I hope my kids get the F Gene. But I'll love them if they don't.

By Kelley Moen, 8-20-08

Charlie's got the fishing gene

In our family, we like to believe that fishing is a genetically inherited trait: the fish gene, or the f-gene, as we call it.

While my four-month-old baby, Charlie, grips my finger, his knuckles white in a deadlock hold that could now probably fight even the biggest Oregon trout, I ponder the biological (or not so biological) phenomenon.

Does the pair of 23 chromosomes, stacked up like the Olympic rowing team, our very own Team DNA, determine everything that our children will become?

The whole concept is so very abstract to me. With a non-scientific brain, one that understands poetry stanzas better than science experiments, I remember my high school textbooks depicting the twisted, chain-linked pair of chromosomes that make up DNA. Each geometric shape determines something specific: Blue eyes or green? Brown hair or blonde? Height and the shape of nose or chin? Hmmmm. Do these microscopic minis really have that much power?

I do see the physically inherited traits clearly. My son has his dad’s swirling cowlick of hair, the same beautifully shaped cranium, similarly pouty lips and dimpled chin. Charlie may have my ski-jump nose and his great grandfather’s blue eyes.

But what about the non-biological traits: things like taste preferences, hobby interests, sense of humor and personality? And what about this fishing gene?

Has he inherited the f-gene? And if so, is it the dominant or recessive gene? Will the waters of Oregon satisfy him? Will he be content to fish the Deschutes, Metolius, Fall River and dozens of small lakes in the Cascade Lakes region near Bend and Mt. Bachelor? Or, as I did, will he move away from home, the moment he reaches driving-age, to be near Montana’s blue-ribbon trout streams, the waters romanticized in “The River Runs Through It”?

I know I have to wait a good 14 years to find out if this trait is apparent in Charlie, it won’t hurt to look at his chances by tracking the history of this gene in our family.

The dominant form, the F-gene with a capital F, began with Charlie’s namesake, his great grandpa Charles. A bait fisherman, he’s been in pursuit of lake trout and west coast steelhead for a good portion of his 85 years of life.

A s a younger man, Grandpa Charles lived near Washington west coast streams, fishing for the big steelhead that he would bring home as dinner for his family, which was my grandma, mom, two aunts and uncle.

A t his lake house, Grandpa’s garage wall told his fishing story. It was covered with rods, lined floor to ceiling in horizontal rows like regimented artillery ready to tackle the water. He had a set-up for every occasion, with reels, lewers and lines for each. Mepp’s, a red and white striped spinner, was his favorite. I am sure now that I remember the smell of fish lingering in the air every time I’d pass that wall.

He recently moved away from this North Idaho lake cabin, his home fishing waters for nearly 40 years. My earliest memories as a child are those of my tall, lanky Grandpa in his trucker-mesh fishing cap and striped overalls getting ready for an evening fishing troll on Spirit Lake. The sun setting, shadows dancing across the dark glassy lake, the fish were getting “hungry,” and he would look to the island across the bay and see the fisherman’s dream: a lake with no boats. “It’s time”, he would say, and begin gathering the tackle box, his big aluminum net, a couple of his rods and a plastic Tupperware of “fishing candy” (either black licorice or the Pepto Bismol-pink colored mint lozenges that leave a chalky dust on your lips.)

Grandpa would often take Grandma along, trolling the lake for kokanee in his aluminum boat, which was later replaced by a more comfortable, gutted ski boat with big folding chairs and a windshield for Grandma. (I remember Grandma singing the fishing song to me, a toddler with my own tiny rod in hand: “Fishy fishy in the brook, come and bite my little hook.”)

Grandpa passed the F-gene along to his daughter, my mother. Her love for fishing began as a 14-year-old with their weekend, father-daughter steelheading trips. It was a special occasion, a reason to rise in the wee hours of morning dark. They would leave early before sunup and cook toast and coffee on one of Washington’s ocean-bound streams.

My mom, now retired to her western Montana cabin on the river, has a major case of the fishing gene. She spends more hours in the water than anyone I know, and if there is a fish within a cast, she will catch it. Luckily, she is married to a guy with the recessive f-gene, one who prefers to row the boat than throw a line. It works out well, I hear.

So following this gene pool, I inherited the fishing gene from my mom. Although recessive (I admit I enjoy the pursuit of fish and the hiking or rowing required to get there most), I do have the f-gene. And I suppose that by marrying a Montana fishing guide, one who now makes a living in the fishing industry , I may have boosted that recessive f-gene up a notch. We spend our free time on rivers here in Oregon, on Montana rivers, and on rivers around the world.

Will Charlie inherit the fishing gene?

Time will tell.

When Charlie was just one month old, I was reminded of something important by our Pastor Tim at Sisters Community Church: As parents, we often make the mistake of imposing our own dreams upon our children.

I admit it. We have already done this to our poor kid. With the dozens of fly rods propped in corners around our home, the photos of “best catches” from Alaska to South America framed on our walls, and even Charlie’s own trout-themed bedroom, we have imposed this love of fishing on our child.

But, ultimately I guess the f-gene will either be there or not. He will decide for himself if his dream includes a fly rod and waders.

All I can do is hope that if he does have the f-gene, it won’t take him too far away from us. And if it does, if this love for fishing pulls him away from Bend, I hope he will be like a good fish and remember his home waters.