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Pause: The Shorter Moments of Fly Fishing

Writing about fly fishing can often focus on the seemingly insignificant. The intricacies of gear, the eccentricities of fish, and the common paces that anglers go through are fairly quaint. But in that commonality there is something special, something remarkable.

Particularly on the stream, where we can get lost in our thoughts, the mundane can be focused on for an inordinate length of time. Facets of the day that seem inconsequential get dissected and analyzed for hours. It happens when we’re catching fish, and it happens when we’re not catching fish. Like the line to a song that just replays over and over in your mind until you can’t help but sing it softly to yourself, the routine of the fly fisher is endlessly scrutinized. And then written about.

One part of that routine is the moment before I begin.

The photograph above captures the moment pretty well. I was walking downstream on a large river in Maine. I’d never fished it before, and the rapids and swells were somewhat intimidating. Fully aware that these are the kinds of mental and physical obstacles I encounter anytime I fish a new piece of water, I somehow ushered those doubts to the back of my mind in favor of a utopian experience. The trout would come easy this time, I thought.

Although my perception of paradise is lost, the reality of the paradise before me was evident. I just had to do a little psychological recalibration.

For a four-hour drive, a half-hour boat ride, the interval of unpacking followed by gearing up, and a half-mile walk to the river I had been positively champing at the bit to fish. Upon seeing the water, I paused. The excuses for not rushing in headlong are legion. There was the aforementioned unfamiliarity. There were also the doubts. There was also the momentary pause of actually beginning to fish.

Don’t get me wrong. This wasn’t the kind of pause that included a propositional crisis of “to fish or not to fish.” Heading back to the cabin or just taking a hike were never options. But in that brief silence I had to consciously say that this is the spot I am going to fish and this is the time when all of my expectations will either play out or fail to come to fruition.

Minutiae, right?

I know my thoughts, and in that picture I can read my body language. “Is this the pool?” “If not this one, do I want to walk further downstream?” “Just fish!” “I doubt anything is going to be rising in water like that.” “Why isn’t anyone else in this stretch?” “Should I be happy about the solitude or take that as a hint this spot stinks?” And so on.

Before I seem any more unhinged than I already have painted myself, let me say that I did walk down and fish. And those thoughts evaporated into the endless stream of considerations regarding pattern, presentation, and position.

However, I know I’m not alone. Fly fishers are by and large a contemplative bunch. We love to get in there, pound the water, and muscle fish into the net. But we also enjoy the deliberate nature of the orchestration of every little event that goes into it. And that can mean mustering up the decision to say here and now.

It is hard in the winter when it is cold. It is difficult on new water. It can be a challenge when life off the river is weighing heavily on our minds.

Perhaps a lot of this is an attempt to justify my indecision or reluctance to change. Or a propensity to overthink. But again, I know friends and fellow anglers go through the same fleeting suspended state before that first wading boot enters the water and dry line is peeled from the reel. And that is okay – good, even. It is of great benefit to go through those motions in the moment, but also to be able to look back and see that process. Even if that process itself is predetermined (again, it’s not like I won’t fish).

I like to revisit fish that I’ve caught and conversations that I’ve had with others on the water. But I believe that it is to my advantage to take moments to dwell on the shorter moments that seem inconsequential or insignificant but are also integral to my fly fishing. What I can learn about my approach to fly fishing, and about myself, can be something special, something remarkable.

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