Monday, February 22, 2010

It's all very complicated...

“You must really like to eat fish,” the friend of a friend says to me while sipping her latte.

“Um, well, actually I release most of the fish I catch,” I mumble, aware where this is inevitably going to end up.

“So, you like to fish, and you admit you like to eat fish, but instead you release them?”

“Well, see, it is all about nature, and beauty, environmental stewardship, appreciation of the fish and the river… See, fly-fishing is more than just fishing…”

Really, though, when it comes down to it, I reflect, it is just a simple game with rules that a four-year-old could grasp: Go down to lake or river with rod and reel. Catch fish. Repeat.

Being romantics, we always want to make more out of it. Take a simple essence and surround it with volumes of philosophy.
Make it into some sort of metaphysical and existential reflection and journey. Make it into a metaphor, and find life-lessons in it. Sit by the river pondering Camus. Assigning anthropomorphic qualities to things we see around us. Our flies are art, not craft we argue to ourselves, as if just accused anonymously by an upstart and impudent thrush. We’re not just fishing see… we are, well, experiencing some sort of primal harmony. “It’s all poetry,” we murmur out loud, even if the hypocrisy peeks its irritating head through a tiny doorway in our brain, reminding us that the last time we attempted to read Frost, we fell asleep.

It just has to be more than a simple game of cat and mouse. We refuse any assertion that at times it can be quite easy. “Takes years and skill,” we argue to the trees while raising fish after fish with a fly that the carefully tied hackle fell off of on the first cast.

We have been caught by family members while lying in the filled bathtub with scuba gear, congratulating ourselves on the latest revelation or innovation in fly design. We have been admonished and punished by angry spouses when our latest attempts at dying hackle stained the sink a very interesting shade of green.

‘Normal or mundane’ folks refer to them as bugs, but we know better. They are Ephemerella subvaria. It makes a difference we reflect… Appreciation and knowledge and such.

There was once a time when we contemplated homicide as a careless Aunt referred to our cane fly rod as a “Fishing pole.”

We don’t just take a drink from the river, we sip of the essence of life, forgetting while we do so, that the last time we did this we ended up with the runs for a week.

What other kind of sport could so inspire, that we could be found late upon a cold winter morning, seated in front of the fireplace in the study, dressed only in a robe and our underwear, surrounded by tackle and fly-boxes, dreaming dreams of spring.

I once read somewhere that a newlywed bride told her friend, “My husband does not drink, smoke, or chase women, instead, he fly-fishes.”
Several years later, she admitted to the same friend that if it were up to her, she wished he did a few of those other things, and a bit less fishing.

“It’s complicated,” I try to explain to the friend of a friend; “It’s sublime.” Hearing those words from my mouth with the clarity of an out of body experience, I smile about how I am going to explain why it is ‘sublime’ to match wits with a creature with a brain the size of a match-head, attempt to fool it with a bit of old string and some smelly fur, and end up coming up short most of the time.

“Perhaps it is a journey in humility,” I reason out loud, remembering when arrogance kept us from talking to that guy with the spinning rod that was out-fishing us ten to one. Pride before the fall? Arrogance before humility, or humbleness only because of prior arrogance… More philosophy.

What other sport would have us attempt, via some hidden and unknown rosetta stone, to decipher and make sense of the many ill-written books on fly-fishing? Some being tomes of astounding tediousness and practically unreadable. What other sport would have us chuckle with the fine author Nick Lyons, as everything possible goes wrong and he falls in the river? Perhaps it is because we have been there ourselves. We may reflect back to the time when, on the subject of beauty and fly-casting, we attempted, in a local park, to show our spouse the inherent ballet in a properly made loop, only to have a seagull eat the piece of yarn we were using as a fly, and after taking out all the line, tangle it forever in a large oak tree.

“It’s complicated…” I mumble through current muffin crumbs, watching the departing back of the friend of a friend, and looking down at the spilled coffee, and the single word traced with it on the table: “Crazy.”

After much reflection, I have come to completely agree.


  1. Oh so true my friend. Oh so true. I try to avoid those conversations anymore-- I just give them my slack-jaw look and with my best Forrest Gump impersonation say something erudite, like, "Fish'n is like a box of choclates..." and they've usually already turned around by then.

    Thanks for the read--it was a good way to unwind after I sent the students home.

    -scott c

  2. Fly-fishing is to fishing, as calligraphy is to writing. Crazy cool!


  3. Well done! 1st question always by a newbie: "Do you eat 'em?" :)

  4. Thanks to all of you for leaving your comments. I appreciate the feedback in all forms, as it gives me some idea of what people actually care to read, and which pieces miss the mark.

  5. People who just look at the outdoors through a window don’t seem to understand. I often get that, “you drove all that way by yourself just to fish” look of pure disbelief. I do often cringe and ask myself when did coffee get so complicated?


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