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Looking North

Tying Flies as a Religious Experience

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My father gave me my first fly rod in 1952 when I was ten years old. It was a three-piece bamboo rod of indefinite make and came with an inexpensive Bakelite
reel and a fly line with a definite weave to it. I still have the rod, reel and about a six foot section of the line. It?s been well used and suffered my boyhood repairs when broken. The tip has a fracture repaired with airplane glue and wrapped with some of my mothers red sewing thread. I don?t remember how it was broken, but the repair has lasted at least 50 plus years, which speaks highly of the quality of the glue if not of the workmanship of the repair, which is definitely boyish.

Sunfish and bass were the targets of those days and I would venture that hundreds were caught on that rod. When I joined the Navy at twenty the old rod was put up and after that, with the exception of a few outings, most all of my fishing was conducted with casting and spinning gear with bait.

I didn?t return to serious fly fishing until I was in my fifties, but the re-entry was complete. By this time I was living were trout fishing was an option and my re-indoctrination, or perhaps I should say re-infection, was swift and expensive requiring a investment much more substantial than the 1950?s dollar amount the Ol? Man spent setting me up the first time.

I started tying flies to save money and to have access to a ready supply of my favorite patterns on hand all the time, but somewhere in the intervening time the tying has taken on an existence all of it?s own. I now have more flies than I have time left to fish them. So many in fact that I?m beginning to wonder if I haven?t crossed over some line of demarcation where the tying of flies has become some kind religious rite in and of its self, and therein lays the question; is this blasphemy?

I thought of the flies at first as a an offering to the fish themselves, a kind of votive offering that I would lay before them in hopes of enticing their frenzied response, but that seemed too much like making the fish the gods and me the supplicant. First commandment and all that?

Then that bit about Graven Images kicked in and I knew I couldn?t set the flies themselves up as the objects of adoration either.

Then again in trying to duplicate the works of the ?Master Tier ? on high seemed pretty presumptuous, I mean who could do that? Setting one?s self up to compete with God requires a pretty big ego.

I was in a quandary now, and with each additional try at justification, the quagmire grew deeper.

The best possible solution was to somehow consider these little bits of feather and fluff to somehow be and amalgamation of all this judo-Christian angst personified and to come up with a solution that could be justified with my Lutheran sensibilities.

I couldn?t do it. I?m still struggling like Sisyphus.

So then they are all this together; a paean of praise to the Almighty, an offering to the fish, and prayer of success in an endeavor of doubtful outcome, and a pagan reaffirmation of the promise of a returning sun, all rolled into a small package.

In my case they now resemble Tibetan prayer wheels, row on row, spinning in the wind and I have way to many of them to keep them all spinning?

Wretched excess, addiction, and my sordid little habit laid bare. Put the bobbin down, back away from the vise and keep your hands where we can see them. Lord, I am so busted. Pray for me?


  1. mcsteff's Avatar
    Lutheran sensibilities! Now that I understand. I can tie flies; I just can't enjoy it as much as others. Fly casting - the 3 count for the Trinity of course or the 4 count for the Gospels. My wife, also Lutheran, wonders why I don't keep the fish I catch, a Lutheran conundrum, ain so. (I spent 11 years in Northern Wisconsin.) I also furl leaders (need one?) which I give away to a fly club for their yearly auction-takes me a leisurely 2 hours to furl 10-12 and I do mean leisurely. People want to buy them from me-why? I'm a Lutheran; I haven't because I don't want to worry abut the liability of causing harm to another's fishing day (Ya know, that furled leader is so strong that if and when you hook a tree, you'll break your tiptop and then what?). My flies...a paean of that would be a stretch now wouldn't it.
    I once skipped church and went fishing...had a great day...couldn't tell anyone in my family...God has a sense of humor! Every now and then, I give my excess flies to a friend who fishes and to a boys club who says that they like them. Who knows. At least it clears my bench so I can tie some more. The other night - 24 spent wing BWOs, 20-26. I fished a BWO hatch last year for three days and didn't use more than five flies total. One fly caught 15+ fish (I lost count) at Dam Four on the North Branch of the Au Sable.
    I will pray for you especially if you are ELCA and not WI or MOSyn. :D
    A Minnesota hug for you.
    Thanks for the blog.