Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.
In some ways, the sentiment behind this saying is the same impulse that drives me to share my stories. You can make a memory somewhere and be done, or you can share that and pass it on (and on, and on, and on). I think about this every time I go to Shaver Lake.
A good buddy of mine invited me on a trip out to Shaver Lake with his father when I was younger. They’d been going out there for years and years, ever since he himself was a little kid. Over two generations, they’d made countless memories and had more experiences than he could hope to share in a lifetime. It was a privilege and a blessing to be invited.
But at the same time, I had no idea what I should expect. That’s half the beauty of a new adventure.
I met up with my buddy and his dad and headed out there to the Sierra National Forest, just outside of Fresno. Shaver is the first lake you encounter on the 168, and it was almost a surprise when we rounded a bend to see the towering evergreen pines give way to a sudden expanse of dark blue water. Seemingly out of nowhere, the trees just halted and the land turned rocky, right down to the waterline. It somehow made the whole trip feel even more adventurous.
And we weren’t alone for the adventure. I was surprised to realize that basically their entire family was up there and joining in for a night of camping. His dad — Jim Allen — is a real guy’s guy, and we hit it off right away. He has a way of balancing sound advice with frank questions that both pushes us to grow and also leaves room for us to discover things in ourselves. He’s truly a mentor to me, and a great man.
The whole family made me feel immediately welcome, and we set up the tents together before enjoying a roaring campfire for the night. One of my favorite parts of camping, especially out somewhere like the Sierra National Forest, is the spectacular, endless expanse of stars. Far enough from Fresno to escape light pollution, it was like being under a huge bowl or dome, dotted with more brilliant diamonds of light than there were sands on the rocky Shaver beaches.
They were over us while we swapped campfire stories and talked about what the fishing might be like the next day. Maybe they were testing me, seeing how I got along with everyone as a way to determine if they’d even want to put up with me the next day, let alone invite me back out again in the future (I assume I passed the test, considering I’ve been invited back many times, thankfully).
It was sort of a tease talking about fish in front of the fire, staring into the flickering hot reds and yellows and dancing oranges while my mind and heart were wishing for cold blues and clear waters. But it was also like a preview of what might come with tomorrow’s sunrise. My whole life, I had heard of these landlocked salmon, called kokanee, but I’d never caught or even seen one before. Jim told me we’d be going after them up here at Shaver, and I felt the competitive spirit tingling in my fingertips, stirring in my blood.
Though I didn’t know at first how we’d go about it, it was surprisingly simple. Jim said we’d be trolling colors, and essentially just dropping down a heavy lead core real, real deep. With the colors, each one was between 10 and 30 feet, with these fins sort of trolling behind it. I’d fished enough to have a general sense of what it might be like when we got out there.
The next morning we headed out bright and early to troll colors from Jim’s boat with my buddy Ryan and a few uncles and cousins. I say “bright and early,” but there was plenty of mist out over the waters, which were more gray than blue. But the sun warmed us up in no time, splashing it’s light across the lake and returning the world to brilliant color. We clutched mugs of coffee, feeling the warmth and energy surge through our veins, and we felt good. Confident. Buzzing (partly from caffeine, partly from perhaps a morning beer or two. Shhh).
Then we were out! Shaver Lake was calm, which was a huge relief since we were trolling colors. With heavy line at that depth, you can’t always feel the fish on the other end. Once we got them hooked though, catching kokanee was not so different from any other fish. We hauled in a fair few and, in the interim, really bonded. I felt welcomed, accepted, and truly a part of the family. To this day, we’re all still close friends, and it started on that one boat ride.
One of the big joys I don’t talk as much about, aside from the fishing itself, the adventure, and the camaraderie, is actually enjoying the fish! When we got home, we gave the kokanee to Ryan’s mom. She proceeded to fix one of the freshest, most satisfying breakfasts of eggs and hashbrowns with fresh kokanee. It practically melted in my mouth, salty and hot. As the steam from it all hit my face, I thought back to the warmth of the campfire, the smoke rising in waves against my face. From starlight to the kitchen table, it was full circle one of the best, complete experiences. I still think of it when I hear a hot griddle or catch a whiff of sizzling hash. My stomach is rumbling for it even now.
And I think that’s the magic of Shaver Lake, to me. I’m sure others have their own unique experiences there. But it’s a truly special place, a large and clear lake with plenty of areas to fish. You can walk out into the darkness, with a ghostly glow of moonlight reflecting off the flat, glassy surface, and look up at the endless stars. Or you can sit in the warm halo of a campfire, drinking a beer and watching the sparks fly up, into the night like little shooting stars.
I’ll never forget one night we went hiking down by the lake, and you could see the milky way not only above us but also in the water, like a cloud of shad in the sky. It was mesmerizing and holy in every way imaginable, and I again felt so connected to the cycle of nature, the common bonds among all living things and this world, this universe we’re such a small part of.
In the years since, I’ve taken my own little ones out and passed the joy along. You never realize how many memories you can make in one trip, but whatever number that is, you can multiply it by infinity for the many more you make on top of it, passing it on. And so the ancient proverb is never more true than now: Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and open up an endless cycle of joy and wonder, with ripples beyond imagination.