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Alone Together: Relationships Through Fly Fishing

For most anglers, fly fishing means being alone together.

If that sounds more than a little confusing, it is because it is an oxymoron when written or said… but it is certainly something that anyone who fishes understands. Fly fishing is all about solitude, but we love to share that experience with others.

Recently, I’ve written about and discussed how fly fishing is my preferred conduit for forming and building relationships. Whether it be father-son (or mother-daughter, etc.) time, getting together with the people from the TU chapter, or just bumping into someone on the water, it works. I’ve used it quite a bit personally, and I’ve resolved to use it more in a professional capacity.

Why does this matter? To put it bluntly, because relationships matter. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that people matter a whole lot more than fly fishing. At the same time, fly fishing can be an excellent point of contact for people. Sharing the pursuit of fish with friends and acquaintances gives the pursuit much more meaning than it possesses on its own.

The next big question is this – How? How do you fish and talk. How do you pay attention to someone else and pay attention to your drift? Most importantly, how do you cast next to someone else who is casting?

Here are four things to think about if you want to be deliberate in your approach to getting more out of your time alone together:

In the Same Run This is the easiest way to spend time with someone while fly fishing. There are some settings where it is possible to fish a few yards from each other and not compromise your angling efforts. Heavy spinner falls, salmon runs, or on the beach; these situations allow for conversation and fishing in equal measure. If you are sharing a drift boat, then this dynamic is automatically part of the experience. Proximity usually means a running dialogue punctuated by hook sets or attempts to convince the other person to move to a new spot.

Between the Pools It is within the rules of fly fishing to stop, sit, and rest while on the water. Taking breaks allows you to observe what is going on, refocus, and interact with a friend. These little stream side chats could be purely about tactics, or they could go deeper. There is something disarming about being in nature that facilitates genuine discussion, even among the most hardened of individuals. Fishing is about more than catching fish. We all know that. Enjoying the scenery and the company doesn’t  compromise what you’re there for. If anything, it enhances it.

Away From the Water Most of us don’t live on the water. Most of us see the value in carpooling. Even if these are the only times you see your “fishing buddy” during the whole day, it can be real, captive, quality time. I’ve had good conversations that began on the drive up, rattled around in my head while fishing, and then continued as soon as we hopped in the car and headed home. Restaurant stops can be the same way. Getting a real meal instead of drive-through enables you to stop moving, sit down, and breathe.

In the Margins Take the conversation outside of the stream, literally and figuratively. Have your fly fishing friends and their spouses over for dinner. Explore how different you probably are in political, religious, and other realms that have very little to do with simply frequenting the same tailwater. Taking a friendship past the superficial will only lead to more robust, well-rounded fishing trips. Days when the trout aren’t cooperating or the stripers aren’t where they’re supposed to be become a little better. You’ll get to endure it with someone who you share more with with than just presence.

I understand that there are some reading this who might think this is unnecessary, mushy, or too far-flung from the core of what makes fly fishing what it is. That is fine. Some people have found their comfort zone and are happy there. Others, including many who I am hearing from, want to be deliberate in redeeming their time on the water.

Fly fishing can be a totally worthwhile activity on it’s own, in a vacuum. Couple it with hearing other  people’s stories and building real relationships? To me, that leads to a holistic endeavor which brings the best parts of life together.

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