“It was only on the river that he found both a sense of place and a place of sense.”
Over the past several decades the sport of flyfishing has taken on an almost mystical aura. Maybe it began with the movie A River Runs Through It and those hauntingly beautiful scenes of a lone fisherman casting perfect loops among the morning fog. But long before Hollywood came along there existed a fanatical and otherworldly group of individuals who chased fish with flies.
So who are these devoted anglers who fish with flies? On the outside they look (almost) normal, like any other person walking by or sitting in a coffee shop. But watch their eyes. Those curious, darting orbs are constantly searching for any flow of water that may hold a feeding trout or hide a resting migratory salmon. They slow down while crossing rivers to look at the water, often creating near accidents. They spend hours staring at a river, a stream, a culvert, an irrigation ditch in hopes of seeing a fin break the surface. They even watch the swirls in the toilet bowl wondering which current would hold the bigger fish.
Yes, they are far from normal. Beneath that tanned and scaly exterior lies the rusted armor of a noble knight who has survived numerous battles with wily fish, mother nature, shotgun wielding farmers chasing trespassers, late night calls from lonely spouses, broken down vehicles, hitchhiking back up river and the half-crazed denizens of hundreds of small town bars.
They are the vehement campaigners against dams, pipelines, clear-cut logging and open-pit mines in the last remaining wilderness regions. These are the passionate piscatorial missionaries who fly from Alaska to New York City to give a slide show to merchant bankers about the evils of the Pebble Mine in the hope that someone can and will do the right thing for the fish and the region. These are the fathers and brothers who volunteer to teach Scouts and inner city kids about fishing and conservation. They spend as much on worthy environmental causes as they do on beer.
And how to tell the hardcore from the Orvis-clad water-floggers? Look at the inside of their car, but carefully. It will be filled with the flotsam and jetsam of weekend escapes, happy holidays and after work dashes to the water. At the very minimum you will unearth several pair of waders, some moldy in need of patching, extra spools of fly line and tippit, minefields of hooks and flies stuck into every crack and piece of fabric. And you can tell the committed (sic) by the assortment of sleeping bags, mattresses that no longer inflate, empty McDonalds cartons and Snickers wrappers, and at least one empty bottle of scotch (for medicinal purposes of course). And most have a dedicated fishing vehicle. Not the family SUV or truck, but a vehicle dedicated to all things fishing. Actually it’s more a mobile fly shop and Star Trek transporter. It may be missing parts on the outside, but there are duplicates and triplicates of everything the flyfisher needs inside, somewhere.
Another characteristic of anglers who fish with flies is their uncanny ability to be talking directly (and mostly coherently) to a person at work or socially, and at the same time be worlds away. It is well understood they have a rare condition called “piscatorial split-brain personality”. While being part of a business meeting they can, at the same time, be reliving a recent event on the river, recalling a mayfly hatch that led to the best fishing of the day, or even reviewing the techniques of tight loop casting. All in the other piscine part of their brain. Most people never notice this split attention, except for spouses that is, who long ago have given up trying to capture their full attention. But get them out on the river with a rod in their hand and both brains kick in with such a laser-like focus that not even a direct lightening strike could distract them from concentrating on a drifting fly or nymph indicator. Their focus can be so acute they can even sense the instant before the fish strikes. While fishing they are prescient with gifted insight, yet at home can’t find their car keys and constantly forget to take out the trash.
I must say I am captivated by these creatures. So much so that the main characters in all my novels are dedicated, hard core fly fishers who try to hide their affliction behind day jobs. My flyfishing heroes aren’t muscle-bound, not Rhodes Scholars, certainly not George Clooney or James Bond types. In fact, they represent fairly decent guys and damn good fly fisherman who love beer and good wine, are mostly unlucky in love, always tongue-tied around women, witty in the face of danger, and generally out of their depth most of the time. But they are persistent (women say hard-headed) and at the core believe in the old Western cowboy philosophy of independence, fair play and hard work. It’s just that things don’t always work out the way they do in the movies and they usually find themselves up to the neck in trouble. Probably a bit like you and me.
You might find a little bit of yourself, just trying to do the right thing!
No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and not the same man. -Heraclitus
Tight Lines . . .
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