I bet the most commonly asked question of fishing enthusiasts by friends and family who are rarely seen holding a rod and reel is, "So...Why do you fish anyway?"
I never really have a good "elevator" reply for why I fly fish. Mainly because there are a variety of reasons that seem to change each time out. I know I'm guilty of mentally asking the same question of others who enjoy a pastime that's not my cup of tea. It may be difficult for them to express just how much they enjoy a particular activity, and it may not. It really doesn't matter. If something makes us happy, and is not immoral, I'd say it doesn't require explanation.
I, on the other hand, would like more people to pursue fly fishing. I believe that more fly fishing enthusiasts in the world mean more people working hard to protect our wildlife and fisheries. For that reason, I need an elevator pitch. I need a quick statement that let's people know why I fish in hopes that they will be intrigued enough to inquire further into the prospect of trying for themselves. Maybe by the end of this I'll have something thought out. Until then, here is a list of my top ten reasons I love to fly fish.
10 - Accolades: Before I began fly fishing, I dreamt about the day when I would be accepted into this prestigious community. I dreamed of being admired for my fly fishing skills and prowess. Many things have led to my success in the fly fishing world, and recognition from fellow anglers is humbling to say the least. If anyone tells you they don’t like being recognized for something they have put significant time into, they are likely lying to you. I love being recognized as a great fly angler. I am honored to the core when asked to speak or teach at an event. I do not take these accolades lightly, quite the opposite. They fuel my desire to continue learning, to continue improving as an angler. The day we stop learning, we’re dead. Very grateful for what the industry has given me.
9 - The moment when you hook into a big fish: I was standing in the cold Rapid Creek water approaching a deep hole. New to fly fishing, this was trial under fire. A seam holding two big fish and my constituents giving me the first shot at landing one while they watched from shore. Finding a sturdy hold in the creek, I began casting to the top of the hole. Time and time again my fly drifted through with nothing to show for it. It seemed like I stood casting to those trout for an eternity. As a noob, I felt the seconds turn into minutes and began worrying about the guys on shore. Are they checking their clocks? Do they want to start casting? But my comfort level was still well enough to keep on. These were the biggest trout I had ever presented a fly to, and I wanted to know what it felt like to land one. With each drift I would watch as the trout lazily swayed from left to right munching the entire time. Until, one seemed to open its mouth wider than it had before. My indicator twitched only slightly before I set the hook. "A snag," I thought, while I lifted the rod. It felt like a cinderblock on the other end of my 5x tippet. And then the head shakes began, and the fight was on. My heart and mind started racing, almost against each other. One trying to determine how to land this fish among the fast water below, water hazards and slippery rocks, the other just trying to give me enough blood to stay conscious. The brown didn't fit in my net, but I got it to hand. I was mocked the rest of the day for having a "barbie" net. I'll never forget the hookset. Like a cinder block.
8 - Solitude: Standing all alone on a stream when big snowflakes are falling; casting to 7 lb rainbow trout when it is 10 degrees and the wind is howling; chasing carp on the flats of the Missouri River...the list goes on and on. Having always held professional positions that require a vast amount of communication, fishing provides a getaway. No problems, no deadlines, no worries. The only listening that is required is to nature and the only talking I do is with my golden retriever. It's an amazing feeling.
7 - Fishing in the rain: The pitter-patter of raindrops on my hood resonates like music to my ears. The droplets falling from the bill of my hat makes me feel sheltered and warm in my fishing cocoon. The smell makes me feel like a kid. And the fish...boy do they bite in the rain. I don't know if I have ever had a bad day fishing in the rain. And not many other people like to do it, so someone has to catch fish on rainy days!
6 - Anticipation, daydreaming, and possibility: Often on weekends and lazy weekday evenings, you'll find me at the tying bench, or table, or nightstand (whatever will hold my vise really), dreaming up new patterns and the fish that will eat them. On the water, like most people with fish on the brain, I always believe that next cast is going to produce a fish. One last cast usually turns into 10 or 20. One of the great things about fishing is that you never really know what will fall for your presentation until it happens. You never know which spot is going to hold that fish you've dreamed up while tying. I still get giddy and excited before a fishing trip, even the short ones around home. I hope those feelings of anticipation and possibility never go way.
5 - Getting up close and personal with a wild animal: I wish I had taken up fly fishing as a young child. I recall with great delight my childhood visits to the grandparents' house in Spearfish. Standing on the bridge near the D.C. Booth fish hatchery scanning the creek below for feeding trout was a favorite pastime. I could always spot them in the clear running waters of Spearfish Creek and always dreamed of getting a closer look. They are all so unique and beautiful, like fingerprints. Each warrants special attention when they are brought to hand. Great care is taken to release them unharmed (outside of the small hook hole in their mouth) and as much time as they'll allow is invested in watching as they escape back to the honeyhole. You can't get any closer to enjoying nature without taking a life.
4 - Skillz pay the billz: As often as I try to find solitude while fishing, I am happy to share a fishing hole or location when fellow fishing enthusiast are present. More often than not, I will also end up sharing my strategy for catching fish with them. I am usually very fortunate on the water, which has a lot to do with the lucky flies that I tie, and people take notice. "what are you using?" they'll ask after I release a few fish. I'll take a second to explain the fly and give them a look at the pattern I'm using before they're almost guaranteed to reply, "I've got a fly rod at home somewhere, I should get that thing out". Plain and simple, I can catch fish with a fly rod when others won't. I've landed fish after fish in locations surrounded by bait and artificial lures alike without seeing another fish brought to hand. I have confidence in this tactic and take a lot of luck out of the equation. With the fly, they can't help but eat it.
3 - It's very challenging: Now that I've explained how well fly fishing works, I'll get to the caveat. Fly fishing gets easier with education. I've been humbled many a day fishing for various species in various locations. Even today I find myself in situations, chasing fish that I'm not prepared to pursue. Fly fishing requires constant improvement and improvisation to stay one step ahead of your quarry. It requires education, persistence, and positivity to find success. This applies at the fly tying desk as much as it does on the water. Preparation and education are key to being a "good" fly fisher. I love getting smarter every day.
2 - Evolution: Our family fishing tournaments remain as some of my most cherished and vivid memories from childhood. It was there where I began to evolve and adapt as a fisherman. It all started with salmon eggs. What a great way to catch trout as a kid. I witnessed the largest rainbow I'd ever seen caught when I was around 11 or 12. Hanging out of its mouth was a red and white daredevil. I never used live bait after that. Soon I discovered gift shop flies and their propensity to attract rainbows behind a clear bobber. I would draw crowds because I was catching so many fish. Everyone wanted to know how I was doing it, and I had no idea why it worked. I sure put the acting hat on though. Could have given me one of those meaningless awards they give to celebrities for pretending to be other people. My uncle gave me my first fly rod and introduced me to fly fishing cinema. Trout Bum diaries was the first video I watched. I was hooked forever. I enjoy reminiscing about my progression through the phases of fishing. I only wish that I had been introduced to fly fishing at a younger age
1 - Spending time with good friends and family: While solitude is more my game nowadays, I still find great value in fishing with those that I enjoy spending time with. My dad and brother always entertain me, while the tuesday tyers continue to surprise me with their talents. My kiddos continue to show interest and have caught some fish all on their own. I hope they stick with it. My favorite fishing partner, however, is Lucy. She's the best dog around and even loves fishing more than me. She told me so.
If you don't fly fish, I hope you will consider trying it. If my reasons don't persuade you, maybe you can think of a few others that would make it sound more appealing. If you love to fish, I'd like to hear why. See if we have some common ground. Now go fishing. You deserve it!