I think I’ve read every reason that has been written to explain why someone fly fishes. Many are cliché: to get away from it all, to enjoy the solitude, to spend time with friends and family, the serenity, or perhaps the spiritual experience of connecting to nature. Everyone comes to fly fishing for different reasons and under different circumstances. Those who have fallen under its spell know that it becomes more than a hobby or a sport. It’s a passion, a livelihood. It’s something that transports you from the mundane routine of everyday life to a world of excitement, appreciation of nature, and a challenge to your skill. We envy those who get to fish often, and look forward to the next cast. As a former avid golfer-turned fly fisherman, I liken the feeling in your hands of a good golf shot to the feeling of making a physical connection with the handle of your fly rod when you hook up with a fish. The feeling never leaves your hands and draws you back time and again.
I am a restless person. Since I was a kid, I have had a hard time sitting still. I was constantly rearranging my room, building “forts” in the backyard, or inventing something. My grandpa taught me to be a fisherman. Trips to the river, ponds and lakes, and Minnesota taught me the first skills I need to hook a sucker, a bullhead, and later a crappie, bluegill, walleye, or bass. Before the day of the Internet I read books published in the 50s from the public library to learn more about species of fish I only dreamed about catching. I loved to learn about something I was interested in and still do. When I was 12, my grandpa gave me a fIy rod he had no use for. Fly rods in the flat farmland of Iowa are few and far between. I loved the idea of fly fishing, but had no idea what I was doing. I read all I could, but without someone to show me, I did my best to mimic the actions I had seen. Despite catching a few bluegills in a local pond, casting in the backyard was about as far as I got with my fly rod, which was soon “benched” for a more practical spin reel. I loved fishing, but as I grew up, time on the water took a backseat to sports, cars, girls, and college.
I returned to fly fishing through two individuals at just the right time in my life by means of a high school friend and a former athlete-turned-best-friend. In my early twenties I went on a summer camping trip with some friends from high school. One morning, my buddy and his wife left to try trout fishing a nearby stream, and on a whim, I decided to join them. On light tackle and a spin rod, I landed my first trout in years. The excitement of the possibility of catching such an intelligent creature and fishing a dark, cold, unknown stream drew me in. The next 3 months turned into the “summer of trout fishing,” a 2-3 times/week affair that afforded me the best distraction from the reality of my life and the purpose of the initial trip: getting away with some friends after a sudden divorce had turned my world on end. My life as I knew it had been ripped apart, but trout fishing gave me a new definition and a new identity.
Spin fishing was productive, but the restless side of me wanted a challenge. I turned to an athlete of mine, a runner who loved fly fishing and who was the only person I knew that could help me get a handle on what I needed to invest in, knots, set-up, etc. He patiently taught me everything I needed to know, and my enthusiasm filled the gaps with reading and research in books, magazines, and the Internet. He helped to fix my mistakes, took me along on trips to our spring creeks, showed me places to fish, showed me how to get a good drift, set the hook, tie flies, and how to be a more efficient fly fisherman. The friendship lasted well past his high school days, through his guide school in Montana, and into his first guide job in Maine, then Montana. Our friendship has afforded me the opportunity to fish for landlocked salmon on Grand Lake Stream, steelhead on the Brule, big browns and bows on the Madison, Box Canyon, and the tricky Henry’s Fork. Though I’ll never be the technician that he is, our mutual passion feeds off one another. He’ll be incredibly successful either on his own or to a business in the industry and I envy the courage it took him to seek out a career that is unheard of in our school system and the passion that keeps him always dreaming and moving forward.
Amanda and I got married in June a few years ago. Our first date we spent at a large, ponded, natural spring, watching a BWO hatch, tiny trout feeding at a free buffet. She was eager to learn to fly fish, and turned out to be a natural. When I proposed, I surprised her at that spring during a fishing trip this time, in waders, with a ring. Her and I have spent many days on the water. I savor every moment. She is a quick learner, and fishing has been competitive whether it be on our annual steelhead trip, on vacation in Montana or Colorado, or home on our spring creeks. Her and I and now our guide friend are practically family, spending winters tying, and warm summers on the stream or river. In our small town, I feel like the three of us have an exclusive fly fishing club. Walking into our downtown coffee shop, I wonder if anyone thinks twice about what my Simms hats mean. Then again, it’s probably as cryptic as the snowmobilers’ jackets are to me.
I somehow feel “richer” as a fly fisherman. I have never made an income from it, but it has enriched my life. I often think about what fly fishing has given to me and how I can begin to give back, or “pay forward” what I have been given. As a teacher, I have had that chance. Each year, I take students to a spring creek north of our town during an activity day. Prior to the trip, we talk about what trout eat, their habits, and the importance of catch and release. They always have fun and learn how tricky catching a trout can be. For some, it’s their first, maybe only, experience fishing. I like sharing that. Last year, with a partnership with my local TU chapter, we started Trout in the Classroom, a TU program where students learn about watersheds, raise and care for trout eggs in the classroom, and release them in the spring. The kids loved it, were sad when a few died, and got to experience nature first hand. We’re set to begin our second year of TIC this January. With the help of my friend, we started a fly fishing club at my school. A devoted group of 5 students came each Friday morning to learn about set-up, casting, tied flies, and put their skills to the test with some casting contests. This year, we’ve earned a grant for fly tying materials and a fishing trip for the club. It’s given some of the kids involved an identity and an activity to be involved in that they may not have had otherwise. I love to teach, to help people discover something new. It’s the reason I became a teacher in the first place. Combining that and a personal passion has been a lot of fun for me. Maybe someday I’ll try my hand at guiding.
A person has no idea what life has in store for them. That’s the adventure. All the experiences- good and bad- help to shape a person. We’ve all made choices we’d take back, but that’s not part of the deal. Becoming a fly fisherman has been one of the best choices of my entire life. It gives me peace of mind, an outlet to creativity, an escape, friendships, happiness, and humbling experiences that keep me coming back. I look forward to someday sharing my passion (the good with the bad) with my own children.