A question was asked of me today of which I thought I knew the answer, but upon further introspection, I suspect that perhaps I need to reset my footing. A friend asked me today why exactly it was that I fly fish and why it was that I do not keep the very thing that I spend so much time and effort to get in my net? I gave him what I suspect would be considered an answer gleaned from the liturgy of the angler, an answer that contained all the right keywords to at least insinuate that I knew what I was doing. I am writing a book about it for goodness sake, so my answer came forth without any forethought. Not because of any rehearsal, but because I have conversed enough, I have read enough, and perhaps on some levels I have written enough so that I have all the right words. But a wise man once said to me, “If your words and your actions do not match, no one will believe a word you say”.
I used all the key phrases that would get the approving nod from my contemporaries. Words like, challenge, nature, peace, wild places, clean water, skill, beauty, conservation. All of these, or at least some of these will appear in literally every published volume on the sport, which would justify, in effect, that what I was saying was correct. But just because you say the right things, you are not granted membership into those who “get it”. Many are the folk who have all the accouterments of the sport-the right gear, the right look, the proper technique yet they seem somewhat empty. I suppose it is the empty ones who do not last very long in the sport. As a matter of fact, I have a couple of friends who dove into the deep end, bought all the gear, but when there was nothing left to buy, they found that it wasn’t the sport they were interested in at all.
So what makes me a true angler? If I were to remove the nice gear and replace it with the worst possible equipment-would I still hold the passion? If I were to be dropped into a situation where the only place I had to cast a fly were to bluegill in an algae laden farm pond-would I still hold the passion? If I had never stepped out as a writer of fly fishing- would I still hold the passion. If all the key words and catch phrases were removed from my rather limited vocabulary- would I still hold the passion?
In all honesty, after much introspection, the answer would be yes. You see, as far as a great…or even good fly fisherman…I am at a loss. More times than not my cast is not pretty and if I am in the water for more than three hours it is a certainty that I will manage to create a mess of my leader that would be in league with the Rubik’s Cube in difficulty to repair. I am often quite clumsy as I wade, and the biggest fear I have in life is drowning. My flies are not pristine, and my selection looks more mutant than even an attractor pattern might imply. As a fly fisherman, I am just about as undone as you will find.
Therefore, without an abundance of skill and a limited perspective, I am faced with a burning question imposed upon me innocently enough by a curious companion. Why exactly do I fly fish? And to answer in as simple a way as I know how, the answer comes to me without having to dig very deep at all.
I cannot even try to imagine myself NOT being one.
This sport is as much a part of me as my next breath, much as a runner with his or her next stride. The great race horse Secretariat was said to have a heart larger than is common for a horse. Larger heart meant an incredible blood flow and an expanded capacity to do that which it was born to do. I can see myself in no less of a term.
If you fish with me, it is a near certainty that you will outfish me. I know this to be so because of the number of times it has actually occurred. For me the epic day is nothing more than blind luck. I can read the water well thanks in great part to Tom Rosenbauer. I can understand the methodology of fly selection, casting, and most other things that encompass a day in the water. But all the information in the world will not make you a great angler. There comes a time when skill must take over…and in that department I am most lacking.
Yet I continue to frail about, stumble, make messes, and admire those of whom I spend time on the water. I get so frustrated at times with myself that I curse under my breath at the bad luck or bad technique, yet the very next opportunity I have to fish, I will be there playing the role of jester in my own court again. Not because I am a glutton for punishment and self degradation. It is because I am a fly fisherman, and I cannot help but do that which I have found to be a very large part of me. Tangles and all.