How I Learned (Not) to Fly Fish
I grew up fishing and outdoors. I have no idea how many hours I have actually spent casting and hoping and praying. It would most likely be more than anything else I have done, except maybe for writing.
It wasn’t until I was older that I finally attempted to learn to fly fish. It is something I am still learning how to do, at least correctly.
I had seen people fly fishing and it always looked pretty peaceful to me. Just you, the stream, the scenery, maybe, if you’re lucky, even a fish or two.
Plus it almost seemed like they were picking out a fish and just catching that one. Kind of like Babe Ruth calling his shot.
That’s right fish, I got you.
It looked like they might have moved past the randomness of my method and had actually found a way to just catch fish. It wasn’t even fishing anymore. It really was catching.
At least it looked that way. That’s where I made my first mistake. Nothing is ever as easy as it seems. At least not at first.
I saw how easy they made it look and thought, How hard could it be? What could possibly go wrong?
(spoiler alert) Never ask this about anything. You will get more answers than you bargained for. Don’t ever ask this about anything. ANYTHING!
So one day I finally decided to give it a try. I found some pretty cheap gear and started reading up on the how to do this stuff. Watched a lot of videos, read a lot of things, tried to make a couple of practice casts in the yard.
It all seemed to click.
I got this, I’ll go try. I know where a nice little stream is and I have seen fish in it. I’ll be a fly fisherman by the time I get back.
(Spoiler alert) Over confidence in anything will usually end badly. God doesn’t like arrogance and apparently neither do fish.
So, I got down to the stream on what looked like a wonderful morning. The air was brisk but not too cold. There was a gentle breeze blowing. The sun was just coming up and painting the sky to look like God’s Artwork.
I felt like Hemmingway might walk up and pat me on the back for being there. This was the perfect morning. What a day to start my journey as a fly fisherman. This is going to be wonderful
(Spoiler alert) It was already wonderful and remember what I said about overconfidence and arrogance. They will be key to understanding the true lesson in this adventure that almost made me never want to try this again.
So, after I finally adjusted to this amazing morning and caught my breath, I got out my gear and headed down to the stream.
I could see a couple of fish before I even got close to the water and could see and hear a few more hitting whatever unfortunate insect had fallen on the surface of the stream.
“Great, they're already biting.”
It took a lot of self-control not to just run down and sling out a fly and hope it got hit. But somehow, I managed to do it.
It all seemed somehow surreal.
This is really happening. I am becoming a fly fisherman, and it is that easy and peaceful.
I got my rod out, hooked on the reel, ran the line, and tied on a fly that I thought resembled the insets they were feeding on.
I found the perfect spot on the stream to begin my journey and took one last look and a deep breath.
“I am one cast away from being a fly fisherman.”
“I might even have to be a guide one day, so I can teach other people how easy this is and how peaceful It can be.”
As we all know life changing events happen in the blink of an eye. One moment you’re this person and the next you're the person you dreamed of being. You don’t have to spend any time actually learning how to do this or getting good, it just happens.
It CAN happen like that but usually things happen a lot differently especially in the outdoors. Fishermen are never guaranteed to catch anything. I knew this from my other fishing methods. I got caught up in the moment and forgot everything I knew. Which is what usually happening to me. I get ahead of myself and try to skip the learning curve because I pick up things quickly, and then God teaches me a valuable lesson. This day would be a lesson not a victory.
As the sun finally came all the way over the horizon it was time to become the person I had come here to be.
One cast and I will be a fly fisherman.
So, I began to become this new person.
I let out line.
Worked out enough line to get to my mark.
Back and forth just like I practiced.
Let it flutter down on the water surface.
It landed amazingly close to where I wanted it. So close the fish looked at it.
This is good. I "am" doing this.
I could feel the adrenaline rising when he started heading for my fly.
Try to remain calm, even though the whole time the thought of “Here it comes,” kept running through my head.
Be patient. Let it happen.
The fish moved towards my fly and started picking up speed.
Be patient. Wait for the strike. Wait till he takes it.
Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause.
Closer and closer.
He was inches from the fly and started to open his mouth.
Everything I knew and had been saying was milliseconds away from happening.
I BLEW IT!
I set the hook like I was hooking into a whale.
It was the loudest commotion on the stream I had heard all morning.
My lucky little buddy, the fish, shot upstream like he was running for his life and in seconds had disappeared and has probably never been seen again.
It was probably a while before he looked at an insect the same way again.
A helpless little may-fly would hit the water's surface 10 feet away from him and he would head in the opposite direction screaming.
“I’m the only fly fisherman in the world to traumatize the fish without catching them.”
“I thought this would be peaceful. I thought it would be easy.”:
"What am I doing HERE?”
I got in my line and gave myself a timeout on the bank.
“Time to rethink this.”
“I’ll take a minute to catch my breath and go over the fiasco I just did.”
“Luckily nobody saw this.”
That part was true, nobody saw it. The noise, however, was attracting attention from some other fishermen further up the steam. They would make their way down to investigate a little later. I had to traumatize a few other trout before anything other than fish would really take notice of what was happening on the stream that morning.
I’m not sure what you would call what was happening, but it was not exactly what I had envisioned taking place. I certainly was not a fly fisherman. By the look of it I didn’t know anything about any kind of fishing except how to make sure they would never bite anything again. At least not for a long time anyway.
"At least no one is here to witness this, and the story I will tell people isn't going to sound anything like what is happening. Everybody knows all fishing stories are true, so I’m going to be fine. "
I headed back up to the car to regroup and have lunch. Sometimes you just have to walk away so you can come back with a better plan. You have to access what you are doing wrong to correct it.
The one thing I had done right was pick a great spot. There seemed to be an endless number of fish there. After I would do it completely wrong, all I had to do was wait a few minutes and another would come into view.
I had picked the right spot and found the only fish as determined to be caught as I was to catch one. I am still undecided on whether it is better to psychologically scar one fish for a very long time or scar all the fish there for a little while. They both seem to have their own negativity.
This isn't what I thought it was going to be.
There was also another possibility I didn’t realize until a few days later. I might have found a fish that was determined to make me look like a fool all day. That’s probably the most likely answer. He was doing a great job of it so far.
After realizing everything I had done wrong and coming up with a better plan I got my courage up and headed back down to the stream to realize my dream of becoming a fly fisherman. Again.
"Stay positive, I got this."
Fishermen are very optimistic people by nature. We have to be. If it wasn’t for the few times, we actually catch something, fishing, by itself, would be the very definition of insanity. Luckily, it’s not just about catching fish. Usually, anyway.
This day was. It was all about catching a fish.
All I needed was one.
Just one and I’m a fly fisherman. My dream will be a reality.
So, I started again. But this time it was different:
I waited till the fish actually took the fly.
I waited till the line got tight.
I waited for him to think he had gotten away.
Then I set the hook.
Believe me when I tell you I was as astonished that it was set as the fish was.
I had also been somewhat traumatized by my haphazard approach earlier that morning.
I had failed so many times at hooking the fish I hadn’t planned on what to do if I actually did.
Then I hooked one.
I hate to admit it, but I froze. I had no idea what was going on. All I kept thinking was. “He’s hooked, he’s hooked.” Like it was done, and I could go home as a fly fisherman at that point.
Eventually I realized I was supposed to do more at this point and began fumbling around with all kinds of things that my fingers landed on.
Zipper of my jacket.
Couple of buttons.
Probably scratched my head.
Eventually I got them on the reel.
Then I remembered.
“REEL HIM IN!”
Oh yeah, there is more to this.
As determined as this fish had been to be hooked, he was just as determined to not be caught. I know it’s weird logic, but it’s the truth.
He even jumped a couple of times.
It was his jumping that made the other fishermen finally decide to head my way.
It was his infernal jumping that also set him free.
He made one really high jump. His head was shaking wildly from side to side as he soared through the air.
It would have been the few seconds of video that would have been on the documentary about how I became a fly fisherman. It looked just like something out of a movie. My movie. "How I became a fly fisherman.”
Then a probably “won't but could happens” happened. It’s what they do. Happen. When you least expect it.
During the flight of the fish that made me a fly fisherman the hook that I thought would have hooked a whale came loose.
Time literally stopped when I saw it happen.
The video of my success story turned into a picture of my defeat.
But the answer was yes. The hook was loose. At least from the fish.
What I had not been informed of was that those small little seemingly harmless flies become very accurate and dangerous projectiles when released in just the right way.
This was the right way.
It shot past me like a bullet.
I barely managed to get out a:
When I realized I was being watched. It was one of those hairs on your neck stand up moments.
The other fishermen were headed my way and they were not happy with the commotion I was causing. The way they were headed towards me did not look inviting at all. They looked very hostile.
They say a mother brown bear protecting her young is when they are the most dangerous. I was about to find out why they say this.
The “probably won’t but could happens” just kept on happening. My dream of being a fly-fishing guide was about to come to an abrupt halt, and I was going to be mauled by a ferocious big bear and laughed at by a little bear.
It's amazing how fast your brain works in true panic mode.
I need to tell you I did have bear spray with me. Finding it and using it when you need to, are two different things entirely.
Even though I saw the bears, and knew they were coming, and knew what I should do, my brain was still thinking about getting my line in.
I’m a fisherman, not a bear watcher.
So, my subconscious body kept on reeling.
I must have gotten it all in because I started feeling a tug on my shoulder and kept trying to pull it free.
Then in the panic my brain, seeing the bears coming, and realizing something is pulling on my shoulder, put the two separate incidents together and decided we were being mauled by a bear.
I say we because the part of me that says “I” ran off a long time ago and left “us” to figure this out.
I guess we decided to get the hook out first so we could get the spray out and hopefully have enough time to use it.
There was a lot of screaming and yelling about the course of action to take. In my mind anyway.
My body had its own plan.
Pull with a quick swift jerk like your life depends on it. And it did.
The hook came right out.
With some skin and other tissue and a very loud ROAR.
I like to think it sounded like something from some superhero movie with a really tough guy who pulls out a sword and is ready for battle.
That’s how I like to see it in my mind looking back. Me with a mighty yell holding a fly rod like some kind of Viking battle ax or something.
I know in reality it was nothing like this.
The bear didn’t exactly turn and run out of fear like he should have if that was how it had happened.
They did stop, but there was no fear in them. There was enough in me to make up for the difference.
They both kind of made those faces dogs make when they are confused about something. They weren't afraid as much as maybe, amused. . . . or confused.
I had probably made a few noises that only dogs, and bears can hear too. Plus hopping around in circles making noises instead of words, while flailing around a fly rod like it’s a medieval weapon, isn’t a bear deterrent they had seen yet.
This was all new to me too. This was my first attempt at fly fishing, much less bear handling.
Once I stopped and caught my breath me and the bears started a staring contest to see who would make the first move.
It was me.
I started to back away slowly with an “I see what you're doing” look on my face but not making any noise. I think it amused the bears, and their posture settled a little.
Then, ever so slowly, the big bear reached down with a paw, and then scooped up my fish into his mouth.
He paused for a minute like he was saying
“Do it like this.”
Then they both walked slowly back up the stream from where they had been.
I’m not sure but to this day I could swear the little one looked back and laughed. Then the big one made a grunt and it turned and went happily away.
I’m sure that grunt was something like “Don’t laugh at him, he has no idea what he's doing yet.”
I’m not exactly sure how long I sat in the seat of my car trying to make sense of everything that had just happened. In only a few seconds my peaceful little journey into the life of fly fishing became life threatening.
Well. life teaching anyway.
Eventually I did learn how to fly fish, or at least I got better than that day. Luckily it was only witnessed by a couple of bears. Both of whom I am sure are still telling the story of the crazy human who hooked himself as many times as he did the fish.
All fishing stories are true, I suppose.
What I learned
- Things are never what you think they will be at first glance
- Some people make things look easier than they really are
- I only hooked myself fly fishing once.
- Bears are better fishermen than I am.
- God can use any situation to teach us something.