I meet a lot of anglers who used to fish. Some of them were die hard, passionate and persistent, often for many years or even decades. But somehow and in some way they gave it up. Maybe fishing was pushed aside for other interests or responsibilities, or maybe they simply burned out.
“I used to fish a lot,” they tell me.
And inevitably, the next sentence follows . . .
“I wish I still did.”
It’s natural to go through phases in life, and the average person who gets into fishing probably treats it as another hobby, where interest is bound to wane over time. But fishing also attracts the outdoorsman with a tendency toward obsession. There are so many facets of fly fishing, that the intrigue can easily sustain our interest over a lifetime. Mix in the majesty of the places where wild trout take us, and you have a formula for fishing, not just as a hobby, but as a way of life.
It saddens me when I see friends gradually leave this game, or when I meet someone who says they “used to fish,” with that regretful tone to their words. I’m not here to be anyone’s life coach, but I know what the game of chasing trout has given me. For over forty years, I’ve had a wonderful purpose, a focus, endless challenges, and a reason to set my feet on wooded, watery paths often enough to call these places home.
I see what a life dedicated (in part) to fishing has done for me, what it’s done for my relationships with friends and family, and what it’s given to my sons. For anyone who casts a line, we’re granted a connection to the natural world. And these things should not be missed.
Fishing is as big as you want it to be. From the beginning, I’ve been in it for the long game. And in the end I plan to wade upstream, toward the light at the end of the tunnel.
For those passionate anglers who feel the same, how can we stay in it for a lifetime? There are plenty of distractions and circumstances that pull us out. And without some intention and forethought, you’ll find yourself looking back and wondering why you don’t fish much anymore.
What follows is a short list of ways to make a lifestyle stick.
This one is first. Because without your health, there’s nothing in life that you can pursue to the fullest. No matter the interest, whether it’s hunting or backgammon, health problems make us miserable.
Some of it is up to fate, but there’s plenty we can control. Many years ago, my friend, Matt, told me he got up every morning and exercised, getting the push-ups out of the way so he had the strength and stamina to keep fishing. Fishing itself was his drive to stay healthy. And Matt was in his thirties. Another friend, Trevor, is a family doctor who tells me that the number one problem he sees in his office is obesity. It affects everything. And I’ll say candidly, I have very few fishing friends who are significantly overweight. Fly fishing (and doing it well) is too demanding, too taxing to be carrying around an extra fifty pounds. It will grind you down until you stay home, sitting in the easy chair.
Take care of yourself, or nothing else matters.
For me, fishing is most often a solitary activity. Through the years, my schedule has been the opposite of average. I fish weekday mornings, leaving Saturday and Sunday for the weekend-warrior crowd. But I’m also fortunate to have a group of friends who love the same things I do about a river. We keep in touch and fish whenever possible, because good fishing friends are hard to find.
Here’s the truth: If you fish often enough, it becomes part of your life. And eventually, even the introvert finds himself with a handful of fishing buddies. Fishermen just seem to find each other.
Those like-minded friends serve as inspiration, as motivation and a reason to get up in the morning. Deep friendships are good for the soul. And sharing the things you love with others might very well be the meaning of life.
Every good angler wonders what’s around the next bend. We all make one more cast that becomes a dozen, and we fish one more spot that keeps us out there till dark. We have the heart for exploration. We seek answers as much as we seek to discover water that we might call our own.
So keep that adventurous spirit alive. Set a goal to fish your favorite river from the mouth to the source. And once you’ve done that with every river in a reasonable travel radius, then pack the truck with a sleeping bag and expand your perimeter.
Hop on a bike and go where your feet can’t take you. Find marginal water on a map — the stuff that isn’t even supposed to hold any trout — and go prove that wrong.
Fishing is for explorers. So don’t ever surrender that drive.
Available tactics on a fly rod are endless. Options are unlimited. You could spend a lifetime on tight line nymphing tactics and never fully understand them. And if you do get close to a complete understanding of your tools and how they match the river’s currents, you’ll still be far away from any complete facility to drift with precision.
It’s hard. That’s why we love it. But, with every new fly change, rig swap or brisk walk upstream, there’s a reason to believe that the catching part of fishing could become pretty easy — because it’s happened before. “The fisherman is eternally hopeful,” as my dear friend, Rich, repeated. And it’s our endless learning that fosters that hope.
Set out to study and understand every possible tactic on a fly rod. Take the time — the seasons — to learn everything within reach of your abilities. And then push it further. Chasing trout is a game that never ends, because the learning doesn’t either.
I believe that your health, your friendships, the drive to explore and learn are the fundamental ways to stay in the game for a lifetime. But there are others . . .
Most of the lifelong anglers I know are also fly tyers. Building your own bugs is another commitment to the sport. It takes you deeper into this game, because now, the trout eat your creations. You may spend hours wondering if a few wraps of CDC at the collar of the fly might make a difference for the trout that refused your flies the last time. What color CDC? You’ll figure it out.
Something happens to a die-hard angler around the seven year mark. I’ve been around long enough to see the pattern happen with friends and acquaintances over and over. The seven-year-itch is a popular idea that marriages and relationships tend to fizzle out after seven years. The correlation with an angler’s fishing habit runs true. But many make it over the hump because they become part of the industry. That doesn’t necessarily mean guiding or working in a fly shop. Any connection seems to make a difference. And becoming involved in your local Trout Unlimited group is a good way to stay involved.
I know there are a hundred more ways to stay in the fishing game for life, and you’re welcome to drop some words of wisdom in the comments section below.
I often say that fly fishers are, all too often, looking for reasons not to fish. It’s too hot or cold. The hatch is over. The creek is too high or low, etc. And like anything else, dedication requires motivation. All of the ideas above are ways to keep that stream of motivation and inspiration alive.
In truth, these ideas apply to anything you love in this good life. It’s the message that finding ways to challenge yourself, to improve and share with others is the key to being happy and involved in your world.
And, just maybe, a life spent fishing is a good way to live it.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N