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The Art of Fly-fishing

September 12, 2007

Last summer a trip to Vancouver was my “mollifier” en route to a fly-fishing locale in the Rockies. My partner is an ardent fly-fisherman; a passion which needs to be constantly (okay, at least every 6 weeks) renewed so he can continue to be a happy man. En route to these fly-fishing destinations, he will, on occasion, endeavor to placate me by first visiting a city or town that I would enjoy. Hmmmm…

When the Vancouver/Rockies trip came about, we had only been living together a month and because I knew there would be many fishing trips ahead, thought I would be semi-adventurous and try my hand at the “sport.” Besides N was offering me fly-fishing lessons, so I couldn’t refuse.

As a child I had sometimes sat on a rock beside a slow running stream stick in hand, no worm, no hook, just a piece of string dangling of it into the water. I never caught anything; not even an old boot. I think that qualifies me as a complete novice; a no fisher person; a persona non pisces. I had never before had any interest, but this was catch and release, so maybe I could handle it.

Six years earlier I had stopped being a vegetarian, for various reasons I won’t go into here, and during my meatless days felt that if I couldn’t catch and kill my own dinner, I shouldn’t partake of anything that, to quote Paul Mc Cartney, had a face. And I didn’t.

Somewhere in the glorious Rockies this first fly-fishing expedition and instructional was to take place. Along with N and I were his brother G and his wife D, who was to take lessons with me. Just us two women and a guide for two days of learning how to properly cast (and catch), then a day out on a raft with our respective, fairly experienced, fly-fishing crazed men. N is always quick to quote from the non-fiction book, “A River Runs Through it” – that paean to fly-fishing – My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy.

What I was really interested in was the art of casting, which, if done well, is like an aerial ballet. It was the fish snagging part with which I had difficulty.

After two days of lessons and much laughter, the guide announced at a full dinner table that evening, that he could see I was the artist in the group, because every cast was original (read that as haphazard) and varied (read that as, just because I got it right once, doesn’t mean I could repeat it). He also announced that he could tell D was a scientist because she got the casting “action” down pat after a dozen or less tries and never wavered from that almost perfect cast. Not only did she achieve that perfect cast in the blink of an eye, but the fish seemed to follow her around.

The three of us: the guide, D and myself, were at this remote bend in the river somewhere in middle of the Rockies, not another soul in sight, when D thought she would move closer to the spot where I was standing (make that where I was struggling to repeat the perfect cast I had achieved about 187 casts ago). Perhaps she surmised there were fish hanging close by stifling guffaws at my feeble attempt to snag one of them, so she sauntered over dragging her line in the water and a fish jumped onto her hook. Just jumped onto her hook. Right then I wished I had stuck to more biology and chemistry courses, than learning how to draw nude males attempting poses like Michelangelo’s David. I’m thinking there was probably some “scientific” theory to that amble of hers.

I also had to get used to the fact that D was an instant pro, a born fly-fisher person, someone who doesn’t have to have beginner status before she’s a master; a star; the complete antithesis of moi. But what really got me was she enjoyed it; loved standing for hours at the river’s edge gazing out over the water casting and casting ad nauseam, sometimes catching a fish.

She also loved the idea of being able to share this pastime with her husband. For me it was repetition upon repetition upon repetition but in exquisite surroundings, with an end result I had no interest in.

Our two days of lessons were over and it was time to join our men and their respective guides to float down the St. Mary’s River on an inflatable raft. I think at the outset I’d fooled myself into thinking I’d every intention of attempting to catch a fish; never mind that I had brought along my camera. And a notebook and pen. And a book to read if none of the rest panned out.

The river was beautiful, pristinely so; wide and meandering, hemmed in on both sides by the statuesque Rockies and so clear that without polarized lenses I could see the bottom of the river bed; all the rounded off rocks and the occasional cutthroat trout that wiggled by. Not a cloud in the sky, not a sound in the air, except for the slight sloshing of paddles and occasional rush and tumble of the current when we came upon small rapids.

I sat at the back of the raft dangling my feet and line into the water and making an occasional attempt at perfecting my cast (which meant I would probably have to spend the rest of my life sitting in that boat); all this took place while mentally telling the fish to stay away from me if they didn’t want to be hurt.

-Let’s see what you can do,- yelled N from the front of the dingy. -No, you just keep doing what you’re doing and leave me to my own devices.- I yelled back all the while watching and relishing his graceful casting technique. He moves so beautifully, so easily and with such agility; he’s so in his body when he fly-fishes; which is more than my fly-fishing technique must have looked to him. But he’s a good sport and just having me along is almost good enough.

His first and second catch that day had me grimacing as he held the little cutthroat trout in his hands in order to extricate the hook from its mouth, before releasing it back into the river. The third catch however, had me ready to throw in the towel (or the rod) as he yelled to the guide to hand him the hemostat; the hook was all the way down the fish’s throat. The “surgery” completed and the trout safely (?) returned to the water, I said,-That’s it, no more fishing for me.– And putting down the rod, I reached for my notebook and pen.

Copyright © 2007

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