Neil Travis - September 12, 2011

Several years ago I wrote a weekly outdoor column for a local newspaper. It was a wide ranging column covering all facets of outdoor recreation from bird watching to fly fishing. One spring I wrote a column entitled "Finding The Challenge" and the subject was fishing for trout while they were spawning. It was, and still is in some circles, a controversial practice. Part of the controversy involves wading on redds and thus damaging the developing eggs hidden in the gravel, and the other part of the controversy involves disturbing or catching and handling the spawning fish. I approached the subject on an entirely different angle by asking the question, "Where's the challenge in intentionally bouncing an egg fly or stripping a streamer through a place where trout are actively spawning?" After exploring all the aspects of using that technique I left the reader to draw their own conclusion.

Do I like catching fish? Emphatically the answer is yes. Do I like catching big fish? Again the answer is emphatically yes, but I do not intentionally fish where I know all the fish are miniature versions of that particular species. [I don't fish small streams that only contain small fish] However, I don't need to catch big fish to have an enjoyable day nor do I need to catch a great number of fish to find enjoyment. I choose to fish where the opportunity exists to catch a big fish and where the number of fish provides the prospect of hooking several fish in the course of a day if I am fortunate or skillful enough to catch them. In short, I don't prefer to fish where there are only a few big fish and nothing else, and I don't prefer to fish small streams where all the fish are small. That's not where I find my challenge.

Most of us have read a story about the evolution of a fisherman. First they just want to catch a fish, any fish, and once they have accomplished that feat they want to catch a limit of fish, then they want to catch a big fish and finally they want to catch a trophy fish. Along the line some anglers get stuck on one rung of that ladder; they want to catch a limit of fish each time they go out, or they have been captured by the big or trophy fish disease. To some degree all of us can relate to that evolutionary progression.

At one time we all wanted to see if we could actually catch a fish using something made of nothing but fur and feathers and tied on a little flimsy hook. To our amazement we discovered that we could catch fish on just such a thing. Once we had caught a few fish using this method we thought that it would be fun to see just how many fish we could catch at one time using this method. Maybe it was a limit of fish, or maybe, if you were into catch and release fishing, it was just an attempt to see how many fish you could land during the course of a day. While all of us enjoy the prospect of catching a truly 'big' fish or maybe we even harbor the thought in the back of our mind that we would like to catch a real trophy or a record sized fish, some people fish exclusively for that purpose.

The unfortunate reality is that if you are hung up on one of these evolutionary steps it is likely that your longevity as an angler will be short lived. Catching a limit of fish or more fish than everyone else may be a great ego booster in the short term, but the people that I have observed that pursue that goal soon became bored with the sport. The same can be said of those that measure a successful day of fishing based strictly on size. No matter how big the fish it's likely that, given enough time, someone will catch one that is larger, or they will catch one on a lighter leader or a smaller fly.

There are a few fortunate anglers, and I count myself to be among that group, that has found their personal challenge not in the numbers of fish caught or their size but in the simple enjoyment of the sport itself. The challenge that has kept me as excited about fly fishing as when I first picked up a fly rod over a half century ago is that each fly fishing trip is a new adventure. I'm in a contest, a contest with myself to see if I am able to figure out what the fish are doing today, and if I have the necessary skill today to catch them. Over the years I have paid my dues with long days on the water trying to perfect my craft, but sometimes the fish still win. That's OK because I have always believed that's why we call it "fishing and not catching."

Most of the gear that I use is several years old; including the rods I use, the waders and the vest I wear and even the flies I use. I know that they will do everything that I need it to do. I'm a reasonably good fly caster but I'm no Lefty Kreh, but my fly generally goes where I intend it to, I can get a reasonable drift and, over the years, I have hooked and landed my share of fish. Sometimes I'm just satisfied if I fooled them, even if I don't actually slide them into the net.

Now that's where I find the challenge that has kept me coming back to fly fishing with anticipation and excitement each time I get a chance to wet a line. When I miss a fish I don't throw my rod in the water or shout out a string of words that would make a bartender blush. It's just a fish and this time, for whatever reason, I was unable to bring the fish to hand, but hey, I fooled him. I usually use barbless hooks, not because they are necessarily more sporting but because it makes it easier to remove them from the fish or, in the event of a misdirected cast, from some part of my anatomy.

God has blessed me with good health; eyes that see, ears that hear, and legs that allow me to walk and wade. His greatest blessing is an ever growing appreciation for His creation. That's where I find my challenge and my joy. May He continue to allow me to enjoy it.

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