The essence of fly fishing

Years ago I was asked why I fly fish. They asked, “what is it about fly fishing that is so appealing? Why not just use conventional tackle?” I remember giving a long drawn out explanation that basically arrived at the conclusion that fly fishing just looked cooler and was much more fun to cast. I had the attitude that if I had to explain it to you then you probably wouldn’t understand anyway, which was partly due to me having no clue how to answer such a question. Since then, my view on fly fishing has slightly changed.

Since starting graduate school I haven’t had much time to fish (or breathe for that matter). But I have enjoyed diving deeper into the world of fish physiology and conducting my own research. Although my time on the water has been virtually nonexistent since my research started doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about fly fishing. On my walks to class or to teach, I usually fish my favorite Rocky Mountain backcountry streams in my mind. On my drive to the hatchery, I’ve caught myself daydreaming about casting to tailing reds (Sciaenops ocellatus) on the flats behind Mustang Island. So it’s safe to say I am still very much consumed by the art although life has obligated me to other priorities at the moment.

I think part of the appeal of fly fishing is the art. Norman Mclean said “…all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.” The challenge is giving enough illusion to inanimate feathers and thread slapped on a hook to imitate just the right amount of life to entice a fish to eat. That is beauty. That is art.

I am of the school of thought that in a person’s piscatorial pursuit he or she must be well rounded. Failure to do this results in a one trick pony who has but one method of harassing fish, and the conditions must be perfect in order for that individual to have success. With this said there have been times where I have put down my fly rod only to pick up a conventional rod. However, I am always more in tune with my surroundings with a fly rod in my hand than anything else. Maybe fly fishing just demands us to be part of our surroundings to fully understand how God intended it to work. Simply put, it is because of the full immersion in His creation that fly fishing captivates me.

Fishing runs in my family. Practically every family member I have hunts and fishes. It’s who we are. Both my grandfather and great grandfather fly fished, but my grandfather much preferred a cane pole and crickets over a fly. In fact, my philosophies on fly fishing might have originated from my great grandfather. My grandmother gave me his fly tackle some time ago, and it eerily resembles the tackle I take into the backcountry. In it consists of some line, a couple leaders and a few flies. I approach fly fishing much in the same manner by usually carrying a couple fly boxes minimally filled with a handful of patterns appropriate for the water I’m fishing. No more, no less. I think this modest approach allows me to be less distracted by my gear and more immersed in Creation.

As with all things in life, there are chasms that separate anglers into distinct genres within the fly fishing community. Perhaps the most recognizable group are those that pack every possession related to fly fishing into a high dollar fishing vest. They perfectly fit the persona by wearing nothing but fishing gear as everyday attire as if it were important to inform the world they fish; they are easily spotted. I always see them spending more time on the side of the river (or any body of water) fumbling through over packed fly boxes than actually fishing. It’s as if they enjoy the idea of fly fishing more than the actual act. The most obnoxious ones, however, are the ones that exude arrogance because they are standing in a river with a fly rod. These bastards are the know-it-all-purists and aristocratic demons of the sport that force the idea of one’s social status is somehow eternally linked to how they fish. Pure damnation! The list of fly anglers goes on, but the point is they all miss the essence of what fly fishing really is. They seem to epitomize Henry David Thoreau’s sentiment that “many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

I received my first fly rod as a Christmas gift from my grandparents when I was 7 years old, and I am still charmed by it today. Many things in my life have come and gone, but fly fishing has always remained steady. I understand the world is full of personalities, but I tend to take fly fishing (and fish) a bit more personal than most. It puts me much more in harmony with the intentions God had for His creation than anything else. For that, I am grateful. Because of this it is only natural that disrespecting the art is a sin in my eyes, and it is probably frowned upon by Christ since most of His disciples were fisherman. If I were asked today as to why I fly fish, I would say the essence of fly fishing is to unearth the hidden, fluvial rhythms of God. The catch is merely an interruption of His rhythms.

– Chris


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