Have you ever thought about the actual concept of fly fishing? The idea that you’re spending an entire day (or days at a time), standing in a river or a boat, waving a long stick with the hopes of catching a fish that you’re going to hold for only a few seconds before returning it to the river? Even on an excellent, epic day you might spend only a full minute or two actually holding or looking at the actual fish. When you finally do catch the fish, you put it back into the river, after maybe snapping a quick photo? Those of us that are really infected with this addiction often choose the most difficult way to catch these fish by slinging big streamers that MIGHT yield only three fish on a truly excellent day. I have friends and family that give me the “you went all day and didn’t catch anything yet you’re going again tomorrow” look all too often. So it really does beg the question? Why the hell do we do it? What is it about the sport of fly fishing that grips your soul and creates a thirst for such enrichment that can only be quenched by more fly fishing; more opportunities to get a chance to maybe catch A fish. There’s the “tug is the drug” catch phrase, and the ego-driven search for that next “hero shot” to plaster on your Facebook page for the newest profile pic to see how many “likes” you can get. For some it’s an escape from all that ISN’T fly fishing; a stressful job, family troubles, the fast-paced society we live in with all of the screens and devices that we bury our faces in for HOURS every week. For others still it’s the fact that trout simply don’t live in ugly places and the opportunity to see and maybe photograph gorgeous scenery is good enough for them. The biological chess match between you and that big wily brown trout sticks in your mind. It consumes your mind on your drive to work; it’s what drives you to spend an hour on a Saturday morning watching Todd Moen videos on youtube.
More than an escape, a view, or a challenge, the opportunity to share your passion with friends adds another layer to the experience of fly fishing. Most of my best friends are those that I have spent at least a day on the river with. Floating a river with another person who shares the same passion gives you an instant connection to make conversation and leads to a bond between “fishing buddies” that isn’t like any other. There’s plenty of time on the river when fish aren’t being caught that leaves room for plenty of conversation. One day on the river can lead to a lifetime of friendship (as well as many more days on the river). If someone were to pull you over to ask you the one reason why you love to fly fish, both of you would stumble over your words, and mutter a slew of nonsense, but you both know exactly why there’s no way to describe this passion with one reason. The mutual understanding between friends over the inability to describe this soul-gripping passion aligns you in the pursuit for whatever it is you’re searching for on the river.
My belief is that any one of the aforementioned reasons is enough to keep someone coming back to the river but to me, and others that are truly passionate and gripped by the activity, idea, and romanticism that make up fly fishing, it’s all of the reasons all at once that come together when you come tight to a fish. It doesn’t matter if it’s an 8” Appalachian Brook Trout slurping down a dry fly, a 10 pound Arkansas brown that just hammered a streamer, or a Western rainbow eagerly munching a stonefly; it all grips you, all at once, all in that moment. That moment is a culmination of the escape from the stresses, the feeling of the headshakes; everything in life, every earthly thing disappears for that moment. In that moment you’re in an indescribable place; the tough conversation with that employee you had yesterday never happened, the financial struggles are gone, the family conflicts are resolved, if only for that moment. That moment is more potent than any drug you can find, and no amount of alcohol can take you to that kind of high. You’re in the chess match and you’ve got the king boxed in. When you sink the net around that fish, whether you take your hero shot, or simply unhook the fish and return it to the river, it’s a victorious feeling you can’t describe to someone who hasn’t experienced this euphoria. If you’re fortunate enough to share this experience with friends, you’re even more enriched through the camaraderie and fellowship that’s different and deeper than any other activity.
So why do we do it? What compels us to stand in a cold river to merely hold a fish for a few seconds before letting it go? Why do we spend all of our spare time day-dreaming and about and planning that next trip out west? It can’t be answered in a few words; it can only be answered with an experience. In order to fully understand the soul-gripping, life enriching passion, you have to immerse yourself in that moment, and in order to fully experience that moment… Share it with a friend.