Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Fly Fishing—The Perfect Pursuit

By Taylor Streit

I just read an article about a guy who is going to snowboard down Mount Everest. Wow, that’s certainly not for everybody. There seem to be so many extreme sports these days that only fit the hardy types—hardy and foolhardy. Where will this masochistic race to—or from—the summit end? The ancient Mayans played a ball game that lasted for days, and when it finally ended the best player of the winning side got to have his head chopped off. (Isn’t there a similar TV show on Fox?) Is there anything exciting for the average Joe to do? I’m not alone; I’ve looked around and not many of you guys walking down the street are going to be honored for sacrifice.

The physical, metaphysical, and moral considerations of such sports keep participation low. Personally I’m blessed with a number of handicaps that keep me out of the running: actually anything evolving running is out, because if I sprain my right ankle one more time, wheelchair sports will be all I have left. I can’t paraglide because I’m afraid of flying. I can’t climb mountains because I have a fear of dying. I don’t have sufficient wind to mountain bike or money to ski.

And these radical sports simply don’t have the esteem of traditional sports. How you going to compare Frisbee golf with golf? The best sports weren’t even called sports when they started—they were too important for such flippant labels. When first man came in from hunting or fishing, and hadn’t scored, he and the family died—end of game. How you gonna call that a sport?

Hunting and fishing are just plain natural things for the human to do—it’s in our blood. But we are too “civilized” to hunt now, so that leaves me—and millions of other old defectives who find modern life sufficiently hazardous—with fishing. Although the poles are made out of graphite, instead of stick, the “sport” is still preformed close to the way they did it back in biblical times. The ancient Macedonians tied feather to hook thousands of years ago, and if you consider my rating system—where the longevity of a sport equals quality—that makes fly fishing superior even to something as noble as baseball.
It’s got to be fly fishing because modern man can’t relax long enough to just toss a worm in and await a bite. People presume that fishing and fly fishing are one in the same—but au contraire; fishing requires patience, but patience is the last thing you need when fly fishing. It’s very active, and the perfect pursuit for our impatient times—both physically and intellectually: figuring out what subspecies of mayfly the fishes are lusting after, then changing flies, casting here, wading there. Always questioning, pondering, and exploring. And executed with a stream crashing against your legs.

If you’re the patient sort, continue to relax. You won’t have to turn neurotic to participate. Although a dying breed, the “purist” is a fly fisher that sits placidly streamside and casts only to rising fish. This genteel form of angling is associated with tranquil water—where the ring of a rise, the sweep of the cloud, and the dart of a swallow are easy to see. There is an endless array of fly fishing styles to match the equally endless array of fly fishers: there’s water to suit the young, the old, the male, the female, the fit, or the fragile. The young “fun hog” can run down a jagged canyon and “rip some lip” while dashing over boulders and chasing big fish. The athletic type can become a tournament fly caster. The artistic can wax poetically about the endless combinations of feathers that form a fly, or write poetry from the curving lines of a graceful cast. And the academic, armchair outdoorsman can join in without even wetting a line: by learning the Latin names of the bugs, tying flies, and fussing with gear. Then join a fly fishing club where such behavior is encouraged.

People don’t even have to be good at it to enjoy themselves. Fly casting is a fun thing to do in itself. And since the fish are thrown back, there is no scoring. This opens the door for the not-so-gifted to stand on equal footing with their fishing partners. To quote from my book, “Instinctive Fly Fishing”: “Catch-and-release fishing allows the unlucky angler even greater victories. Putting him in a place where excuse isn’t needed. This place lies beyond the next bend in the river—from where your fishing partner can’t see you.” Just being near moving water is enough for some—and catching fish may even be considered a nuisance. One serene gentleman that I fished with became so enraptured by the gurgling stream that he secretly removed his fly, so as not to be bothered by a fish tugging on the line.

 I am from a generation and culture that doesn’t allow for a man simply hanging out of doors and do nothing--unarmed. Holding a fly rod will keep your red neck friends from calling you a “nature boy”. And it will also help fill the huge gap that has formed between our natural selves—that part of us that has been outside looking for something to eat for a couple million years—and the modern man who has so suddenly been locked indoors. This soul is so alienated from nature that his only relationship with it is through warfare with it--snowboarding down Everest, traversing Tasmania or crawling across Kentucky. Fly fishing is more about grooving with nature rather then trying to conquer it.

 There is something about fly fishing in secluded places that satisfies that lust for life, and lowers the ego--without putting your life in peril. I’ve witness over-amphed city folks have complete personality changes after a day on the water. They start the day with “goals” and nothing less then bagging a world record will do, but by sundown they say “we didn’t catch many; but it was such a pleasant day—who cares”.

You won’t hear such blasphemy from the saltwater fly fisherman! I worked in the bone fishing business for several seasons and my clients always knew exactly how many fish they caught and—more importantly—how many their companions caught. Maybe its the intense nature of fishing the flats: as fish are generally hunted, and the spotting and stalked—and occasionally hooking—can be stressful and that it brings out the materialistic, competitive side of the humble fisherman. It can be a frustrating game, and some fish, like the Permit, are so difficult to fool that it’s coup just having one just look at your fly.

Saltwater fly fishing is the answer for those looking for exotic outdoor thrills. On a recent trip to the wild Esperito Santo Bay off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico I caught snook, tarpon, bonefish--and had a permit inspect my fly. But it was the surroundings that made it special; there was of course, abundant sea life, and the untrodden jungle was always close by; with saltwater crocks and birds of wild color and design. Their piercing calls help create visions of jaguars lurking in the tangled bush. We didn’t do any lurking in the jungle ourselves but instead lived the high life at the lodge eating our way through the delicious fish species.

As a general rule of thumb; the more untouched a place is the better the fishing will be. This leaves the wildest places on earth to investigate and fish. Floating the wide rivers of Patagonian, to fishing beside griz in Alaska. Or you can arrange to go deep in the Amazon after furious Peacock Bass. So many fishes—so short a life.

 But we all ain’t got that kinda dough and time to flick our flies about the globe. And thankfully there is an incredible amount of exciting fly fishing here in the good ole US of A. There’s big Bones and tarpon in the Keys, and huge salmoniods in tributaries of the great lakes. Endless ponds and lakes filled with bass and pan fish dot the countryside. They are great fun to fish with the fly rod. But its trout that keep the average angler happy; and they reside by the millions in streams and rivers across the US, and where catch and release fishing is well established there will be good-sized fish. This is the case in much of the western US--where the scope and quality of the fishing—is staggering. What makes exploring all this moving water so interesting is that it all fishes differently, and every one of these creeks and rivers have their own character. Still waters may run deep but moving water has many personalities: Some gurgle, some laugh, some rage and others only whisper.

And the adventure angler with imagination may find secluded secrets near home. I once discovered an immense trout living in a hidden beaver pond not far from my home in the southern Rockies. It took a couple of hours hike to get into the place and three summers of intense fishing to finally outwit Ole Walter. He was so difficult to catch because he fed on one type of insect and inspected all flies with great scrutiny. And what made it all so exciting was that we could watch his every move from a hill that overlooked the clear, still water. My son Nick and I finally fooled him late one evening. The low light and his voracious appetite were his undoing. We threw the 27 inch trout back in the pond but he died of old age by the following spring. But finding treasures like ‘Old Walters’ hideout doesn’t always require a long hike. Some of the best fishing is often close to home in overlooked nooks and crannies. And from the Explore chapter of my book, “Many of the best fishing places that I have found are ones that are simply overlooked because everyone assumes that they are overused. The thing is that sometimes everyone assumes that and consequently, the place never gets fished. Even in the west, the best water can often be found where you would least expect it to be: next to houses, dumps, thrift stores.”
What turns people off to fly fishing is that it perceived to be a complicated and technical sport. And unfortunately many of fly fishing’s most prominent residence have a stake in keeping it a complicated game. There is an endless supply of gear that must be sold and theories that need pontification. Certainly it takes great skill to catch a tailing bonefish, or to get a big selective trout to eat a tiny dry fly. But catching bluegills in a farm pond or brook trout in a falling stream is easy. You don’t have to be proficient to enjoy yourself. I’ve guided thousands of beginners and most all of them caught fish their first day, and giggled while they did it. And don’t be afraid to pick up a fly rod because you might turn into another obsessed ‘trout bum”; leaving the wife and kids to sleep in the back of your truck in Montana. But be careful; it’s easy to be caught in the river’s flow, because there are no limits to the sport--outwitting nature is an endless challenge. There is always a bigger fish, a new way to catch it, and a new stream to find it in.

 Fishing is ever hopeful--every time that fly touches the water there is the possibility that a glimmering fish will rise up and inhale it. That’s always within reach. There isn’t much hope for me snowboarding down Everest—or being the best player in a Mayan volleyball game. And that’s OK with me.


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