Monday, April 08, 2013

A Wondering Rant About the Soul of Fly Fishing Today

I read something in a book many years ago that had a profound title, a strong opening paragraph, and then a few hundred pages of psychological minutia. The title was something like “The Road Less Traveled” and the line that has stuck with me over somewhere near the beginning of the book and stated that Life is Difficult. I don’t recall the rest of the book or what the author was even talking about, but I do recognize the reality that life is indeed difficult.
I thought life would get easier and simpler with age, but have found that it just continues to get more complicated, busier, and the difficult periods seem to be more common yet less stressful than back in “the day.” 
Friendships slip away as free time becomes more precious as the kids grow and the reality that they too soon will be too busy for me settles in.  Sunsets and sunrises seem more precious than maybe they should. The hope for a planet and world that lives and grows becomes more important than higher taxes and entitlement programs. Life changes, change is hard, the difficult part of all of this is to accept that life is not supposed to be “not-difficult.”
So, where am I going with all this? In a nutshell, the last couple of years of my life have had some very difficult periods during which I don’t know where I would be now if I did not fly fish for wild trout.  I have a great family, wife, kids, friends, and life in general and thought they take care of my body and mind, it is the movement of cold water all around me that keeps my soul, my id, my me free.
I participated in a marketing panel for a fly-fishing company a year ago and one of the first questions that come up was “What is the Soul of Fly Fishing?” I was one of a hundred or two people so it’s not like my opinion was particularly important (for the record).
We discussed it, weighed in, debated, and came up with a picture or a list of attributes. In short, the soul of fly fishing was determined – by our group – competitive, driven, edgy, blind to economic classes, open to all, and middle aged wanting to be young as well as young wanting to be unique.  The old “soul’ from the River Runs Through It days was dead and can now be found at FF Film Tours instead. Honestly, it was a difficult question to really answer at the time and I’m not sure any of us in the room ever agreed 100% on what the Soul of Fly Fishing looks like in our own minds.
I have found myself stuck on this question for sometime now, as the truth is – for me – that the soul of fly-fishing is its thing and the important part – for me – is how I interact with that soul. Heavy shit…I know…but try to focus here as I am giving it my best to describe how I perceive the soul of fly-fishing to be without telling someone else that their perception of that question is wrong!
The soul of fly-fishing, to me, is gentle, patient, honest, and clean. It is what it is and does not need me to make it anything other than what it is. When I fish, I embrace the soul of the experience and it’s attributes slowly “rub off” on me a little more each time. If I could not fish, I think I would live a life that would not be worth living.
So, yeah, new waders, boots, rod, bugs, line, and blah blah are all great and part of the fun. But in the end, it is the tug and the hope for the tug, which draws me in and cleans me up. So forgive me if I sometimes become a little disenchanted by the garbled gobbly goop of electric banjos, slow-mo rises, bright colors, white teeth, and fish graffiti.
I am disgusted, at times, by the ways in which the fly fishing industry has blurred the line between marketing BS and the true soul of the sport.  I watch in disbelief as many of my colleagues, have lost touch with what it was that brought them to the lifestyle to begin with. Decidedly fishy dudes are now much more comfortable with a laptop than a riffle. Honest to god great anglers are becoming nothing more than glorified retail clerks.  Brilliant fly innovators care more about supply chain management than new patterns. Clueless CEO’s (in terms of a mend, haul, or bucket) are diluting the uniqueness of the sport and the experience. It is much more common to hear discussions of quarterly sales, ROI, unique page visits, efficiency metrics, and growth models at a gathering of industry insiders than it is to hear about the hatch, the bite, or the water. I guess it’s alright as we all have to walk our own path in this trek of life, so I have tried to learn how to be more tolerant of those that seem to me to be trampling so much of what it is that I see as being at the soul of Fly Fishing…doesn’t mean that I have to respect them for their own idiocy though!
The soul of fly-fishing is not found through the internet, gore-tex, high modulus graphite, firebeads, fish skulls, aluminum bars, vibram soles, or textured fly lines. The soul of fly-fishing is always there, always has been there, and always will be there.  Though these things add value to our experiences on the water, I hope to God that most people don’t fall into the hype that these are the things that make fly fishing, fly-fishing.
As for me, I think I’ll just stick to my plan of attack as accepting the fact that life is in fact difficult, yet I am fortunate enough to be on the road which is less traveled.
Ok – now that I got that off my chest – how would you describe the Soul of Fly-Fishing? I want to hear about the attributes you would say describe the soul more so than stories and analogies. There really is no right or wrong in my opinion, but I do wonder what other people think of when they think about what fly-fishing is.


Should Fish More said...

Interesting, I've wondered the same myself. I'm not sure I'd put 'competitive' in my list, though I had a buddy throw rocks at a steelhead I had on once in Alaska 40 years ago when he was fishless.

Fly fishing, and the aura surrounding it have changed almost beyond belief in my life. I started fly fishing 60+ years ago, taught by my dad. Among the people I knew then and my kin it wasn't seen as a thing apart from just fishing with any rod and reel. In his later years, when his shoulder got bad, dad picked up a spinning rod without qualms.

With the almost cult-like status that fly fishing as acquired it seems inevitable that it spawned it's own economy, with 600 dollar rods, 200 dollar reels and the idea that every year new flies are needed to catch the same fish.

I think it still has a 'soul', as much as any recreation unneeded for survival can have. For me, it's the surroundings found in places I fish, and the memories of people long gone. Sometimes now when I go the 20 miles to the Big Hole I end up just taking a camping chair out of my truck and sitting watching the water. Unless there are rises, of course.

Oh yeah, don't worry. As you're starting to guess, life get's somewhat less anxious, usually. When your grandkids become teenagers you can start using the word 'karma' to your adult kids.


Anonymous said...

You should cut back on the e-cigs.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the article.

"Were the soul not immortal, no creature would be more miserable than man." From Ficino, the great mind on "the soul".