There was a time when I knew what it was like to feel the decent cast of a fly rod. Upon the unfurling of the line on the upcast, the shock of the rod plays out and presents a cue to cast down. The fly is an invitation, and it must be extended with some finesse.
If you are having a good day, you might see your fly land somewhere near where you intend. If you are having a great day, a fish goes for it. If you are having a mediocre day, it’s because you managed to hook your own ponytail.
That is what happened to me my first time out, twenty-five years ago. Enabled to fish in a high alpine lake after hiking in with a float tube on my back, my first cast with a fly rod still makes me laugh. It marks the beginning of a relationship with fly fishing that has been woefully inconsistent up to this point.
Imagining who I was in my early 20s, I may have decided to try it out because of Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler. Walton’s alter ego in this book, Piscator, serves as guide and mentor. His spirituality revolves around fishing as a means to sustain himself. He creates meals with what he sources on his line. He participates in a thriving communal barter system. He’s like the guy in Kung Fu, but with a fishing rod, and more outgoing.
Nature’s role in living a well-rounded life was critical to Walton, and this message is central to the The Compleat Angler. Released in 1653, it is considered by many lovers of the outdoors to be a kind of bible. It is true that the only pressure I feel when outside is to be totally present. The idea of fly fishing only strengthens my belief that nature is church.
Intentions of an Advanced Beginner
By the time I left Washington State, I was an advanced beginner. I landed in Missouri, and my Martin trout rod did nothing but collect dust. Three years after that, I found myself living in Minnesota. I went ice fishing several times and even learned how to use an auger to cut a hole through the ice. Fly fishing eluded me, despite the fact that I was living in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
In 2006, I moved to a mountain neighborhood spanning Idaho and Wyoming that happens to be a fly fishing travel destination. Within one month of arriving, I found myself in a drift boat on the South Fork of the Snake River. Having only experienced lake fishing in a float tube, I had never cast into a moving body of water. On that day, I hooked a beautiful brown trout of respectable size.
I remember bringing it in close, getting a full look at the speckled pattern that ran down its golden body, then watching it deftly overcome the hook and swim away. I didn’t land it. My guide immediately responded with the reassurance, “First day on the Snake and you hooked a brown. Nice work, Jenn.” At the time, I imagined I would finally pick up a fly rod again, and with regularity.
I spent nine more years in Teton Valley as an involved community member. Outside of a full-time job, I performed marketing for a stone sculptor, volunteered regularly, hiked and camped with voracity, gardened at high altitude, brewed kombucha at an amateur level, and grew a newspaper and magazine byline that was largely focused on the power of food and community.
Did I pick up a fly rod after that day on the Snake? I did not.
It’s Never Too Late for a Fishing Date
I moved to Colorado almost five years ago. At the beginning of 2019, I put fly fishing on a list of things I needed to revisit in my life. The hope was that it would act as a healing measure after the loss of a fifteen-year marriage. I became drawn to the only person I know in Colorado who casts on a regular basis, my workmate Kerry.
Each time the idea surfaces, she is nothing but encouraging. Like the nice human that she is, she doesn’t pressure me. She smiles and says, “You should do it.” She isn’t my only source of angler inspiration. I stare at the Instagram feed of Alice, a fishing guide I know out of West Yellowstone, Montana, and that of my friend Aaron, a Teton Valley resident who used to work for Sage.
Although I seem to be nurturing some kind of deep longing, another year passes.
I traveled back to Teton Valley four months ago. While there, I experienced a catalyst with regard to my creative value. I was still struggling to decipher its meaning, when approximately nineteen days later, my mother died. On the Sunday after her funeral, a pandemic triggered a social lockdown.
If a creative awakening is followed by the loss of a parent, and that is followed by a deep cultural shift wrapped in a deadly virus, it is time to decide what is necessary to your own happiness. This definitely applies to things you’ve tried before and feel not so great about. Like fly fishing. Or playing the guitar. Or baking. Or love.
Even after my delay, Kerry and her husband Brad were willing to lead me by the fly rod to viable water. I am grateful for their patient ability to hold the hand of someone who is a beginner all over again. And beyond that gratitude, I feel blessed knowing that I am still curious and brave enough to get out there.
I have reinforced my belief that balance can be found in the solace of nature, but redemption only exists if I follow the call. I can still tune into that frequency and reap a soulful reward if I listen. As it turns out, the resulting joy is life affirming.