Before you start copying and pasting Amazon links and fly shop web pages, hear me out.
It is wish list season. The holidays are approaching. Christmas music and decor are taking over like some abominable mistletoe/tinsel/kudzu hybrid. Everyone from your spouse to your parents to your kids to your aunt Myrtle wants to know what you want for a present.
Yes, a gift card to Cabela’s is easy and practical. Sure, the reel that you hand pick and they buy will make you happy. Of course, you could get all of the fish socks that Wingo Belts sells. (Wait… actually, that might be a pretty great gift… we’ll talk about that later.)
Or, you could ask for something better. Something nontraditional. Something that requires a little effort on the gift-giver’s part, and a little bit of thinking on your’s. Incidentally, this is what gift-giving looked like before the dawn of the 1,000 page Sears catalog. How novel!
Try this: “I want to go fishing with you.”
“Wait,” you say. “That goes against all of the common courtesies of impersonal and predetermined yuletide transactions. I live in a happy world where we essentially exchange currency, with the occasional Apple product sprinkled in.”
That is a valid point. But just sit back, grab a delicious pitcher of eggnog, and go on a little trip down memory lane with me.
Trout are creatures with paper-thin fins and gossamer bones. Their optimal temperature and dissolved oxygen thresholds are relatively narrow. Touching their scales with dry hands or laying them upon the bank can render them susceptible to deadly infection. Trout are survivors, but they are fragile.
It isn’t just fish, though: A creek, sustaining all manner of organisms until it is impeded or polluted. An angler, boldly venturing deep into the woods where not even modern technology can prevent a fall that leads to mortal peril. Every successful and non eventful fly fishing excursion belies how delicate and fleeting life is. It isn’t until the trout is hooked too deeply and fails to revive in the current. It isn’t until the once productive stream bed is baking, dry in the sun as far as one can walk. It isn’t until the news story comes across the screen, beginning with that common line “he was an experienced outdoorsman…”
Ecologically speaking, the fragility of the natural world is clearly seen. Siltation from impoundments, a bacteria that depletes a year stock, or a hundred-year flood each radically alter a watershed to the point where it is biologically and hydrologically unrecognizable. Fish, insects, vegetation, and riparian zones can literally be wiped out in mere days or hours.
As awful as those all-to-frequent disasters are, and as much as conscientious stewards ought to mitigate our role in such events, they are rarely irreversible. It takes effort, resources, and much more time than we’d like, but rivers that flowed sterile a few generations ago have rebounded. Still, the contrast between the cost of restoration and the speed of destruction is indicative of how sensitive something as massive and intricate as watersheds truly are.
And to think, human life is even more fragile.
One year ago this Sunday, I shaved. Like any other morning when I’d have to get up and go to work or appear in some sort of formal capacity in front of civilized people, I showered, dressed, and shaved. All was normal. Things were smooth.
Later that day I headed down to a conference in scenic Lynchburg, Virginia. I ate dinner, I had a good night’s sleep, I woke up and went for a run, I got cleaned up. Looking at my razor that morning, I thought “no… not today. In fact, being the week of Thanksgiving where all that is expected of me is eating and lounging, no – not for the next seven days.”
If I am being honest with myself, it was by day five or six that I knew I wasn’t going back. “No Shave November” diffused most people’s questions or comments. By the time December rolled around, people assumed that it was my attempt to ward of the cold. Come March, there were serious concerns.
19th century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “Growing a beard is a habit most natural, scriptural, manly, and beneficial.” I could make a case that fly fishing, and outdoorsmanship in general, likewise meets all four of those categorical distinctions. Perhaps that is why beards have long been associated with hunters and anglers.
“What are you reading these days?”
I ask that question at work, of family, and to folks that I interact with in the fly fishing community. It might come across as nosy or weird, but I am truly interested in what people are interested in. What we read, and the rationale behind it, is fascinating. Desiring some specific knowledge makes the most sense. Entertainment is as good of a reason as any. Morbid curiosity works, too. Books allow you scratch all of those itches, and more – even in the world of fly fishing.
If you fly fish, you can get pretty much anything and everything that you need from the internet or talking to people. But if you rely on just those two things, you’re missing out on some really beneficial stuff. You can learn, be amused, and see why those people fish that way. To be honest, I’ve read and bought fly fishing books for all of those reasons and more.
While I don’t break down my recommendations by those lines, I have tried to offer up a couple of types of books. As I’ve done for all of the entries in my “Fly Fishing Books” series, I’ve spread the selections over three rough categories:
- Guide (regional, site specific)
- Technical (methods, locations, fly tying)
- Literature (novels, biographies, history)
Check out one kind of each book, why I suggest it, and a bonus read below. And follow the links in the headings to get a copy for yourself!
There are places that respectable anglers don’t venture near. These forbidden locations are just on the edge of everyday life. The normal places that one might pass on the way to go fly fishing. What keeps grown men and women away is fear. The kind of fear that stems from the oh-so-familiar knowledge that what exists just on the other side of the safe and acceptable is the exact opposite. An upside-down reality where things are eerily similar, yet terrifyingly different.
Usually, they are the back roads or muddy pull-offs. Instead of a well-maintained parking lot with a kiosk explaining the catch-and-release regulations, there are deep tire ruts and a few bags of illegally dumped trash. Where one would usually expect a narrow trail to a river, there is a wide path marked by styrofoam worm cups and Bud Light cans. The ultimate destination is even different: slow, or stagnant even.
Why a fly fisher would even entertain the thought of setting out in a place like this is hard to comprehend. The danger is palpable; the results are inevitable. It even feels wrong. The scene clashes with name-brand waders and any fishing rod that isn’t more aptly referred to as a “pole.” But every once in a while, you hear tale of some angler who treads these chilling trails, casts into these unholy waters, and encounters ghosts that were thought to be left far in the past.
The scary truth is that these scenes exist everywhere: public parks, highway overpasses, and suburban retention ponds. Fly fishers try to ignore what is lurking behind every fence and wall. But like a flickering light or shifting shadow, the memories tend to reappear when least expected. Most unsettling is the knowledge that these are not figments of the imagination, but rather real moments tied to tangible places.
For some, in those split seconds it can come flooding back like an uncontrollable wave:
There are two types of fly fishers in the world: the ones who are thinking about getting another fly rod, and the ones who are actively shopping for another fly rod.
Be it graphite, fiberglass, or bamboo, a fly rod is what makes the real connection between the fisher and the fishing. Your hand holds the cord, you feel the line load, and you (hopefully) experience the fight of a fish. For those reasons, and because we like stuff, most anglers are always thinking about another fly rod.
You might want an upgrade, need to fill a hole in your arsenal, or simply desire one more fly rod. And some folks can just go out and buy whatever they’d like, whenever they’d like. For the rest of us, the process takes a little bit of deliberation. Recently I wrote about the merits of casting any rod you might be interested in well before you get too deep down the rabbit hole of considering purchasing it. Here are three more posts that address the issue from a number of perspectives: steps to go through when beginning the process, what I like about a new rod I have, and the feasibility of sticking with an older piece of gear.
Read and watch them all here:
Driving. Folding laundry. Grocery shopping. Mowing the lawn. Waiting for the doctor. All of these monotonous intervals could very well be time for you to be alone with your thoughts. Or, you could tap on your smartphone and listen to something entertaining. And if it just so happens that you are into this whole fly fishing thing, there are plenty of options out there for you.
Why listen to a fly fishing podcast when the latest Taylor Swift song or riveting political talk is right there on the radio dial? For one, it can be the best kind of escapism. On one hand you could daydream about fly fishing, on the other hand you are potentially learning some valuable stuff in preparation for when you actually go fly fishing. Those mundane moments then become valuable as you fritter time away while simultaneously absorbing ideas and concepts.
There are many good fly fishing podcasts out there, each having some great episodes. At the bottom of the post there are links to the previous fly fishing podcast articles with more suggestions and my takes on every show listed.
Is there a fly fishing podcast or episode that I should check out? If so, leave a comment at the bottom and I’ll be sure to give it a listen!
“That’s a nice fishing rod.”
It is a cold, hard fact that 75% of the time that particular phrase occurs is while someone is standing indoors, wiggling the tip of a fly rod. Ask a fly shop employee. Ask a company rep at a tradeshow. Hand your average angler a fly rod and see what happens. The wiggle, the nod of passive affirmation, and the comment.
That being said, I’d wager that most of us have done it. “This is a nice rod,” we say, as we’re essentially making an evaluation akin to judging a book by its cover. More accurately, it’s like judging a book by the typeface on the cover. Or, the sound the pages make as you flip through them with your thumb. Given, it is sort of like kicking tires on a new car or looking down the sights of a friend’s rifle: there are certain things that we just do when put into a situation. Certain things feel like they help us evaluate what we’re looking at, but these actions really just flit about the periphery of a real assessment. It is forgivable. But it isn’t logical.
I see this phenomenon on a pretty regular basis. There are five fly rods in my office. They are there for decorative purposes, but they’re the real deal. As people come in for various reasons, be they fly fishers or not, most will inevitably find their way to the rod rack. They’ll usually ask if they can touch them, and after my affirmative response they’ll proceed to pick one up. And wiggle it. “Yeah, that’s nice,” is the common sentiment expressed in one way or another. I smile. It is a smile that belies a quick transition from condescension to sheepishness. I know better, but I know I’ve done the same.
For example: I recently told someone that the new Orvis Helios 3 is “a nice rod.” What was I basing my authoritative opinion on? Some online reviews and… me, standing in a store, wiggling a Helios 3. That is the kind of hard-hitting perspective on gear that everyone wants? Right? Read more
Most Fridays on Casting Across are devoted to other people’s contributions in the fly fishing community. Articles, pictures, social media accounts, videos, podcasts, products, and more will be featured on The Last Cast of the Week.
Today, I’m sharing items from Trout & Feather, Windknots & Tangled Lines, and Small Stream Reflections
If you’d like to be featured in the Last Cast of the Week, or have seen something that others might be interested in, use my contact form or shoot me an email (matthew[at]castingacross[dot]com). Also, be sure to subscribe to Casting Across to never miss a post.
Check out the links, along with my thoughts, below:
There is an intimacy in the Appalachian Mountains. While few segments of the topography are severe like much of the Rockies out west are, there is a tangible closeness in the hollows and valleys of the eastern mountain range. Perhaps it can be attributed to the contrast that Appalachia provides. With only a short drive from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Atlanta, it is hard to believe that the quiet forests are in the same states. Even the sounds of the names are simpler, calmer, and less hurried: Cumberland, Smoky, Shenandoah.
Part of the intimacy of Appalachia has to do with the fact that civilization has long been here. Native Americans first, then European settlers. The game, timber, and forage all made the relatively accessible mountains a haven of sorts. The evidence of their presence, and the presence of their descendants/our ancestors is over every ridge and behind every old oak. Clearings, charcoal pits, stone fences, rusted stills, and chimneys pepper the landscape.
Once you get beyond the human element, and the fact that the mountain range itself runs unbroken from Alabama to Maine, the specifics of the setting change as you traverse the Appalachians. Plants differ wildly from north to south. Birds, insects, and some mammals only exist on one side of the Mason-Dixon Line or the other. If you take the time to notice, the soil smells different.
But one natural component of the Appalachian Mountains that is consistent up and down the entire range is the brook trout.