When I was a kid, most of the time that I spent with my father was project-oriented. Whether we were outside working on cars, building fences, or tending to anything else that needed fixing, we spent time together working with our hands. As I got a bit older, he and I traded some of these “teaching” moments for those of leisure and we spent more time out on the water using our hands instead to wield rods and bring in fish.
My dad was first introduced to fly fishing when he was a kid himself. One of his favorite stories is of a family trip to Yellowstone National Park he took when he turned 16. Not surprisingly, the boys decided to go fly fishing. They waded out in search of untouched water and practiced their casts along the way. It had been a long while since my dad had used a fly rod and in the process of trying to reclaim the art of rolling a cast cleanly across the water, he snapped the fly right into the top of his head. Apparently it was quite the ordeal trying to cut it out of his scalp. I supposed it’s no surprise that fly fishing never became a passion of his. As more time passed and life picked up, the fly fishing eventually stopped altogether.
By the time I had become a teenager myself, I found I was hit quite suddenly with an angling awakening of sorts. Growing up in Minnesota, finding fishable water is about as simple a task as there ever was. We were in the land of 10,000 lakes, after all, and depending on how broad your definition of a “lake” is, that number fast approaches 30,000.
During the summer months, my brother and I would load up our bikes with bait and tackle, rods placed precariously over the handlebars, in search of the perfect fishing hole. We had a lot of fun, but honestly for all of our efforts we never got very good. We didn’t really know what we were doing, and trial and error can only take you so far on its own.
In spite of our many attempts (and often poor ones) over the years, there was no doubt in my mind that fishing was more about the experience of being out on the water and immersed in nature than always catching that legendary trophy. In the vein of our forefathers, the simple elegance of fishing was enough for me. It was a prize in its own right. Looking back, these are some of my greatest childhood memories.
The Fly Fishing Tradition is Born:
One summer a few years later, my father decided to take our family to Yellowstone National Park. Roughly 30 years after his hilarious encounter with the bad end of a hook, he introduced his own boys to the art of fly fishing. My casting was atrocious, and we caught only a handful of trout, but there was no looking back. This is what fishing was supposed to be. We waded endlessly across rivers and streams, encountering elk and moose and bears along the way. We pulled up trout while packs of wolves roamed on the horizon. This was nature at its finest, and there we were, right in the middle of it.
Since this first encounter with a fly rod years ago, I think I can count on all my digits the number of times I have gone fishing with traditional equipment, using bait and lures and a standard rod and reel. While I still appreciate fishing in nearly all its forms, the act of getting into the water and exploring the bends and rapids and pools and animals along the way is something that just can’t be replaced. In fact, in some ways, fly fishing is akin to traditional hunting: entering the environment of your prey and meeting it at its level. I believe there is a primal, nostalgia that one can only find with a fly rod in hand. This is why I love it.
I suspect some of these same sentiments have inspired many other fly fishing enthusiasts (and fanatics!) to learn this incredible art. And that’s exactly what it is. Fly fishing is a sport and an art and a talent and it can take many years to master. It is challenging and demanding, but nothing worth doing is easy. Now that spring is right around the corner, I encourage you to start preparing! Get your fly boxes in order, clean your lines, create a strategy and prepare your patterns accordingly. I hope to see you on the water soon enough. It’s time to catch the wild river spirit!