In the Fish and Now

“The fly fishing quarry we long-timers truly seek is not fish the creature, it’s just fishing the verb. The verb is preferable to any fish noun we catch because verbs partake of eternity, nouns are fleeting. Catch and kill a fish noun, it vanishes the instant you eat it.”

David James Duncan from the documentary “Trout Grass”

The sage goes about doing nothing, teaching no talking.

The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease,

Creating, yet not possessing

Working, yet not taking credit.

Work is done, then forgotten.

Therefore it lasts forever.

Ch. 2 of the Tao Te Ching

Quietly we go about really doing nothing more than partaking in a child’s dream; spending the day chasing bugs and fish in the summer fields and lonely mountains with little more in our possession than a sack lunch and some bits of fur and feather. We watch water flow. We watch the way the current plays with emerging mayflies and bubbles and foam. Our eye follows the little eddies that spawn around a rock. We notice the roll of a pebble around our boot. The days bring the flight of ducks and the evaporation of clouds. We are the wind talkers of the water world, reading the messages of the river and air in order to fool a fish with the brain the size of a pencil eraser. Ecosemiotics is the reading of the sings of Nature the same way we read the signs in a city telling us to walk, not to walk, to eat at this restaurant or that one, how fast we can drive and which political candidate to care enough about to vote into office. All hunters should be expert readers of Nature. So too should all humans.

I have been tying a lot of flies recently getting ready for fall fishing out west this year. I think your fly box say a good deal about you as person instead of just what style of fishing you prefer. For instance, my fly boxes are a hot mess now. I have seen more order in rush hour traffic during a December blizzard and it seems just as I try to wrangle some sense of organization around them I go on a fishing bender and come back with 10 boxes full of chaos. My problem is that I am a tier with either a bad case of ADD or hyper creativity, which in either case prevents me from tying 3 of the same fly in a row resulting in fly boxes with so much diversity as to render any attempt at logical organization mute. The only place I’ve found this colorful chaos works is with my double-sided nymph box that always rides along in my sling because I feel that nymphs more adhere to the ‘any given fly on any given day’ stratagem of fly selection. They all fall into general themes but the execution of those themes is more centered on amusing myself at the fly bench with patters I’ll find pretty riverside instead of on tried and true old standbys. Think of my nymph box as a rave instead of ballroom dancing.

Where this gets me in trouble is during dry fly season. I have enough dry flies to have ‘the right one’ the majority of time I’m on the water but my thrifty Scandinavian sense precludes my from taking that many flies with me on any given day which often means the fly I really need is safely at home in the stacks. Instead of confronting my problem head on I bought two more fly boxes today with the hope that maybe they’ll take control of the situation, which I know is a slim proposition but it sure seemed like an easier fix than the inevitable paradigm shift I’m headed for.

One solution I have come up with is to tie for friends and so thereby not compounding my volume problem but allowing me to keep tying. This week I cranked out a series of spring creek midges and other size 22-26 nymphs for a friend in Montana in preparation for a trip this fall to catch the eager rainbows who follow the spawning browns up spring creeks picking off eggs and hatching midges. Since the box I was sending out west looked awfully scarce with just a few dozen tiny nymphs I decided to throw in a dozen flies that have become known as a ‘sparkle tits.’ I won’t go into great detail of the fly’s design as it is nothing more than a foam body madame x essentially, but I do feel the need to explain that the name was actually the result of fishing with my mom for a few days. That’s why I love fishing with family, after knowing each other for what is literally my whole life you never really know what is gonna be said next but chances are everyone will laugh.

The conclusion I came to is that not only does the state of your fly box speak to your personality but also does the flies that fill them. So, I know that it is not wise to generalize so I’ll speak for myself: when I am dry fly fishing I am in a totally different mindset than when I am tossing streamers or dragging nymphs. Throwing dries I feel much closer to the quotes above, as though I am involved at a very elemental level in the inner workings of the universe. Hours will go by between times I blink my eyes or look up from the water. I feel like a hunter. My goal is not to rip lips or to pad the day’s numbers, it is to get the cast, the perfect drift and the take. Of course I do want to have that take come from a slabber but honestly I am usually just happy with a fish in the net and a sip of single malt scotch.

Nymphing is more like the ‘crowd you see at bar time in a college town’ mentality. You have a few other preferences (flies, company, beverages) but as the good ones go home early you’re left buying a drink for whoever is still haunting the bar. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy nymphing probably more than the next guy because I work as a wilderness instructor through the best fishing months and end up fishing more in the winter than I do all summer (this I am in the process of correcting). I prefer, like the majority of fly fisherman to catch a fish on a dry but when it comes down to it I’ll tie up a dirty rig if it means I can get my waders wet and get a little slime in my net.

Fishing dries is aesthetic and maybe the way we’d all prefer life to be if we had our way. Chucking streamers is competitive, the aggressive side of fly fishing. Nymphing is the blue collar ‘getting it done when it has to get done’ kinda fishing, There is no right or wrong, just varying levels of how much time you need to spend in the water. However we chose to do it, our work is done when the fly is taken, then it is forgotten. I have been thinking a lot about this last statement lately, how elusive is that moment and how easily it is forgotten. I often use this idea to point out the inherent lunacy of our passion: we spend all our energy and money just to experience a moment that lasts a few fleeting seconds. The Tao helps me here, it’s through life’s immediate entropy that the beauty is created. Short and sweet, fleeting and gone. For me all this leads to, or from, the idea that nothing is permanent and only in those rare moments do we experience perfection.

I like this idea that perfection, or heaven, is rooted in time and not in place. It is a moment we seek, not a destination. Jonathan Livingston Seagull learned this in the water and I too am learning in the water that it should not be some future place or time that I strive for but instead it is about making the present moment the ideal, the holy, the rare. The holy moment. That fraction of a second when a fish takes and pulls. That vision of mountains, elk and water. Seeing your mom catch a fish on a fly (way to go ma!). The nosy rise. Bison fording the river above you, the sun setting below you. The perfect drift. The way the river grass moves in the current. Seeing you buddy with rod bent. The wind dying just as you cast. Realizing you have more coffee/beer in you pack. Knowing tomorrow will be like today. Fishing with pretty women. Getting out fished by pretty women. Getting your heart broke by those women but knowing that tomorrow you’ll be alive to try again. Getting you heart broke by those fish and knowing that tomorrow you’ll be alive to try again. Do not seek the treasure. Do not seek the goal. Seek the moment. Seek the now.



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