The Gift of Fly Fishing

gift of fly fishing

Christmas came early this year. Whether you’ve received fly-fishing-related gifts and stocking suffers (or not), you’ve been enjoying the real gift of fly fishing all year long. Or at least during the seasons of the year when you were able to fish.

The new reel or fly rod or gift certificate to your local fly shop is great. But the real gift is fly fishing itself. It’s an experience that gives you more than you might think. Sure, there’s the joy of hooking and catching a trout. But there’s more, and Charles Orvis recognized this in 1883 when he wrote:

More than half the intense enjoyment of fly fishing is derived from the beautiful surroundings, the satisfaction felt from being in the open air, the new lease of life thereby secured, and the many, many pleasant recollections of all one has seen, heard, and done.

Orvis identified at least three gifts in this statement. These gifts are still a huge part of fly fishing today.

1. Beautiful surroundings

It’s one thing to see a snow-covered mountain range from your car or from a scenic overlook along a highway. It’s an altogether different experience to see it when you’re standing in the current of a river. It’s the difference between being a spectator and a participant. It’s also the difference between a quick glance accompanied by a photo opportunity and the chance to linger in the moment for an hour or more.

Even when the scenery is not remarkable, the pasture-land or the trees along a river exude their own beauty. The water is stunning, too. Riffles, eddies, seams, and pocket water provide an endless source of fascination.

Weather adds a flourishing touch, sometimes transforming a tranquil scene into a wild or a haunting one.

Fly fishing bids its participants to slow down and soak in the magnificent grandeur or the gentle beauty in and around the river.

2. A new lease on life

A day on the river can also secure a new lease on life—or “of” life, as Orvis said. A few hours can bring clarity to a situation, insight into a challenge, or energy to face a problem.

Tension dissipates. Ideas emerge. Calm prevails. Dreams form. Desires awaken. Anger diminishes.

If you fly fish, you know this from experience. That’s why fly fishing can be some of the best medicine for a weary or uptight soul.

3. Pleasant memories

Fly fishing gives birth to so many good memories—or pleasant recollections, as Orvis called them. Such memories lead us into peaceful sleep at night. They warm our hearts. They connect us with places and people long, long ago. They nurture a desire for what lies ahead.

I recall a warm summer evening on a little creek in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The year was 1978. My younger brother and I took turns casting the cheap fly rod we shared. Every cast resulted in a 10- or 12-inch brookie, rising to our size 14 Royal Coachman. As the sun began to set, I remember running back to our campsite in the Custer National Forest to report to our father what we had accomplished.

One of most striking memories from this past year is landing a brown trout in the Gardner River in Yellowstone National Park while a herd bull (elk) was bugling on a hillside about 200 yards above us. I’m sure I will remember this as vividly in 40 years (if I make it to 97!) as I do the memory in the Black Hills.

These are only three of fly fishing’s gifts. There are others. If you were able to enjoy fly fishing during the past year, then Christmas came early. It will next year, too, because fly fishing is a gift that keeps on giving.

Great Quotes from “A River Runs Through It”

A River Runs Through It

In 1987, shortly after I moved to Helena, Montana, I bought a copy of “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean.

I was browsing in a little bookstore in Last Chance Gulch, looking for the next Montana author to read. The movie had not yet popularized the novella, but a friend had recommended “A River Runs Through It.” So I picked up a copy. Ivan Doig, A. B. Guthrie, and other Montana authors would have to wait. The first paragraph captivated me, and I found that the book touched me deeply. Both the first and last lines are classic.

    “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”

    “I am haunted by waters.”

There are, of course, several other lines worth pondering. Here are a few of my favorites, along with my musings about them.

It’s a Rod!

    “Always it was to be called a rod. If someone called it a pole, my father looked at him as a sergeant in the United States Marines would look at a recruit who had just called a rifle a gun.”

The funny thing is, I was looking at high-end Orvis rods in a fly shop a few weeks ago, and the clerk (obviously a newbie) said, “Those are some really pricey poles you looking at.” I bit my tongue, but thought of the Rev. Maclean and how he would have frowned on this.

On Casting Technique

    “Until a man is redeemed he will always take a fly rod too far back, just as natural man always overswings with an ax or golf club and loses all his power somewhere in the air.”

Been there, done that. I also witnessed it a few weeks ago while helping a new fly fisher with his casting. Bringing your rod back too far on the back cast will also result in hooking brush or tree limbs or in slapping the water behind you if you are casting straight upstream.

The Montana Mindset

    “My brother and I soon discovered [the world outside] was full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the farther one gets from Missoula, Montana.”

Residents of Bozeman, Montana would beg to differ!

There is a heated rivalry between the University of Montana (in Missoula) and Montana State University (in Bozeman). I won’t repeat some of the names fans from each city have called each other!

Bait Fisherman Take One on the Chin

    “When [bait fishermen] come back home they don’t even kiss their mothers on the front porch before they’re in the back garden with a red Hills Bros. coffee can digging for angleworms.”

This was the younger brother Paul’s line. He was no fan of bait fishermen!

I’ll admit that I started out catching brook trout with worms. I have no qualms with this method if an angler is trying to catch dinner and honoring the limits set by a state fish and game agency. But there is no place for bait fishing — or spin-casting with treble hook lures — when it comes to catch and release.

The Glory of Nature

    “Not far downstream was a dry channel where the river had run once, and part of the way to come to know a thing is through its death. But years ago I had known the river when it flowed through this now dry channel, so I could enliven its stony remains with the waters of memory.”

This is simply beautiful prose, and it comes from one who has interacted deeply with nature. Fly fishing is not just about catching fish (although I’m all about catching fish!). It’s about experiencing nature and seeing its patterns reflect that way the Creator has designed life.

The Twists and Turns of Life

    “The fisherman even has a phrase to describe what he does when he studies the patterns of a river. He says he is ‘reading the water,’ and perhaps to tell his stories he has to do much the same thing.”

This quote comes right after Norman Maclean observes that “stories of life are more often like rivers than books.” I think he is saying that stories of life are fluid and take twists and turns that we do not anticipate.

The Big Idea of A River Runs Through It

    “You can love completely without complete understanding.”

This is what Norman said to his father when they were discussing his younger brother Paul’s death. I believe it is the big idea of the book. Maclean’s novella is about more than fly fishing. It’s about family and about living with and loving those who elude us. And yes, it’s about how all things eventually merge into one and how a river runs through it (per it’s last full paragraph).

And yes, like Norman Maclean, I am haunted by waters.

S3:E46 Why We Like to Fish Alone

fly fishing podcast

Some of you fish alone all or most of the time. We don’t. We probably fish five or six days with someone (often together) for every one day we fish alone. And yet both of us enjoy the days alone on the river. In this episode, we reflect on what makes fishing alone so different in kind from fishing with a buddy – and why we like our solitude.

Listen now to “Why We Like to Fish Alone”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last segment of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoy hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experiences.

How often do you fish alone? Does it energize you? Or enervate you? What do you learn about yourself when fly fishing alone?

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The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists

We’ve published a book for regular-Joe-and-Jane fly fishers called The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

One person who purchased the book called it “cliffsnotes for fly fishers.”

To switch metaphors, perhaps it’s more like a handful of potato chips. It’s an entire book of lists. The goal is to help you find practical help quickly and in an easily digestible format!

Buy it today on Amazon for only $13.99!