Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Why I Fly Fish

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*some expletives maybe*

I've just recently realized that this is something I've never fully addressed, here or anywhere. I've never written it anywhere, I've never sat down with someone and talked about it, certainly not in full. And I think it's important.

I can tell you exactly the moment I became fish obsessed. The very instant, the place, everything. It was the instant a largemouth bass hit a big daredevil spoon on the fall during the third day of my first Boy Scout summer camp. I was fishing on my own with borrowed tackle, and that was the point at which something clicked in my brain and turned me into an angler. From then until I was 14, I was bass obsessed. I fished for other things occasionally, but I was pretty one-sighted. I was into largemouth and smallmouth bass.

 It is rather ironic, honestly, that I started trying to learn to fly fish around the same time as I started to widen my focus. I'm generalizing, but fly fisherman seem far more inclined to focus on a single species than, say, bait fisherman. But my turn towards fly fishing very much paralleled my path towards multi-species fishing and then life-listing. This has shaped who I am, as a person and an angler, and why I fly fish.

Besides focusing on certain fish fly anglers also tend to use flowery language to explain why, for them, "it isn't all about catching fish". I could do that too, but I won't, because it would be a lie. When I break it down completely, the single biggest reason I fly fish is to catch fish on fly tackle. If it weren't I simply wouldn't do it.

In a more broad sense, I want to learn everything I can about every fish that swims on this planet, and fly fishing is the tool I have chosen to use to do so. Some choose test tubes, some choose nets, some choose snorkels. I may well use some of those things in the future too, but it would likely be for the express purpose of then catching the fish on fly tackle. I'm collecting data, as a good scientist should, and I'm using the method that speaks to me in the clearest and most persuasive tone of voice. I measure success in my ability to fool fish and subsequently observe them closely at hand, and to document them if I deem it necessary or worthy of documentation. Fish don't do much other than eat, move, and breed, and fly fishing allows me a window through which to collect data on all of these things. By being on the water attempting to get fish to put some form of fly in their mouth, hook them, and bring them to hand, I put myself in a place where I can collect so much data. Weather, geology, flora and fauna diversity, light, hydrology, evolution, astronomy, thermodynamics... it all pertains to fish in some way, and I want to learn everything that does. My desk is my lab, where I do my hypothesizing and theorizing through tying flies, reading, looking at maps, watching videos, and looking at and editing photos. And the field is where I go to do my testing. Everything I observe while fishing is a data point that is worth my scrutiny. Some have said that if you are too focused on catching fish you will miss everything going on around you. I contest that if you are missing anything going on around you, you aren't focusing completely on catching fish.

Though I don't need to catch a fish to have a good and productive outing, if an outing doesn't lead to me learning something about fish, it was a failure.

This need to learn as much as I can is what has driven me to do things like crouch in a clear, cold run on an early winter night trying desperately to get a two and a half inch slimy sculpin to eat a midge pattern in the light of a headlamp, or sit for four hours under a streetlight watching carp behavior at night without making a single cast, or belly crawl through tick filled leaf litter to get a better angle on some brook trout rising in a two foot wide stream, or make casts at sea lampreys. I want to be the best fly angler I can possibly be at the end of my life. If this results in other people thinking I'm a good or great fisherman, well, I don't give a shit. I'm fishing for myself in the love of fish. What I want people to take away from what I'm doing is not how good I am (not very, yet), but how amazing wild fish are. All wild fish. (Though, preferably, in their native range). Fish are incredible. They are so beautiful in so many ways. I will never stop being in awe of them, which is a good thing, because that means I will never have to voluntarily quit fishing. I have a fascinating and nearly endless data set to explore. And, though it isn't why I fish, the sole reason I share my fishing is to hopefully show somebody how incredibly awe inspiring fish are. I want to show you all of them if I can. What they do, what they look like. How you can experience them for yourselves. I want to see the term "trash fish" thrown into the dust bin of time. I want to see people care about fish for the right reasons. Not personal glory. Not just food either. I want to see people recognize the value of native species whether they fish for them or not. The reality is we would all be far better off if everybody did. Care about fish, care about where they live, care about those that rely on them, care about your impact on them, and the world will be a better place.

I hope at least a few of you are of the same mindset. I know there are some. If you are, you've undoubtedly been looked down upon at some point for fishing for suckers or getting excited about catching a new sunfish species or just doing micro-fishing at all. You may already know this, you probably do. But you are better than anybody that looks down upon you for fishing differently than they do.  And if you feel the way I do about fishing, when someone tells you that they fish just to be in the outdoors, that catching fish doesn't matter, then asks you why you fish... just answer with three simple words:
"To catch fish."

Photo Courtesy David Gallipoli

Fish hard, friends. Learn as much as you can from it. And understand your impact on the fish.
I'll see you on the water.



  1. Love it RM - awesome idea's, ideals, and thirst for growth. Very, very cool!

  2. RM you're on to something important with this quest. My guess is that you will learn lots about fish, and in the end, even more about yourself. Jim

  3. Right on Rowan! Your journey is a lifelong quest. Wonderful!
    Tie, fish, write, conserve and photo on...

  4. I really enjoyed reading that.
    I sometimes think about this too.
    The short answer to "why fly fish" for me is simply my dad.