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Getting a Little Lost Fly Fishing

When was the last time that you got a little lost? Anything counts: hiking or driving, in the woods or in the city.

GPS, and the ubiquity of that technology – particularly on smart phones, has made getting lost an infrequent occurrence in this day and age. Survival skills training for 95% of North America simply entails the advice of “make sure your phone is charged before you go anywhere.”

I am not at all lamenting the fact that there are surely dozens, if not hundreds, of people who are spared from discomfort, injury, or death because of this digital safety leash. Plus, I’m able to reroute myself to avoid a bad intersection with a quick command to my robot butler / iPhone.

But are we missing out on adventure, just a little? I mean, is it a good thing to get a little lost every now and again?

A few years back I was fishing in northern New Hampshire. Only a few miles from the Canadian border, I was hiking through marshes and bogs searching for native brook trout. Now, under normal circumstances it is pretty hard to get lost while fishing. A legitimate survival skill is to follow a water source downstream. If you are fly fishing, let’s hope that you’re somewhere remotely close to a river.

However, I was in the dense, swampy headwaters of the Connecticut River system. There was water everywhere. There were also big, dark-bellied char. I could move upstream, downstream, or laterally to be on a totally new (maybe?) stream. Or it could be another branch of the same stream. Or it could be a part of a beaver pond. Or I could accidentally have crossed the border, eh?

What it all boiled down to was that I was a little lost.

I anticipated that, though. I had water, I had some food, I was wearing appropriate clothing. My cell phone was charged. Someone knew where I was. I was in decent shape (and still am, thank you very much). I decided to make my way out while there was still plenty of daylight. Things were just how they should be for a little uncommon outdoor adventure.

Once I was done fishing, and once I was purposefully-but-not-deliberately lost, I started trying to figure out how to get back. I used the sun. I used the direction of the water’s flow. I used the moss’ growth pattern. I followed certain bird species that only fly in a south-westerly pattern in summer evenings. Okay, I really only used the sun.

It took some time. I stopped a few more times to fish. There were some moments where I second-guessed myself and doubled back. I had to stop myself from stopping a few more times to fish. Then, I found a road and I found my car.

Fishing was fun, don’t get me wrong. But getting a little lost and finding my way back was a lot of fun too.

It isn’t something to take lightly. With all the hypothetical stats I quoted earlier, people still die fishing, hunting, and hiking every year from exposure or injury that resulted from their being lost. And tragically, most of these events transpire in wild places that are remarkably close to roads, civilization, and help. So please, don’t get lost if you don’t know what you’re doing.

But if you’ve got some outdoors wherewithal, are in good physical shape, and play by the rules, wander off the trail sometime. It is a little liberating, and it can open up some amazing fly fishing opportunities.

Just remember to charge your phone. Otherwise, you won’t be able to take any pictures and no one will believe you.


  1. Mel says:

    Very interesting take on time spent fly fishing. For me, the older I get, the more apt it is too become a little confused while immersing myself in fishing and the outdoors. Thanks for sharing some tips on how to manage it………………………

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