Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Soul of Fly Fishing

I was thinking of calling this entry "The Zen of Fly Fishing" but after looking up Zen in the dictionary it did not convey exactly what I really wanted to say.I was trying to find the exact words that would adequately describe the soul of fly fishing and I think this says it best, "the quality that arouses emotion and sentiment"
Dan Washburn, a Georgia fly fishing guide says, "Fly fishing is the metronome for the soul"
What does he mean by that? I think when Norman Maclean was describing his father he may have had something like this in mind when he said, "I never knew whether he believed God was a mathematician but he certainly believed God could count and that only by picking up God's rhythms were we able to regain power and beauty"

Rogue River fly fishing guide Dave Roberts executing a perfect cast

I think the soul of fly fishing is the concept of simplicity surrounded by the complications of our own humanness. Too many times we cannot just let our time on the river be what it is but make it into something that is frustrating and confusing and so the soul of fly fishing must be simplicity.
I also think it is oneness with the moment. To lay out a perfect cast is truly artistic and to have a trout rise to that perfectly placed fly is a joy in knowing that you and that trout have made a connection.I would compare it to the joy a parent feels when seeing a child walk for the first time or graduate from college.
For that one moment you have put it all together and achieved perfection in this pursuit. I'm not sure if other types of angling can accomplish this but I know, at least for myself, I  have never felt the shiver of emotions that I feel when fly fishing. The soul of fly fishing could also be in the ghosts of those that came before us.I am reminded of fly fishing legends like Lee Wulff,Mike Kennedy and Roderick Haig-Browns when I am in the cathedral of the Deschutes  river canyon or the holy water of the Metolius river because I know they all must have felt the same emotion.
I know I risk of sounding overly sentimental but at my age it just makes sense when little else does. The days of youthful exuberance are past and so all I have now is the contentment of what I do. Tell me if you've never been stirred by the beauty of a river so clear and a trout so beautiful that your emotions well up into your throat and I'll tell you you've never really fly fished. Oh maybe you've fished with a fly but it's never gone beyond the cold mechanics of that.
If this sounds like some sort of religion then perhaps it is. To me it is the grandest church of all. It is not some man made doctrine of guilt and shame but instead a pilgrimage to a higher ground in the outdoors.
Yes the soul of fly fishing is in each of us in that we check out of the reality of our day to day worries in life and do the simple thing of casting a fly to a rising trout thereby gaining back some semblance of sanity and restoring our own soul.


  1. Nice article and you make some great points! My high church for fly fishing is in Maine. I have crawled out on the rocks at low tide in the fog with a 400 grain sinking line in search of strippas! Casting flies that look like feather dusters without a soul in sight. This is my place of self fulfillment.

  2. From one curmudgeon to another, very nice article. Maybe Ill see you on the Deschutes sometime.