February 25, 2010

On Fishing Alone

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Luck affects everything. Let your hook always be cast; in the stream where you least expect it there will be a fish.

Luck is an art.
George Roy Hill

I could have given this piece a different title; any number of them. But, since I am most often the only one in the company of myself, there can be no other as logical. And to me there can be nothing else so logical as to enjoy an outing having nothing whatsoever to do with anyone but me, a stream, a trout (or maybe even several of them), and the chance to tempt these trout with a fly.
And I find it fascinating that, when in the company of only myself, I have had such fine days (and nights) of fishing that, when related to others, often draws, among other reactions, the predictable raised eyebrow, the annoyed roll of the eyes, and yes, even the abrupt excusal, closing out the probability any further disclosure altogether.
Flyfishermen can be a fickle lot. They have a tendency to take their own prowess, imagined or real, very seriously. I think it has a little to do with the nature of the sport, and a lot to do with an ego. This image we keep of ourselves as we partake in our passion, this self-emblazoned badge of honor that we wear so proudly, can also be an obstacle to enjoyment.
In days gone by I have set forth on a day of fishing with one friend or another, only to regret the experience as the day wore on if he for one reason (or many others) did not meet his own somewhat unreasonable expectations for success. And, as I came to understand the nature of the beast, it dawned on me that it was necessary for them to have a witness to validate their success in the eyes of their cronies. To what degree, then, do they actually enjoy their fishing if there is a continual need to provide concrete evidence?
I have, for many years now, fished alone. By choice. I find it most pleasurable to cast my fly knowing there is no need to keep score. There is no hurry, no waiting, and no anxiety. No pressure. There is the ability to fully comprehend and enjoy all that surrounds me, and to focus with acuity
on the mystery of a trout and my fly.

February 22, 2010


Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day; wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit.
Elbert Hubbard

Fishing with flies, as I have come to call it, is really not an activity for those who truly seek relaxation and comfort. If you just want to fish, find a tree, a worm, grab a beer and there you go.

For me, part of the magic of flyfishing lies in its preponderance of mystery. Lots of riddles to solve; lots and lots of questions that, while begging for answers, very often appear to have none. At least none that are readily available and/or acceptable at the time. And, as my years of experiences unfold, I like to think that through all of this, through all of the 'on-the-job-training', I'm 'making progress'.
Progress towards exactly what?
Ahh. Good question.
In what direction am I 'progressing'? Am I progressing?
There. Now that's a more relevant question.
Where do I wish to go with this so-called, maybe illusory 'progression'? In the past, I would have settled for a simple answer, something elemental, along the lines of, "I want to tie better flies...", or, if asked the same question after a particularly frustrating stretch of days on the water, my response might well edge toward the controlled rage of, "I want to catch a fish, damnit! Why can't I tempt even one stupid trout to eat my fly!?"
And, I guess those are, for the good majority of us, a couple of very good yardsticks with which to measure our 'progress' toward, well, becoming better flyfishermen.
Me? I guess I need something more. For sure, bringing fish to my hand with exquisitely tied flies is always a pretty good indicator that I'm doing something right. And if that type of activity repeated itself day after day no matter what, I might be tempted to feel like I was getting somewhere. I'd finally, really be that legend in my mind I've always dreamed I might be. Like we all dream we might be. And we have some days that are like that, don't we? We sure do, just often enough to temporarily forestall any contemplations concerning the scope of larger pictures. I think great days, even semi-great ones, can make us lazy.
So, one of the ways I think I wish to measure my 'progress' is to be aware of, develop, and refine my intuitive prowess. To continue to educate myself. To not let success stagnate my methodry. To add to my toolbox of whatever skills necessary so that at any given moment I have options. It seems easy to sit here and type it, but on the water, I will consider it progress if I remember these words and utilize what skills I have to that point honed. Having answers, or options, is key to some of those 'questions' I spoke of earlier.
Experience is the best teacher, or so 'they' say. I believe that to be true, but only if you really learn from it.

February 18, 2010

2 Hours

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.
Norman Maclean

It is a Sunday. Mid-February. The river continues to amaze me. The lack of snowfall dictates flows that are ridiculously low for this time of year, while temperatures for day and night stay consistently above freezing. I frequent the river quite often now, and in the past several days have been witness to an amazing sight.
Big, fat, dark, Blue-winged Olives. A good solid size sixteen. Never before have I in the winter months seen them so big and hatching in such numbers.
My son and his wife had decided they would cross the mountains to spend Valentine's Day weekend with his grandma. In a conversation with him a few days before their departure, I impulsively told him to 'bring his rod', not expecting to be pleasantly surprised by his response, which went something like, " I sure will...", I don't remember the rest of the conversation. See, I was too excited. All I knew was that my son and I were going to be fishing together again.
So, we went about figuring out a good time to go on Sunday, Valentine's Day, that wouldn't interfere with their plans for the weekend. That meant timing was going to be essential in being at the right place at the right time. I knew that the Olive hatch was going to bring fish up, and I knew we'd have maybe a couple of hours to work with at the very most, and I wanted that time to be as special for him as it already was for me.
When the weather, the temperatures, and the river all work together, no matter what time of the year it is, good things happen. And, given these somewhat static conditions, every day it happens at just about the same time. I knew this from years of experience, underlined by my visits earlier in the week.**********************************************
My son, even without having much time at all to fish consistently, continues to develop his senses. He is shrewd, and intuitive. The years have added patience to his arsenal. I think he's beginning to grasp the more intangible aspects of what it is that we have in common. As I fish, I also observe. I see the calm in him as he casts. I can sense his concentrated energy. His focus. He is totally absorbed in the present tense of the moment, watching his fly drift freely... I see a sudden disturbance in the water. Aaron lifts his rod, line tight, and then the fish is gone, with his fly...
I caught no fish on this day. Had no chances to tighten on a fish. Sometimes that can be quite frustrating. Today, it didn't matter, because I felt something better, stronger...
I felt it right in the bottom of my heart. Those of you who have sons, or daughters, have spent time with them, have given them access to your heartfelt passion, have loved them, guided them, felt their frustrations, experienced with them their losses, and humblings, as well as the joys and triumphs , know what that feels like. It's the most beautiful feeling, the essence of being, I will ever feel. And, it is perpetually renewed anywhere, anytime that connection is further defined.
I have given my son the gift of fishing with flies, and he has in turn given me the gift of his involvement in the passion I hold so dearly.

February 5, 2010


I allow my intuition to lead my path.
Manuel Puig

One of the most memorable fishing days I have ever experienced had nothing whatsoever to do with fishing. It had to do with discovery. Or, more to the point, strength of conviction.
It was a perfect morning. Warm, overcast, only a still slightly chill pre-dawn breeze coming up the river. Caddis still danced everywhere along the surface, reluctant to call it a night. During the past few days I had been witness to massive late evening hatches here, having stayed late into the darkness reveling in the success of my swinging soft hackle. I swear that these trout who wait for the safety of the night before beginning to feed, are the truest of savages. Hugging the algae-blackened rocks of the bottom by day, they rise with the coming darkness to attack my fly with abandon, catapulting themselves into the night, often even before it has begun its swing through the currents.
Then, as it gets very dark, I fish blind. It's a guessing game with every cast. Now, the playing field is somewhat leveled, and these malevolently-colored trout seem to understand their advantage, using the night and even subtlety to camouflage their attacks, while plying every trick in their arsenal of escape mechanisms to perfection when hooked. I am forced to rely on senses other than sight as I respond to their struggle, and I begin to understand that I must somehow always be in touch with my offering, otherwise they are gone before I can react. I will, from this time on, reap the fruit of these nighttime forays. I call it 'using the force'. Being 'in touch' is now everything, even when blessed with daylight. I can only guess at the numbers of fish I have lost in not having fully developed all of my senses.
And one of those senses is intuition. In an earlier post I went on, probably ad nauseum, about its importance in the conception, and subsequent development of flies, which will help me connect the dots for you now.
I decided to revisit the spot where I'd spent the previous evening, and as stated earlier, Caddis were still hatching, although it was apparent after a few minutes of observation that it had nearly run its course for the present time. Nevertheless, even though I saw rising fish, I'd chosen to swing the same fly that had been so successful just a few hours ago. Everything was the same, save for the daylight now... but the difference was amazing. Twenty casts and twenty swings later, I stood silently, staring out over the same water that had been so alive the night before. I had one strike, a youngster who had been one of the few fish rising. I noticed midges on the surface. It was pretty obvious to me that only the younger fish were up chasing them. The feast that had taken place through the night was obviously over for a while. I looked around, and saw several anchor points (spots usually over bushes, windbreaks, etc.) where several caddis still swirled. And I wondered if I might still hook fish with the soft hackle if I could swing it across down more deeply in the column. I'd thought of this the night before, and tied my first (of what will be many)
bead head soft hackle ever. Same size, same everything with the addition of a tungsten bead.
I tied it on, and cast, pleased at the extra distance I was able to attain because of the weight. Now, I can't be sure just how much deeper the fly was when it began its swing, but, as my line began to belly with the current, there was a very strong pull, and just a second later, a dark-backed trout flew skyward. This activity was to be repeated several times in the next hour, until I donated it. I got lazy and decided to forego what should always be a constant. Nevertheless, I learned a lot that morning. About myself. That lesson serves me well, for not only fishing. The knowledge that I can make decisions and choices that may somehow go against the grain of 'acceptable' rationale. Intuitiveness is a gift that extends far beyond the waters I fish. It cuts right through the middle of everything. Right on through all the other crap.

February 2, 2010


Life is only a dream and we are the imagination of ourselves.
Bill Hicks

Roll over. Check the clock again. 3 a.m... finally. Okay. Out of bed, into the shower, throw down some breakfast, stow my gear and hit the road, all way the hell before dawn. Perfect. The ride through those hours before daybreak has always been so very blessedly cathartic. If there's anything else that comes close to that I don't as yet know what it is . I am transformed as well as rewarded, given a golden opportunity to steal back some of the time I've previously spent, wisely and/or otherwise. It's so precious that if I were to be given back all of the time in my life to re-invest, these times, that I spend for me, with me, on the road, would never be re-visited. They would stand as they are, for it is while I drive through those hours in the darkness that I am most at home in my mind. I am free. Free to wander, to imagine. Bound by no parameter other than what I wish to construct at each particular moment.
I have no sound system, no radio. Only the sound of travel. The tires on the pavement. The wheels in my head. My mind sings as the miles roll past. Songs of joy, of wonder. Mistrals blow, a fog descends, then dissipates, baring the moon and the stars. I find myself in the midst of a smile, sometimes wistfully recalling other time, quite lost to the world in my capsule, traveling over and through the canyons of my life.
I think of my fishing; what's to come. Where I have been, and where I might go. What I have learned. What I should have learned, but chose to ignore, thinking I knew better. How this time it will be different... or maybe not. Lessons learned, and often forgotten... maybe a tear or two, quietly proud of my progression... just how far I have traveled down my chosen path, mostly alone. How much I have taught myself in the years since a day at the lake changed me, unlocked me, forever...
I imagine the cast, and the fly, landing softly, perfectly... how the rod feels in my hand... what adjustments the weather may possibly command... maybe some rumination in the direction of flies... what to use... how should I begin the day...
And then, it hits me again for not the first, or last time. I realize I am at peace. I am finally, truly at peace. I have, in weathering the storms throughout my life, become the man I always wished to be. I have found that place in my heart where it is good, and right. Where I can continue to grow and learn and experience the essence of what it is I love to do, without the weight of expectation, or failure.
I imagine a tight loop carrying my fly far, far over the horizon...