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Why I Fly Fish for Trout...as if I need a Reason

Posted 05-22-2014 at 01:52 PM by michael_vorhis
Updated 05-28-2014 at 07:38 PM by michael_vorhis

I've heard it said that trout live in beautiful places, and it takes no more than a single glance above their fluid world--at snow-blanketed ranges and breeze-cleansed, wildflower-strewn mountain meadows and soaring ospreys--to know that it is true. We do our best to protect their homes...but why? Why do I care?

I'd become hooked on fly fishing long before, as a child, probably by reading some issue of Outdoor Life my Dad had subscribed to for my sake, but in those days the focus was on largemouth bass. I was growing up in Ohio, after all, and unless I wanted to toss poppers at catfish and carp, bass was the deal. In my state of zero money matched to unlimited zeal, I whittled and tied all manner of unusual feathered morsels, made my first fly rod from taped together strips of noodly wooden moulding I'd discovered in the basement, put thick cotton clothes line into service as a fly line. None of it worked--not that that deterred me in the least, for dreams were driving. Somewhere along the way I got hold of the cheapest imaginable versions of the real things and flogged farm ponds in all directions, telling myself that bluegill were just like little bass and that I was truly in the clover.

But it was habitat, not hatches and not catches, that connected me with trout. When I graduated from University I took a summer-long bicycle trek with my brother from the hard-worked midwest farmlands to the untamed West. Our route took us through the Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota grains, across South Dakota and Wyoming, into Montana. And somewhere in the Black Hills, the first real mountains I'd ever seen, we stumbled upon a little stream. Except for the sound and sparkle, its clear water was indistinguishable from air. And most incomprehensible to me was that it was flowing on top of the terrain.

Always before in my life, if water moved at all it flowed through dirt, with dirt, married to dirt--warm, opaque, silty chocolaty-brown stuff in which lived stupid things hiding from life's glories under banks of itchy weeds and muck.

But this stream was surreal. It was pure--neither contaminated nor warmed. No murk; no blurring of the stones and shoals that made up its bed. It flowed uncorrupted and unabsorbed, as if protected by a magic I hadn't dreamed existed. There it was, ON TOP OF the clean rocks and moss! ...almost as if it was not touching them at all.

I fell in love before my jaw dropped to full extension. I don't know if a person can fall harder for anything or anyone than I fell when I laid eyes on that creek, and I knew in that moment that the center of the universe was a mountain streambed in the Great American West.

I can't say the foundation of my urge was to fish it; I can't say it was to float it in a kayak. I only wanted to get into it somehow, to touch it, to become part of it...and make it part of me. It was exhilaration; it was discovery; it was timeless peace. Neither the Earth nor the Sea had ever really been my cradle; this stream that I'd found had always been, and would always be. All these years later I doubt I could even find it again, and yet I know where it flows in my heart, and how it flows through every current I've seen since, and will ever see.

Boats and float tubes and lakes are fine...they still serve up the breeze and the sun and the gurgle and the electric jolt when a fly is taken...but the best that can be remains the euphoria of wading a wondrous stream, feeling the gravel and stones underfoot, the chill of the water, the tug of the current. Balancing within it, hearing its healing music. It feels like privilege. It's what the trout themselves feel, and it runs through them and is them. And it's us too, if we find it.

And so wading trout streams with fly rod in hand is really just an excuse for me...an artificial priority--much as plunking a random ball into a meaningless hole is an excuse for golfers to take the morning air. I go through the motions of pitting my meager knowledge against a billion years of trout instinct, with no real intention of dragging home fish carcasses and really feeling no dire need to catch anything. I do my best for the fun of the game, but in my soul I'm there to be at the center of a Universe of life--to be part of that immortal little stream I saw long ago in the Black Hills. I'm there to feel, and for a little while to be immortal with it.


Why I Fly Fish, version B:
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So small, can barely see it...tie it on somehow...okay...flip it out there...drifting...BAM!
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