Discovering new worlds: fly fishing

If you stop and think about it, there are many separate and complete worlds all around us that are just waiting to be discovered.

So in the next few weeks I will share with you some of the worlds that I have discovered, with the hope that you will be sufficiently interested to discover them for yourself. And I also request that you share some of the worlds you have discovered with the rest of us as well.

Some of my discovered worlds are fly fishing, scuba diving, different forms of music, traveling, white-water rafting, and reading. In the weeks to come, we will be discussing each of those worlds and maybe more. But first on the list is fly fishing.

I consider myself to be an “advanced novice” fly fisherman. Before I got into it, I considered this to be an “elitist” activity that was more trouble than it was worth. But after learning a little bit about it and taking a few fly fishing trips, now I consider it to be one of the most enjoyable and satisfying pastimes I have ever encountered.

The purpose of fly fishing is, of course, to fool the fish into thinking that your offering with a hook hidden in it is their lunch. “Dry” flies are imitations of insects that are found around a body of water searching for food, sometimes crawling on the water or dipping or falling into it. “Wet” flies usually imitate water-born insects as they swim to the surface to emerge as adults before they fly away.

But fish are not dumb. They can see your offering and often detect if it has any flaws. They can also see and hear you and, depending upon the water conditions, they can see your line as well. So you must sneak up on the fish, make your lure look realistic, and make your line inconspicuous.

In addition, fish are generally lazy. They want to gather as much food as they can without expending too much energy along the way. Face the facts, there are not too many calories to be found for a fish in eating a mayfly or caddisfly. So if your fly is too far away, or the fish have to swim too far against the current to get to it, the strike probably will not be made.

So there is a real challenge to fly fishing — and that is just to get the original strike. You will probably be fishing with a barbless hook, so you will be forced to keep some tension on the line or the fish will easily throw the hook. Barbless hooks are used because most good fly fishing is “catch and release,” due to the conviction that “fish are too valuable just to be caught once.” In addition, you will also probably be fishing with low test line, so if you put too much pressure upon it, the line or leader (the tippet) will break.

Furthermore there is a real technique to casting, controlling and positioning your fly. Everything you use is lightweight, so you cannot “force” the fly into the right spot. Instead you must work up to it by a series of practice or “false” casts. But as we have seen, placement is critical. For example, in a river the fish will often be found behind some rocks that will give them relief from the current, but still keep them close enough to the current to see and strike at food as the current washes it by. So the people fishing want to drift their flies in the current, but close to the slower water where the fish are. Similarly, fish will hide under trees or fallen branches to be in cooler water. But it can be hard to cast your lightweight fly into such places. In fact, there have been many times in which I have “caught” more trees on my fishing expeditions than fish.

But in addition to the challenges and excitement, there is also a genuine peace to be found in fly fishing. By definition, when I am standing by or in a river in Colorado, Idaho, the Eastern Sierras, or almost any other venue, I am in a wonderful place.

Furthermore, when I fish I am quiet and left alone with my thoughts, and often at these times I have felt more in harmony and at one with my surroundings than I have ever felt anywhere else. Just the give and take with the river, the trees, the rocks and, yes, the fish can bring a tranquillity that is unmatched.

If you are interested in expanding your horizons to include fly fishing, there are numbers of instructors available almost anywhere, and there are also lots of books to assist you as well. The book I used was “Essential Fly Fishing” by Tom Meade, but there are many others.

In addition, do yourself a favor and read “The River Why,” which is a novel by David James Duncan. This is actually one of the funniest books I have ever read, and it will also give you a good understanding and appreciation of fly fishing.

So I hope you open your thoughts to fly fishing, and I invite you to share your experiences with the rest of us. It really is a separate world that is different, exciting, challenging, tranquil and satisfying. And it is one that I am deeply blessed and grateful to have encountered.

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)