Every time I hook into a fish it’s a surprise, like it was unintended and a complete accident. Even when I’ve sight-fished for snook, tarpon or permit, and watched them turn and take the fly, I’ve had the same “I can’t believe he ate that stupid fly” reaction. On rare occasion, I’ll make a “perfect cast” and that amazes me, but it’s really rare to pull that off, and even rarer to get the presentation just right. Making all the elements work seems improbable: the casting, presentation, drifting the fly, feeling the take, setting the hook, and then actually LANDING the fish. It’s usually just “good enough” for me – never perfect. Why would anyone take this sport on if after ten years you are still just “good enough”? I think golf is probably the same way, which I took up briefly as a hobby, but didn’t like the courses, or the goofy attire (fly fisherman don’t wear goofy stuff).
At the rate I’m going, I’ll be 75 and still bitching about my shitty casting loops. Actually, at 75, I’ll probably be bitching about a lot of things, like incontinence, bladder control, erectile dysfunction, dentures… I’ve got to sort out my angling inadequacies soon so I can show off my skills at 75 to all those young whippersnappers who will need to get the hell out of my favorite hole and move upstream – those jackasses! There’s time to work this out. But where do I start?
I found this “kid” fishing in my favorite spot, I decided to enlighten him with my wisdom of stream fashion. I noted to him that his choice of blue swimming trunks would not earn him any respect on the stream from the more tastefully equipped experts such as myself.
“follow me, kid and I’ll show you how it’s done.” He stood by me while I spoke, braving the 55 degree water in just his trunks and sneakers eager for a lesson from the master.
When he realized I was not him, the “master” that is, he moved on and left me to fish my hole alone. Maybe I do know what I’m doing after all.
So fly fishing is weird, unlike most sports/hobbies (more on those labels later) in that you can buy a rod/reel/line set up and a bunch of flies and start doing it. Actually that’s not weird, but it gets obsessive after that, and then you start tying flies, maybe building rods, making Tenkara nets, and the madness goes on and on. A guy once told me about the “Three Pillars of Fly Fishing: Casting, Fishing and Tying.” He explained, “You could cast like an angel and not really catch fish, cast fair and be an excellent catcher, and then tie flies. ” He left off “being an elitist gear whore” and “looking cool” because anyone can achieve that with a credit card. Actually, I don’t remember exactly what he said but his point was that when you gain expertise in one skill, there’s still others to pursue. I definitely need a lifetime to “master” this, and I started late. And that’s OK, because to me it’s all about the small successes, the occasional good cast, the occasional fooled fish, the occasional sexy fly, the rods I’ve built, the friends I make and places I fish. I actually don’t want to feel I’ve perfected any of it because it’ll be a lie. There’s always room for “better.” A “first degree blackbelt” in the traditional martial arts is “shodan”, and it means “beginning step”. That’s when Sensei starts really kicking your ass just to make the point you don’t really know a damn thing. It seems a strange comparison, but to me a good correlation.
It’s the journey I’m taking to get there, to “perfection”, that matters. If I ever reach the destination, which I won’t, I might actually be disappointed and say to myself, “Uh, I liked getting here but now what?”