Today (early December) I received an email from Richard Fieldhouse asking how I was coming along with my post for Fly Punk…. Shit. While I had fully planned on writing a piece for him, life tends to get in the way, as it often does. Yet there are times where it seems to get in the way with a vengeance. I’ve barely had time to write for my own blog, let alone writing pieces for other publications. Even the recent pieces I wrote for Doublehauled were exclusively about steelheading at night because it’s one of the only times I have had free to do some fishing lately. I’m not going to go through the myriad of obstacles between me and the water and thus, the act of writing about my time on the water. I’m sure my struggles to find the time are well within the mean range for adult life in today’s society. We’re all “in it” to some degree and by no means is it always bad. While there are some stressful things in my life that keep me from the water, there are also some great things, like being a father, husband, and uncle.
Honestly, my perspective as the average schlub angler is why I started writing about fly fishing in the first place. When I first started fly fishing several years ago, I was an avid reader as I am now. At the time, I didn’t have any friends or family who fly fished so I learned the hard way by gruelling fishless days on the rivers and pouring over every “tips and tricks” blog, video, or book I could get my hands on. Granted, the scenery was beautiful as I untangled my wind knots, but even that serenity was eventually replaced with frustration because not only was I clearly doing something wrong, I was also completely clueless as to what it was that I was doing wrong. It seemed to me that every tip and trick resource that was available was for the moderately experienced angler to get better as opposed to the novice angler to become moderately experienced. Unfortunately, I’m not really a great teacher so writing technical instructions isn’t really in my wheelhouse. Instead, I started writing about my own personal experiences with learning.
I was hesitant to even mention my writing because I didn’t want to seem like I was plugging my blog or anything, but when Richard asked me to write about what I love about fly fishing, I found it incredibly difficult to separate the act of fishing and fly tying from the writing about them both. It seems that at least in my experience, the three things are completely intertwined. There is something about that braid of fly fishing that gives me an immensely strong connection to the activity as a whole. In a sense, the acts of fly fishing and fly tying are somewhat symbiotic to each other. The experiences I gain on the river directly influence my creativity on the vise and my experimentation on the vise directly influences my approach and adaptability on the water. Then finally, my writing acts as a sort of curing agent (see what I did there?!) to my experiences as a whole. That’s my opportunity to solidify the meaning of those experiences while simultaneously offering up the experience of learning to others.
It’s interesting because I first came into fly fishing as a way of occupying my time after knee surgery ended my 16 year “career” in skateboarding. I was never very good at skateboarding, but I was proficient enough that it was something I obsessed about and for such a long time. To this day my “skater’s eye” has me slowing down my car as I drive past a potential skate spot that I will ultimately never get to skate. With that obsession over skateboarding came a fraternal bond with other skateboarders. There was a tangible skateboarding subculture which permeated so much of my day to day life. So when my knee went bye-bye, so too went the skateboarding and I was left trying to fill the void it left behind.
I had always been fascinated by fly fishing but had never had the opportunity to try it. I grew up in a family that fished a lot but the tactics were limited to bait and spin fishing. Fly fishing always seemed to be some highly romanticized approach to getting a fish on the line that was, I’m sure, in no small part aided by certain feature films that were released in my youth. So when I found myself clamouring for something to occupy my time and mind, fly fishing seemed like something I’d want to try. After those first few months of my all out assault on riparian tree branches, I finally started to meet other people on the river or on local fly fishing facebook groups. I was shocked to find the same level of obsession and community as I had experienced in skateboarding, both the good and the bad.
The more I interacted with others, the more I learned. I fell into a fly fishing world that mirrored the skateboarding world in so many different ways. Instead of talking about Daewon Song’s latest skate video footage, I was talking about Hooke’s newest video. Instead of checking in with friends to hear who just landed a trick on film, I was getting reports from friends about where they caught fish and what the water was like. Instead of stopping the car to check out a potential skate spot, I was pulling off the road anytime I saw a bridge to see if there was a creek underneath it. I was fully engaged and there was no turning back.
There is something else though that connects the two activities. The videos, blogs, and social activity that swirl around both endeavours are essentially nothing more than prattle. They are a by-product of the genuine. They are how we reflect on what is, in both cases, a real and authentic experience. Both activities require intense self reflection. With every trick and every cast, you examine what you did wrong or what you did right. What didn’t work? What can I do differently with my body to get that extra rotation on the board or place the fly in just the right spot so that it drifts straight to a waiting fish? How can I change my approach for the next trick or the next cast? In both activities, you start with a piece of gear that early on feels so clumsy and unwieldy, but through repetitive use and manipulation becomes almost as familiar as one of your own limbs. This process of ingraining eventually allows you to make those minuscule adjustments required in these two highly technical exploits.
And therein, I believe, lays the heart of what I love about fly fishing. Obviously, the beautiful surroundings and wildlife are great perks, but it’s that exercise of perpetual adaptation that I find so engaging and satisfying. It’s the act of seeking harmony between my body, the movement of water, and the primal instincts of an ancient creature whose tendencies we can only infer from observation. Finding that harmony can be a clunky process, like tuning a guitar while being tone deaf and without having an electronic tuner. But the more you practice it, the better you get at it. However, unlike the man-made guitar, there is no standardization with fly fishing. There is no fly fishing equivalent of a tuned low E string always ringing as a G on the third fret. Instead, you’re constantly at the mercy of your own physical limitations, the imperceptibly small variations of flow in moving water, and the often frustrating inconsistency of the fish you’re trying to catch. That constant state of having the deck stacked against you only makes it that much more rewarding when you manage to find success. It’s easy to see why fishing of any kind lends itself to people postulating the idea of luck or being blessed with a good day. In reality, we can only use our past experiences and a certain degree of willingness to experiment to improve our odds in the situation we happen to find ourselves in. All we can do is improve ourselves; both in skill and character.