There are many reasons why I started fly fishing, and many more why I still do.
I started early. In fact, I do not remember learning to fish. But I do remember early summer mornings sweet with dew, rolling stumps over and using my little finger to grab chubby worms from the damp soil and depositing them into a plastic sour cream container my mom saved for just this sort of thing. l was never able to re-align the stumps again and created a haphazard zigzag instead of the tidy hedgerow my father had intended. But that didn’t really bother him. The joy I found fishing from my dock, or any of my secret spots made most of my minimal childhood crimes to be overlooked, even the times when I would leave before dawn and come home long after I was expected. Always forgiven by my mother who understood the pull of the need for adventure, as she should, because I got it from her. One more cast, one more bend in the creek. Hers never manifested into a sport as obvious as fishing (MaryJane’s adventures were far more cultural and educational), but mine? Mine were sun-soaked on cloudy days; misty ones were magical and mysterious. My ears could not hear the traffic or boats or much of anything over the sounds of the birds. The birds I shared my precious wild berries with. The ones that warned me with their discernable calls, letting me know when anything was on the move around me in my woods. In my forest, on my trails, and under my ferns. The smell of the minerals, wood, and sap of the cool, velvety, soft, black loam. Hiding with the snails, the kind with the quarter-size round, swirling shells. Itself a fairy dream. For hours I would dunk worms from gear that was old and barely functioning- line that was too thick, a hook that was too big, and a weight which could leave a dent in the head of a nearby friend. The only reason I would go home were to replenish something utterly vital for fishing, or because it became too dark to see. My poor mother would groan when I would throw yet another half dozen salad plate-sized bluegill, uncleaned, straight into the garage deep freeze. I had brought the family dinner, and I was beaming. I spent entire summers doing this. Sometimes with friends, at least those who could understand my fantasy world, but more often alone. I then didn’t have to explain anything to anyone.
And then it happened. Puberty. Boys. Sex. Marriage, children, and a career. I felt the loss. Deeply and wholly. Would I ever find my home again? The garden helped. I became connected to the earth again. I dissed the treadmill for the trails, even in the rain. Especially in the mist. With the ferns. And while it wasn’t sudden, I was slowly becoming myself again. With my children I began to find that feeling again. As they grew, I taught them the ways of the forest and the fish and reading water and feeling the spell. The ethereal thread that binds the spiritual world to the material one.
Eventually, I switched from worms to flies, from spinning gear to fly gear, from freezing my fish to a quick release of them, and I have never looked back. It gives me more than I could ever ask for.
I have now carved time in my life to fit this fishing, this connection to myself, into my life with my family and friends. It is beyond my best days. Better than my wedding. Better than my first car.
Why I fish. I love the fact that there is always more to learn. It combines the earthy outdoors with peace and quiet and rhythmic motion, and some successes mixed with growth opportunities. It’s a level playing field, you and the fish, peaceful water, learning and applying fundamentals, and creating new ways to connect and succeed. All the woes of the day literally seem to just float away. And they seem to stay at bay while you live in your fishing hangover long beyond that day’s casting until you pull into your driveway and remember the garbage still needs to go out.
Camaraderie, friendship, and memories. These could perhaps be the building blocks of some of the most worthwhile relationships, and never have they been more evident to me than with the friends, family, and fishing guides I have come to know. Guides become friends. Friends become closer, and family create bonds. it seems anywhere I have gone fishing, experiences and information are graciously shared, and people are supportive, playful and real.
I found it easier than expected, the physical, mechanical aspect I mean. I decided, if you can swat a fly you can cast a fly. It’s that simple. The cast may seem tricky. Until you try it. The first few times it may feel strange but quickly the rhythm becomes natural and you can take it as far as you want, from tiny little dry flies on the soft water below a riffle to casting 6” streamers, for fish you’ve never heard of in countries it takes four commercial flights, a float plane, a 4-wheel drive truck and a canoe to get to.
But, however you choose to do it, the same basic love and principles remain. I do not know anyone who regrets learning this sport. Yes, there have been times that I have been questioned, being female, if I really could or did fish, or did I just follow my husband around fishing? Um, no. We started the exact same day. It has happened, and it stung. Raised by a strong woman, I would actually laugh at first. I simply could not believe I was being questioned. Really?
In Scotland, our gillie (a guide in native tongue) said directly to my husband, “So what will your wife do while you fish?” John looked at the gillie slightly puzzled, as I was dressed to fish, and stated clearly, “She will be fishing as well.”
Then, a broad smile crossed the guide’s face.
I could see that he was happy to see this. I was aware that it would take a bit of work and time for the industry to see women as legitimate, but more importantly, I also saw so many wanting and supporting this change.