Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I was stripping streamers in a local trout stream last night (with no luck) before the rain hit (again) and I got to thinking about why I fly fish. Why is it that a guy who was born a Pisces (not that I put a lot into astrology) and is deathly allergic to fish is so obsessed with tossing fur and feathers at fish? How did it become the centerpiece of my life? What is it about the long rod that keeps me so infatuated? I might not have all the answers, but I think I have more than a few.

In so many ways fish are pretty alien to us. They live a completely different lifestyle than most mammals. The vast majority of them do not breathe air or live out of water. We can't always see everything in their environment and that environment is huge. A small stream may not be that big, but there are always those holes that make you wonder. Fish amaze me. The diversity of fish life is incredible- from tiny benthic gobies to humongous planktonivorous whale sharks. But I am a freshwater guy mostly and things like minnows interest me almost as much as the big predators. Just a couple of weeks ago I was at a spot where hundreds of baby pike were moving out of a backwater swamp into the main river that they would call home for the rest of their lives. I was psyched to see it. I was just as excited to see the huge numbers of central mudminnows (Umbra limi) hanging out all over the place too.

I guess for me the best way to get to know fish is to catch them. I definitely spend my time watching them too. Want one of the best tricks to become a better angler? Watch fish. Seriously. Watch what they do and how they act and you will catch more fish. To me, the best way to get to know them is to fool them with a fly. It is a very intimate act. When I catch a fish I know that it is just me and the fish in that moment. I don't like to think of the fish and I as adversaries. That makes it seem like I have something against the fish. I don't. The fish is probably less than pleased with me in truth of course. I love to look at them, feel them, watch them swim away and enjoy the memories in my mind and in those pixels stored on my computer. 

The act of casting a fly rod separates that experience from any other fishing experience. Anyone can toss a weight on the end of a line but becoming a skilled fly caster is a different story. To amass the amount of knowledge and muscle memory reuired to cast well in many styles and variations is one of the things that strikes me most about the fly rod. I love casting- overhead, double haul,roll cast, single hand spey, steeple- different casts for different situations. I strive to perfect them every time I am out on the water. It takes practice and patience, knowing when to persevere and when to throw in the towel for the day. It is time on the water, time on the lawn, reading books, watching videos, talking to friends, trying new lines, new rods, new leaders. It is never ending education. Unduring understanding and lifelong learning are things that we teachers try to instill in our students and what better way to teach it than to live it? I do- with my fly rod.
Best in the country and all I get was this...

Add to that a way for me to incorporate my artistic side. I have been doing things that required detailed work with fine motor skills since I was a little kid. I built models (still do) and I painted the miniatures produced for Dungeons and Dragons and similar games (I was damned good too- I won the first Golden Demon Award ever given in the US) (and yes, I am a total geek). I have always needed that outlet. That is one of the reasons I got an art degree before my environmental science degree. I love working with detailed work. Fly tying lets me do that. I am making flies to fool the animals I love. I get a creative outlet which in turn allows me to find that connection with fish while practicing the art of casting.

Ultimately though, there is one big reason I love fly fishing- I let go. When I am on the water that is what I am there for. I live in the moment. Any cast can put a fish on my line, any cast can help me improve my casting skills, any cast can lead to nothing, but if I don't cast, I won't find out. If I stop paying attention to my casting or retrieval or knot tying or hook sharpness or any number of things, the end result isn't going to be what I am hoping for. I live for that. I let go of everthing else that is going on. It is just me, and the water, and the fish.