“By the way, have you ever been fly-fishing?”
It seems there has always been quite a mystique surrounding fly-fishing, almost an other-worldly sense. Through the years many beautiful, notable passages have been written about it and when considering this blog, I felt humbled wondering what I could add. It came to me that my experience was uniquely mine and that granted me the privilege of sharing my thoughts.
“There is no greater fan of fly-fishing than the worm.”
Patrick F. McManus
Historically, it is believed fly-fishing began in the 13th century in Great Britain, though I recently read that in 2nd century Rome, fishermen became intrigued by the use of artificial flies drifting on top of the water. By the 16th century, better, sturdier rods, and improved lines had been created in England. As Europeans traveled to America they brought fly-fishing with them. Technology took off in the 1800’s with things like the free spooling fly reel giving the fisherman the ability to store line and and have longer casts. With the industrial revolution, rods and reels were mass produced and fly-fishing became more available to anyone to try. Fly-tying and casting have become their own art form as angling with a fly has become immensely popular. I find it fascinating that throughout the centuries, while the equipment has evolved, the basic premise of fly-fishing has not changed: try to catch a fish by fooling it into thinking a hook with feathers tied to it is a tasty insect. This is a painfully brief summary of fly-fishing history, but if you are remotely interested I encourage you to read more about it. You’ll get…hooked!
“Fly-fishing is a magic way to recapture the rapture of solitude
without the pangs of loneliness.”
I think the first thing that hits you about fly-fishing is the peace and incredible sense that you are one with nature. Standing in the middle of a stream, with the water rushing around your legs as though you were only a slight impediment, there is a feeling of belonging. When you hold the fly rod in one hand and strip out a length of line, then cast your rod forward, you’ll hear the line whiz through the ferrels and watch your fly gently lay down on the water. Or sometimes as in my case, the fly will unceremoniously plop in the stream probably scaring any fish in the vicinity. No matter–that sense of calm tranquility never changes no matter your skill level. Which brings me to a point I want to emphasize. There can be those who profess fly-fishing to be very difficult and beyond the ability of most people. Poppycock! My guess is they don’t want more anglers on their rivers!. Everyone starts at the beginning learning any new skill and most people can grasp the basics in a few hours. Yes, it will probably take years to acquire advanced abilities, but don’t shy away from enjoying this pure sport.
“I think the people who peer over the bridge and look into the depths
of the river, imagining what the river holds are just born to fish.
They don’t know why or what they are looking for…
they just can’t help but look. From there onwards it is down to
fate as to when they are introduced to the addition of fishing
that will last a lifetime.”
Fly Fishing Guide, England
In the twenty years I’ve been fly-fishing I’ve had the opportunity to stand in many streams and lakes both in the U.S. and in several foreign countries. Each location was unique and beautiful in it’s own way. For a fly-fisherman, the lure to cast a line out over each body of water water was full of anticipation–not even so much as catching a fish as just being part of the glorious surroundings.
On the Tweed River in Scotland
On the River Itchen in England
On the Touchet River in Washington State
“To me, a fishing buddy is a more esteemed
relationship then a friend.”
One of the most consistent factors I’ve found in this sport is the demeanor of fly-fisherman. They tend to be really nice people, friendly, helpful, thoughtful and usually interested in preserving the environment. You don’t see trash at a ‘fly-fishing only’ location, nor do you hear fly-fishermen being overly loud and disruptive. Disclaimer: if a steelhead has been caught there probably will be a noisy bit of celebrating! Overall, I think those that are attracted to fly-fishing are a special sort–they seem to have patience and a thoughtful approach that sets the fly-people apart from others. Of special note have been a few of our fishing guides who have become dear friends. Jack Mitchell, owner of The Evening Hatch in Washington state (theeveninghatch.com), became acquainted with my husband after guiding Greg and his sons on many fly-fishing adventures beginning in the mid-1980’s. They formed a bond that has lasted for several decades and is still as strong as ever. Another wonderful association began when we hired a guide in England for a fly-fishing trip (Note: in the U.K. fishing is far more difficult than in the states. There is no public access to rivers or lakes, one must hire a guide–it all seems rather complicated to the spoiled American). Whether luck of the draw or by divine guidance, as I prefer to believe, we met Colin Alexander and had one of the most magical days on the River Itchen in Hampshire, southwest of London. The river is considered to be one of the world’s premier chalk streams for fly-fishing and it didn't disappoint. With his vast knowledge of the area and fly-fishing, his focus on us having a really bang up fishing day, and his very funny sense of humor, we knew we had met someone special. That was nearly six years ago and we continue to stay in touch frequently by text, FaceTime (when we get the time difference correct…) and phone calls. We’ve shared time with Colin and his lovely wife, Teresa and consider them good friends. For those who have read Window Friends, you’ll note the fishing guide at Leigheas is named Colin, not by coincidence. You are liable to read more about him in the sequel…
A River Runs Through It
When I began writing about fly-fishing one thought that struck me immediately was the bond it brought to families. My husband introduced his sons to fly-fishing at an early age, taking them on any number of guided trips in addition to simply spending time with them on the water. Ben, the oldest son, became an avid fly-fisherman, well-known in the northwest especially for his spey casting.
We have shared fly-fishing with all of our children and those grandchildren old enough to be safe in the water. Watching them discover the joy of being in the stream, and feeling nature all around them is amazing. And when they hook that first fish onto their fly, the wide-eyed wonder is priceless!
Additionally, we have had the opportunity to introduce a number of friends to fly-fishing. For some it was a wonderful one time fun adventure, and for others it has become a far more serious hobby. Sharing our love and enjoyment of the sport is a pleasure.
A lot has changed in twenty years, the world has become more cynical and angry and some days life seems so full of negativity. I suppose it would be naive of me to suggest if more people spent time in nature, pondering the exquisite gift this earth offers, we might return to a time of kindness and respect and calmness. Fly-fishing seems to me to be a really fine way to forget your troubles, even if just for a bit, and rediscover the essence of what is important. I’ll end with a marvelous quote from Herbert Hoover:
To go fishing is the chance to wash one's soul with pure air, with the rush of the brook, or with the shimmer of sun on blue water. It brings meekness and inspiration from the decency of nature, charity toward tackle-makers, patience toward fish, a mockery of profits and egos, a quieting of hate, a rejoicing that you do not have to decide a darned thing until next week. And it is discipline in the equality of men -
for all men are equal before fish.