I was named Brooke after the trickling brook that quietly cascades through my bucolic childhood home in Vermont. My Mom is Margot Page, esteemed author of the fly fishing memoir Little Rivers: Tales of a Woman Angler and a founding member of Casting for Recovery. Through my Mom’s bloodline, I am the great-granddaughter of Alfred Waterbury Miller, known as Deac to his family, but to the rest of the world as Sparse Grey Hackle, the legendary writer, editor and author of Fishless Days, Angling Nights. My Dad is Tom Rosenbauer, who was basically spawned from a trout stream and has become the modern world’s authority on fly fishing through his countless books, TV shows, videos and podcasts. With all this nature and nurture from the fishing world, you would assume that I emerged from the womb wielding a fly rod permanently attached to my arm and an irrefutable talent for reading trout streams and tying extravagant wet flies.
Well, an angling prodigy I am not. Although, I was pretty good at making flies from dinosaur stickers and Barbie shoes at age 6. This is the story of how, after 29 essentially fishless years on this planet, I decided to make fishing my own, in spite of it all.
I have almost no recollection of fishing with my parents. Apparently it happened at least a few times, as they have both unearthed photographs of me in a goofy, ill-fitting vest, wildly flinging the rod around. In a few cases, I was caught dangling a few dejected looking fish in front of my blonde, puffy, tween bangs.
I did grow up quite enjoying the natural world - splashing through rivers and tide pools and bumping around in the back of boats, dragging my little fingers through the water behind the stern. In most cases, little Brookie could be found scanning the horizon for frogs or turtles, and occasionally shouting “no big fish!” whenever the possibility of such a cruel capture became imminent. I was sensitive and loved the creatures of the earth. My fishy parents raised me as a child of nature whose playground encompassed the vast fields and streams behind my house where I caught (and occasionally released) frogs and worms and literally played with dirt.
Instead of following in the obvious footsteps of the Page-Rosenbauer family lineage, I drifted in my own direction towards sports and music. I did inherit my parents’ obstinate tendencies and, at the age of 10, announced that I had become a vegetarian, thus nailing the coffin shut for any further conversation about me eventually developing an interest in catching those ‘big fish.’
Throughout the next two decades, I did everything BUT fish, eventually converting my tomboy love for sports into a career in the health and fitness world. I lived in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Latin America (where I found a city-bred, non-fishing husband), earned a graduate degree in international health policy and happily settled into my own fishless identity and fast-track career path.
Then, on the brink of my third decade, I announced to my Dad that I wanted to attend the Orvis Fly Fishing School (and could he please pay for it). He looked at me with his mind flickering ... "Is she kidding? Why now, after 29 years of ample opportunity to learn this sport does she want to pick up a fly rod and can’t I just teach her that stuff ... Didn’t I already?"
Upon first reflection, I felt silly; kicking myself for not absorbing all the angling wisdom that my parents indirectly bestowed upon me. Digging a little deeper into the subject, I realized something: I am not “rediscovering” or “reconnecting” with fly fishing. As a young child, there was never an authentic connection with angling. Fishing was something that my parents and other boring adults did, just like paying bills and reading the newspaper. I was perfectly content to tag along and look for turtles.
Fishing became even less cool when, at age 10 and on the brink of adolescence, a figurative bomb exploded in my sheltered little world. My parents, with their fairytale story of two angling stars united across the universe, ended their marriage with divorce. While fishing had once been the seduction between them, I think in some ways, it had started to become a wedge, as family life and parenting became more complicated. It wasn’t the main wedge, but it had become intertwined into our family life - the good and the bad.
As a teenager, I fought hard to distance myself from that “adult stuff” and find my own way. Fishing just wasn’t on my radar. Through high school and college, I had a laser focus on achievement: being the best of the best in academics, sports and music. With a priority on catapulting myself through life, climbing the ladder of achievement, I accomplished many things in a very short period of time.
But, adulthood has a strange way of complicating things that once seemed crystal clear. When Wilson, my husband, finished business school, I felt a new emotion - contentment. For the first time ever in my life, I wasn’t staring up at endless rungs in a ladder and clawing my way to the top. My career had settled into what I had always wanted, we were married and both of us had graduate degrees. We started lifting our eyes to gaze across the long skyline of life ahead of us.
All of a sudden, I wanted to stop achieving and start filling in some of the gaps that had been left open. I yearned for the dirt and frogs and the sense of endless wonderment that comes with being in the natural world. When you have a laser focus, you miss the details: the ones that fill your soul and take your breath away. And I started to wonder if this whole fishing thing might be fun after all and if I might, in fact, be good at it.
Although my parents never forced me to fish, my dad instilled in me the biological, scientific side of nature, which was his passion, and my Mom complemented those technical details with her gentle romanticism. No one can more delicately or eloquently write about the emotive side of fly fishing and the human connection with the natural world than she.
My husband and I enrolled in the Orvis Fly Fishing School together. On the first day, I squirmed in my seat, embarrassed that the instructors knew who I was from my last name. During the practice time, I awkwardly tried to replicate, with my own body, the movements that I had seen my parents execute with ease over and over again. Although burned into my memory, my own body didn’t quite cooperate. A part of me expected that I would just pick up the rod and cast like a pro. The overachiever in me hated that I wasn’t perfect right away. Of course, my tension and frustration made my casting even worse.
On the last day, we trudged through the pouring rain to practice some “real fishing” on the “real river,” the Battenkill. Waist-deep in the cold river, the skies opened up and it rained heavy, aggressive drops. I maneuvered my incredibly fashionable and well-fitting boots and waders to a hidden spot, where nobody could see me clumsily flinging the line around, catching it on everything possible; my sexy boots, trees, branches, rocks and unknown objects on the bottom of the river.
And then I got it.
It was me, the outdoors and my own spirit, united as one. The white noise of the downpour helped me to create my own little world.
Suddenly, I felt freedom through my arms and wrists, channeling the years of angling bloodline. My husband stepped into view and I could tell from the grin on his face that he felt the same sense of exhilaration.
In that moment, fishing became mine, ours and something for us to discover together. I also started to understand my parents and their crazy obsession in a new light. It felt like a handful of puzzle pieces that had been missing for years finally clicked together.
After the rainy fishing school experience, Wilson and I collected some hand-me-downs and embarked on our own. I started to crave the feeling of a perfect cast, even dreaming about it, as well as the sensation of being completely immersed in the natural world: the pressure of the cold water around my ankles, the smell of the river’s life and the eternal sound of the water’s voyage. The cold, the wet, the mud, the rocks, the sounds … I loved all of it.
My first challenge was going out on my own and actually trying to catch something. Still a vegetarian, I declared to my husband that I didn’t actually care about hooking anything. I just liked being outside.
My apartment in the Boston suburbs looks out onto a murky inlet of the Charles River. When I went out into my ‘backyard’ and caught a smallmouth bass and then three sunfish in a row, I left a gloating message on my dad’s voicemail.
Then came saltwater casting lessons with my Mom. During a weekend getaway on the south shore of Massachusetts, we found a beautiful remote beach with some killer looking flats. Of course, along with the cooler and umbrella, she brought the rod and a box of chunky saltwater flies. My Mom is a sensitive soul, introverted, observant, gentle and sometimes even timid. On the water with a rod, however, she is a powerhouse woman, a warrior of the elements. I watched her slice through the wind, in complete control of what felt like hundreds of yards of line, narrating every step. We stood waist-deep in the waves, warrior women together, passing life’s knowledge through the generations.
The next hurdle was fishing with the legendary Mr. Tom Rosenbauer, aka Dad. On a cool August morning on the Mettawee River behind his house, we spent what felt like hours crouched by the riverbank watching a fish feed. My Dad insisted on the crouching position so that we didn’t spook the fish. For the first 28 years of my life, this would have felt like agony. I’ve spent most of our “Father-Daughter” time trailing behind him as we tromped through the woods or along rivers, somewhat interested in his astute observations on fish habitats. But now, I was fascinated. We actually watched a trout feed for a few minutes, as it rhythmically nudged the surface and darted back to its waiting position.
Then he expertly coached me through casting. To his delight, I was able to get the fly in the general vicinity of the fish instead of catching all the surrounding trees and bushes. We spooked it, (I’m not so great at the Rosenbauer Crouch yet), and walked away with no fish, but possibly something better… connection.
You see, my dad and I don’t exactly share our innermost feelings, so although he says he never cared whether I fished or not, he sure was happy that I had decided to pick up a rod. As we were putting away the rods, dad turned to me and said, with raised eyebrows, “You are looking fishy… very fishy.” Coming from him, that meant a lot.
Fishing also started to weave itself into my newly independent life and all the challenges that come with ‘adulting.’ Bursting my short-lived little bubble of contentment, Wilson was offered a great job in another city, far away from everything that I knew and loved. I called my dad in tears, Sitting on the banks of that murky inlet sobbing, contemplating my uncertain future and gazing out at the sun slowly fading behind the horizon of trees, I asked him for ‘Dad advice.’ He told me,
“Go fishing. That always helps.”
Following his wise suggestion, I trudged out to the murky Charles. As I pulled in a few baby sunfish in the last flickers of sunlight, I felt a growing sense of calm.
Through these experiences, fishing became more than knots and flies. It took on purpose: human connection, closeness to nature and an opportunity for peace and contemplation. I am not sure where this current will take me, but maybe I’ll get to catch a few ‘big fish’ someday.