly fishing communities to dig into their closets and pockets to help (THANK YOU!!). So when we parked, my fingers were
crossed, hoping that the boots I had would fit them; and miraculously, after they went through
the allotment, each boy ended up with a pair that fit! Woohoo!

Our new TMP mentor, Ben from Spokane, met up with us at the gas station and we cruised to a
part of a river that I thought would still be fishing well; only to find the water was hot and the
fish were easily spooked by 14-year- olds clanking around. It took them a while to remember how to cast and how to approach a fishy-section of the river. But I loved how they just took charge and picked their own flies and tied their own knots. “Trust your instincts,” we would say, and then we would resist the urge to take their fly rods and drift it how we had in mind. They missed about 4 fish slurping their fly, which was exciting for all of us. And they sometimes asked for advice, but otherwise felt like they had it.

But the day quickly heated up so we decided to head to another river close by. On our way
walking back up, I was feeling a bit discouraged because I had caught some huge trout in that
section a couple weeks prior and I so desperately wanted them to experience the tug of a big
Cutty. I heard one of the boys yell really loud so I ran over to see he found a bright red “lobster” aka, Crayfish. They all became river-explorers and lobster hunters for the last few river meanders. It reminded me that these days aren’t all about the fish sometimes. It was important to follow their lead instead of expecting them to be professional fishermen.

We drove for a while up a river (did I mention anytime we were driving or paused the boys were eating constantly? A whole bag of cheetos in a half an hour?!) and met up with another mentor, Matt, and continued to stalk trout. The boys casting improved after the first morning session, (it always amazes me how quickly these kids can learn).

We finally found some fish feeding in the afternoon, but right at that time we had several visitors with dogs show up at our fishing spot (grrrrr), and by this time a couple of the boys were somewhat worn out with fly fishing and became intrigued with searching for river animals anyways. We drove up further to just show they boys more of the river and the animal hunt continued. They found mussels, a giant dead trout, a bull frog, a tiny snake, a sculpin, and helped me knock a few piles of stacked rocks local “artists” thought would be cool to do in the river (bad for the bugs and river dynamics, don’t build these).

At one point, one of the kids was trying to catch as many lobsters as he could to maybe bring
home, and I was simultaneously trying to scare them away-- which lead to a great conversation
about the river habitats and the balance that depended on the critters that lived there (no lobsters were harmed during this phase, but I’m pretty sure an arm ended up in my car because it smells like more than 14 year old boys were there). We fished hard again for a bit and realized that the boys really just wanted us to walk the rivers with them.

At the end of the day we all learned some things-- I taught them to say, “Holy buckets of juice”
instead of other words they would accidentally say when they found something amazing for show and tell-- and they taught me that sometimes you just have to say ‘yes’ when they want to try to skip a rock through a fishy section, if that’s what they really want to do. Their favorite parts of the day were when we were just exploring together, when Matt let a lobster pinch him on the finger, when Ben caught a huge fish, and when I let them mix all of the various soda’s at Taco Bell and get donuts.

On the drive home I looked back at them a few times, feeling honored to have been a part of
their day. These are kids with big back stories, of really difficult things that most probably have
never even encountered, and things they are struggling with right now, but here they were,
freshmen in High School and ecstatic over being able to use their home-made net to search for
river creatures. I couldn’t help but smile, give their adoptive/foster mom a huge hug for what she has provided for these kids (she was so glad to have a day off too), and wish them well on their first week at school. We talked about next time, and I can’t wait for Fall to cool off our rivers so we can chase some big fish...or some tiny crawdads…. Even though I always leave feeling like I wish we could do more, I now that what we do is important. Adding to their positive-experiences-list is a gift.

Thank you for your support of The Mayfly Project-- leading children in foster care to the
outdoors through fly fishing! And thank you to Matt and Ben for making the long drive to support these children on the river. Email me if you have any questions about how you can become involved with TMP at kaitlin@themayflyproject.com