David Keith Wills
Fly fishing may be one of the truest forms of self expression. It has the ability to build character and resolve. It is definitely not the fastest or easiest way to get fish. If speed is what you desire your local grocery store can accomplish that with a mere request. No, fly fishing is something altogether different. I think Howell Raines said it best ‘fly fishing is to fishing as ballet is to walking.’
I would argue that there are few skills that someone could learn as a child and still do in their old age. Further, there are few things that can teach you new lessons and skills all along the way. In short fly fishing is about there being more to fishing, than catching fish.
When the modern world intrudes with all of its trappings and demands there is nothing quite like getting into the wild and go fly fishing. In that moment away from skyscrapers and business lunches, or scrum meetings of today, you harken back to a feeling of being an explorer!
There is a joy in finding a footpath that others may have missed that leads to a perfect casting spot. When this happens my inner 8 year old child who likes exploring and making makeshift forts is happy. When he sees the cool water and the unobstructed sky he is wondering ‘exactly what is so important about a daily stand-up meeting, anyway?’
Patience, dilligentness and technique are lessons that fishing begins teaching you in the beginning, middle and end. You learn that you can wake up early, get there at the best time, using the best equipment, decades of experience and still you may fail. No one is entitled to success, or fish. There is more to fishing than catching fish.
You learn to be with yourself and others. Listening to a lazy breeze blow through the leaves, hearing the frogs croak (or as some fisherman claim ‘praying for rain’). You hear the birds and other creatures communicating all around you. That is when you realize that all of the voices matter not just the loudest.
What just a few moments ago was about you fishing, you getting away from work, you taking a mini-vacation has become more about just being in nature with the birds, crickets and oh yeah the fish. It is now that you start to remember the lessons of being a good guest. Making sure not to intrude too heavily on the ground nor make a mess for your kind hosts to have to deal with later. Maybe that is why you originally thought this ‘secret casting spot’ was undiscovered before you, because the fishermen that came before you were good guests. Now you are duty bound to the next fishermen that comes along to be a good guest.
You get an immense sense of joy watching your line cut through the blue sky then strike the water. Something very satisfying about the tactile feel of the line through your fingers. You look down at your freshwater fly rod reel which is essentially just a big spool (most freshwater fly fisherman will tell you that a reel is just to carry your line down to the river). Pulling out more line listening to the mechanical spin...sounds just like Mozart.
Admiring your equipment which is really just a stick,line,reel and a fly on the end. Simple. Beautiful. It is one of the few things left that you can see all of the working parts all of the time. Nothing is obscured or hidden behind complicated software layers, it is the original open-source hardware. All designed with a singular purpose in mind, no fluff. Nothing is there that does not belong. Unlike the technological wonder that resides under my desk clouded in mystery. Simple possess a beauty all of its own, simple is good.
SUCCESS! All of the work and patience has paid off! Fish on the line! The unmistakable sign of the pole bent down, the feeling of the pull down to the deep. One hand pulling the line towards you while the other serving as a brake. The line has been cast, the hook set, you have taken your chances and been rewarded. All that remains is to reel him in.
The sweat on the brow and the strain in the arms are all of the evidence that is required to know that fate is on your side. When the fish gets close enough it’s time for the net. You carefully remove the hook and place him in the live well. There he will reside. As he gathers his strength you can’t help to notice how beautiful he is. The sun showcasing colors bouncing of his skin that no computer screen can replicate.
Watching him swim in the live well when just moments ago he was in a river. Your mind makes connections about just how fast life can change for man or beast. Companies buy other companies, people get downsized and good friends move away. The only constant is change.
Before you go home, you release your bounty back into the river. You think to yourself just moments ago he was halfway to the dinner plate. No matter how good you have it or how bad you have it, the only constant is change.
Arriving home tired with your pants wet, your boots muddy and the live well empty. Placing the ever trusty fly rod in the garage. Sneaking into the bathroom to take a hot shower, emerging refreshed, clean...new.
Sitting down to dinner with the family. Listening to how everyone’s day went. Hearing about upcoming fears about school work and your significant others joy of seeing an old friend. All the voices are important. Friends and family around a table sharing stories and food. Simple. Simple is good. Someone remarks ‘Too bad, your fishing day was bust.’
All you can do is chuckle because you know, there is more to fishing than catching fish.