Neil Travis - Mar 30, 2018

“ In the lexicon of the fly-fisherman, the words rise and hooked connote the successful and desirable climax; landing a fish is purely anticlimax.” ………….. Vincent Marinaro, 1950.

Over the years I have often raised this question with myself and other fly fishers and I have usually received a mixed bag of answers ranging from vague to pensive. Having dedicated over a half century to this form of recreation I am probably no closer to a clear answer to this question than I was when I first picked up a fly rod. However, the passage of time has given me some insight into why I don’t fish with a fly.

Originally I started to use a fly because I wanted to see if I could do it but it soon became apparent that I could actually perform the necessary physical actions to cast a fly. In addition I could actually catch a fish using this fishing method.

There was also a sense of elitism since during the late 50’s fly fishing was perceived as a sport reserved for an elite class of anglers, and I suspect that there is still a remnant of that idea today. There was a certain degree of mysticism attached to the sport with its specialized equipment, complex casting skills and the plethora of flies that were used by the fly fisher. Images of a nattily attired angler holding up a gleaming fish with a tiny fly firmly lodged in its jaw made fly fishing seem obtainable only by those endowed with special talent and skill. However, I soon was rubbing shoulders with a number of ordinary guys just like myself that seemed to be more than capable of catching some very nice fish, thank you very much, and they were hardly among the social elite.

I suspect that I was like most anglers, regardless of their preferred method of fishing, I wanted to see how many fish I could catch. Having proven to myself that I was capable of catching a number of fish using a fly I set out to catch large fish. Fortunately that phase did not last very long in my fly fishing progression as I quickly became persuaded that once you caught one large fish you always wanted to catch one even bigger. This seemed like a recipe for discouragement.

So I am not a fly fisher to prove to myself that I can cast or catch fish with a fly, I don’t pursue fly fishing for its snob appeal, nor for impressive numbers or size. I have probably gone fishing more times when I caught few fish, sometimes no fish, and yet I continue to fish with a fly. Since I have discovered the reasons why I don’t fish with a fly the question remains as to why I do. I suspect that there are a significant number of reasons why I prefer fly fishing to all other methods of fishing, and I suspect they are wide-ranging and subtle.

I think that I come closest to understanding why I fish with flies at the end of the day as the last rays of light fade and the shadows creep across the hillsides and deepen across the valley. As the sun slips behind the western hills turning the wispy clouds into a riot of reds and golds deepening to mauves and dark purples before fading to black. There I stand with my fly rod in my hand as the surface of the water becomes gunmetal gray and somewhere in the encroaching dark an owl hoots his salute to the night. The bats appear, dodging and darting just above the surface of the water, eating insects that I cannot see but I know by the presence of the bats that they are there. Then the twilight turns to night and I wade from the water and follow the familiar path back to my vehicle. I feel at one with the creatures of the night, at one with the stream as it flows along toward a distant destiny with the sea. Waders stowed, my vest on its hanger and my rod secured in the rack inside my vehicle I pause to watch the moon slide over the nearby mountains and I think I know why I fish with flies. Just don’t ask me to explain it.

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