Next month I turn the big 4-0. Where does the time go? I have been an angler as long as I can remember and a fly fisherman for 18 years now. I have fished more in those years than most people do in a lifetime and I have truly loved it. I can attest that fly fishing has greatly enriched my life.
Many have written about the progression of an angler, but I think the following quote from Bob Knoebel, a Guide at Silver Creek Outfitters in Ketchum, probably sums it up best:
“The progression is a rather natural one:
Stage 1: I just want to catch a fish!
Stage 2: I just want to catch a lot of fish!
Stage 3: I want to catch big fish.
Stage 4: I’m just happy to be out fishing.
Stage 5: I want to pass on my knowledge and passion for fishing.”
(“Five Stages of a Fisherman’s Life,” Sun Valley Magazine, Mike McKenna).
Looking back, I can attest that this is true to my experience. I struggled for years to learn to fly fish and the goal at first was to just catch a fish or two. Then, as I learned a little, I wanted to catch as many fish as I could. Size did not matter as long as the fish were biting and I was hooking them. For the last ten years, I have primarily hunted big trout in bigger waters with streamers and if I hooked one trophy fish per outing that was enough. But admittedly, in the hunt for big fish, I felt that something was missing. I lost some of the joy and sense of adventure that drew me to fly fishing in the first place. But in the past few years, I have rediscovered that joy by returning to small creeks where I first cut my teeth as a fly fisherman. Truly, I found that it was fun just to be on the water and the size of the fish did not matter so much anymore.
And lastly, I can honestly state that I now find as much (or maybe even more) excitement and joy in teaching others about fly fishing and seeing them experience success. Don’t get me wrong. I still love to catch a lot of fish and big ones if I can get them, but I now find that my love of fly fishing involves so much more than just catching fish. I truly love to share my passion for fishing with others. That is one of the main reasons I wrote my first book, Heaven on Earth: Stories of Fly Fishing, Fun & Faith.
Last Saturday morning, a good friend, Scott Johnson, and I went to a creek near the Wyoming/Idaho border that I had only read about but never fished. I picked Scott up at 5:32 a.m. and he gave me a hard time about being two minutes late. When it comes to time on the water, as a newcomer to the sport, Scott doesn’t want to miss a second. As a fellow incurable Mad Trouter, I get that passion.
We arrived about 7:30 a.m. at our destination and quickly found a turn-out to get us down by the “creek.” They call it a creek, but anywhere else, it would be considered a river. This tributary to Palisades Reservoir is almost as big as the Big Wood River that I love so dearly. However, in Eastern Idaho, the multiple tributaries to the world-renowned Henry’s Fork, the South Fork of the Snake River, and Palisades Reservoir often get lost in the shadows of their bigger relatives, which is perfect for the adventuring angler with a bit of wanderlust. In other words, there are literally hundreds of miles of rivers, streams and creeks that hardly ever see an angler for those willing to get off the beaten path. The past few years, I have had so much fun exploring and fishing as many of these waters as I can.
To Scott’s chagrin, I already had my 5 weight rod rigged up with a two-nymph rig before we even arrived and, by the time Scott was ready to fish, I had already landed five fish and lost two others. I stated to Scott that “The secret to catching more fish is to have your fly in the water as much as possible.” I also explained that when I fish I like to cover as much ground as possible to find the river’s most prime lies as that is where the majority of the fish hold.
Scott and I fished together that gorgeous morning and it wasn’t long before Scott started hooking plenty of beautiful trout himself. Together, we caught numerous cutthroat, browns, rainbows, and cutbows, some of which were surprisingly big for this river. The best spots were in the deeper runs where the sunlight could not penetrate all the way to the depths, leaving the pool a darker, turquoise blue. It was fun to see the flash of the trout striking our nymphs before the indicator showed any sign of the take.
All said, we probably only fished a half-mile stretch of the river before we had to leave by 12:00 p.m.. It was that good! We both hated to leave.
After all these years, my passion for fishing still burns. Along with the graying of my hair, it has changed some, but in a good way. In rediscovering smaller waters and sharing my passion with others, I have regained that sense of adventure, enjoyment, and awe that was missing for so many years. It kind of feels like I have come around full circle.