“If fishing is a religion, then fly fishing is its high church.” -Tom Brokaw
There is something about fly fishing that tends to draw people in. No other outdoor pursuit seems to so closely blur the lines between art and sport. More so than conventional fishing, it inspires a certain type of fanaticism that leads to a lifetime pursuit of perfection. For starters, there is the fly rod which comes in at nine feet long and is loaded with a heavy line. Mastering the fly cast allows you to wield the rod like a brush painting elegant loops in the air. At the end of each series of loops, the fly is placed perfectly on the river.
There are the flies themselves. Each one made to resemble an insect, they are small works of art. Every fly must be tied by hand using a hook, thread, and a combination of natural and manmade materials. Looking at a box full of trout flies is like staring into a book of famous paintings. Selecting the right fly at the right time requires an intimate knowledge of the river and the fish you are pursuing.
Even if you begin to get a grasp on your fly cast and learn the basics of fly selection, you still have to locate the fish. You must understand how the water moves around a certain rock or a bend in the river. Each step in the process of fly fishing is a brick in the foundation and completing the structure means convincing a wary fish to take the fly. Then the real challenge begins. Your reel clicks frantically as the fish swims towards freedom taking out as much line as possible. To successfully land the fish you must know how to play it on the line and be able to tire it out while slowly stripping in the line by hand.
Finally, getting the fish into your net, you carefully remove the hook using a pair of forceps and the delicate touch of a surgeon. Taking just a moment to admire the natural beauty of the trout you just landed you slowly place the fish in the water and wait for it to come to life. After a few seconds, the fish swims away back into the river.
Fly fishing can be an expensive pursuit. It requires patience, time, and a commitment to learning and seeking out knowledge. Becoming a great fly fisherman is the sum of mastering a series of small operations and stringing them together to achieve success. Often success means a pleasant day on a calm river casting your line and never hooking a fish. There are plenty of great ways to easily catch fish these days. Fly fishing is not always one of them. At the end of the day, it is about enjoying the journey and striving for a fleeting perfection. Every once in a while though, when it all comes together and you land that beautiful speckled trout, you are left with a great feeling of connectedness. The rod, the river, the fly, the trout, and you—all merge into one. Then, to quote Norman Maclean, “a river runs through it.”