Why I Fly Fish

Fighting a fishAt one point in the not-too-distant past I assumed that others who fly fished were doing so largely for the same reasons I was and that their values related to fly fishing would be similar to mine. This assumption has since been dispelled, primarily by fellow fly anglers who clearly have different ideas about what fly fishing is and what they want out of it.

The question of why any one of us fly fishes is complicated. The short answer is that we fish because we want to. We want to fish because we get something out of it. What we get out of it is closely related to what we value. As unique individuals, these values vary considerably. It is difficult to discern values but finding out about another angler’s goals and what they consider a worthwhile accomplishment can provide some insight.

My personal reasons for fly fishing, simplified down to the basics, are centered around getting away from everyday pressures, time with carefully chosen friends and family, and, to a much lesser degree, food.  I am fortunate that I can also legitimately say that I have to spend time on the water “for work”.

Fishing with my daughterMy time, especially my time on the water, is limited. I choose fishing partners carefully. I fish with people I like and people who share my fishing related values. Lately I have been fishing more and more with my children. I’ve had many great conversations while walking shorelines and poling the flats and look forward to many more to come.

Fly fishing, like other pastimes that require a high degree of focus, forces us to pay attention to what is happening here and now. When I am on the water I am able to rest my mind and not concern myself with everyday problems and responsibilities. With very rare exceptions, I come home in a better mental state then when I left.  Fly fishing is great therapy! 

My goals while on the water vary considerably depending on the circumstances. They may include exploring a new area, catching a fish on a new fly, catching a particularly big fish, or helping a friend catch a fish. One goal on nearly every fishing trip is to simply catch a fish. I often tell people that all I need to have a great day on the water is one fish. Everything else is a bonus. While I enjoy catching multiple fish and big fish just as much as anyone else, all I typically need to make a day a “good day” is to catch one fish. While I have tried to be okay with it, not catching a fish is not okay. If that happens, I haven’t accomplished what I set out to do and may go home mildly frustrated. I’m okay with this. I know I’ll be back on the water soon and some mild frustration will prompt me to become a better fisherman. 

Running a fly shop provides me with the opportunity to speak with many other anglers. Because providing good service involves discerning what each customer is looking for, I often talk with customers about what they value. 

Most fly anglers I speak with have fairly loose goals that change over time. They want to catch a first fish, a particular species of fish, they want to learn a new area, or they want to tie a fly that will elicit more strikes than what they usually throw. They value time outside on the water, usually with friends, and enjoy a variety of experiences.

There are others whose values related to fly fishing are clear. These are usually, though not always, very accomplished anglers who have been fly fishing for many years. There is some aspect of fly fishing that particularly appeals to them and this is where their time and energy is focused.

Those who have similar values often know each other and sometimes fish together.  Even if they have never seen each other face to face, they may communicate online. They reinforce each other’s shared values and goals, leading to the creation of subcultures within the overall culture of fly fishing.

 Each geographic area will have its own distinct subcultures. There is nothing inherently wrong with different cultures and subcultures. Spending time with others who value the same things we do has many advantages. The first of these is being able to do the kind of fishing we prefer with like-minded anglers. We are bound to learn more about the thing we value. We can share information and teach each other new skills. There can be disadvantages as well. 

Cypress lined riverbankIt makes sense for each of us to do the type of fishing that we enjoy, to associate with others who value the same things, and to try to get better at it. The problems begin when a group becomes known as much by what it holds valueless as by what it values. 

It’s affirming for others to tell us we are right and, as humans, we have a tendency to want others to value the things we value. We may consider those who agree with us, who are in the same “tribe”, to be smarter, better anglers, and generally great people. In contrast, those whose values differ from ours may be seen as less skilled, less dedicated, and less intelligent. This tribalism unfortunately closely mirrors the tribalism that is apparent everywhere in the world. 

There are areas of life where we do need to make value judgements and determine what is the right way for us to think and act. In some cases, it is reasonable that we respectfully try to convince others of the rightness of our beliefs. Fly fishing is not one of those cases. 

Fly fishing is, by nature, solitary and free from underlying rules and requirements. Because of this, we can each make it what we want, molding it to our own personal values. Following this line of thought, a disagreement about the “right” way to fish or the “best” species to target is, at best, completely meaningless, and at worst, demeaning to others. Rather than mirror the tribalism rampant in society, fly fishing should provide an escape.

Your reasons for fly fishing are your own as are your values. You should spend your time on the water doing what you like. Fly anglers are as varied as the fish we catch, and with as many aspects of the sport as there are to enjoy, it would be a mistake to assume that we are all in it for the same reasons. We should spend our time on and around the water doing what we want. And we should give others room to do the same.

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