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On the Driving Away

Taking a trip to go fly fishing is a special experience. Whether it is a monthly occurrence or something that happens only once a year, taking an excursion of at least a few nights to fish is distinctly enjoyable. There is a lot that goes into that distinctive experience. Being away from home, work, and the normal routine can be refreshing; regardless of if the accommodations and conditions are posh or something decidedly rustic. And then, of course, there is the fishing.

For the vast majority of people on fly fishing trips, the fishing is the focal point. Pursuing brook trout in the woods of Maine, tarpon off the Gulf Coast, and taimen in Mongolia are very diverse angling opportunities. But for most, they all require getting away. That is a given. There are some other givens that are common to all fishing trips.

One of those is leaving. Inherent to the retreat is the return. And a likely accompaniment to that return are some regrets. Things that, as you drive or fly away, you dwell on and wonder if you should have done differently.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re looking a gift horse (trout?) in the mouth, but that introspection and reflection leads to some obvious thoughts. Here are some that are common to the fly fisher returning from their retreat:

I should have fished more. Even though the bed at the lodge was comfortable, you didn’t come to sleep. You came to fish, and that extra half hour in your room was another half hour you could have been on the water. Yes – there wasn’t a hatch at 5:45 in the morning. But that might have been your chance for a big fish before the sun really came up.

Plus, you realize that tomorrow and during the coming days you’d gladly get up a few minutes early to be on the water. Not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone isn’t an unfamiliar sentiment in fly fishing.

I could have prepared better. There is something to be said for not stressing yourself out or not sweating the details leading up to your trip. In hindsight you’ll realize that there are certain parts of your trip that were relatively inconsequential that you may have paid too much attention to. You packed at least two sets of clothes for each day, with a couple of options in case the weather shifted hot or cold. You were certain you’d be fishing a five weight, but you brought a six weight in case you wanted something heavier (as well as a backup if something happened to that one).

But you left your box of egg flies and sucker spawn. You have six other boxes of flies, but failed to put two and two together to see that your trip lines up with the suckers doing their thing. Now who is the sucker?

I didn’t “take it all in.” With smartphones and camera technology, circumstances when we fail to capture a moment are few and far between. But being laser-focused on the fishing, or how poorly you are fishing, can get in the way of appreciating the totality of the experience.

The moments definitely don’t require photographing. The pauses that go into the acknowledgement of something noteworthy facilitates a greater enjoyment of being outdoors, away from it all, and in a wild place. Back in the hustle and bustle of your daily routine, you’d gladly spend a moment or two watching an eagle fly or scampering up a ridge to take in a view.

I missed that fish. Okay, this one is hard to justify and work through. But the fact of the matter is that everyone misses fish sometimes. It doesn’t make it any easier, and such rationalizations don’t replace the tug of a fish that was ardently pursued.

These disappointments keep us going. Maybe as much as the victories, the “defeats” at the fins of wily and wary fish spur us to go out again. And if we’re honest, the losses and near-misses are probably just as much our fault and symptoms of some shortcoming that we’re trying to correct. So we go again.

Even with all of the regrets, I’m more than happy to have been out fishing. As the aforementioned thoughts and second-guesses flit in and out of your head, this idea should be the foundation that you return to. This thought is the reasonable and rational point that tethers you to the fact that, regardless of anything and everything that happened, you went fishing.

Forgetting your nice wading socks, nicking up that new fly line, and having a big fish straighten out your hook wouldn’t happen sitting at your desk. Falling in and filling up your waders won’t happen watching sitcoms, getting rained on won’t happen sleeping in late, and botching a cast to a rising trout won’t ever happen when you’re just messing around the house all weekend.

You went fishing, and that isn’t anything to regret.