Fly fishing is filled with times of frustration: getting rained out on the stream, losing a fly in a low hanging branch, being unable to thread your thin tippet line through the hole of a tiny little hook because your hands are too cold. One time I drove an hour from home to fish a new river. When I opened the trunk to put on my gear, I discovered that I had my vest and net, but had left my fly fishing rod at home.
Perhaps the ultimate frustration in fly fishing is not catching any fish. Sometimes no matter how advanced our casting skills, or how perfectly tied our flies, the fish simply will not rise. When getting skunked for hours, I try to rationalize the situation, saying: “I’ll just use this time to practice my casting.” That usually does not work for long. The sport is called fly fishing, not fly casting.
Picture: Battenkill River in Vermont.
Over the years, I realized that frustration from not catching fish usually has to do with expectations. When I first taught myself to fly fish, I was lucky to see one or two bites in an entire afternoon. I was thrilled the first time I caught a trout on a dry fly, a small rainbow of about eight inches. I was not frustrated by the other three hours of fishing because I was just learning.
After that first trout, I began to develop expectations. As my skills developed and my casting improved and I could catch more fish, my expectations only continued to rise. Today, a few hours on the stream that do not yield a single bite can cause some serious angst.
Expectations in life can be a good thing. When a baseball coach demands one hundred and ten percent, it pushes the player to new levels of athletic achievement. When a teacher gives a difficult assignment but the student works hard and succeeds, she learns and grows. When a parent expects a child to do chores, apply himself and to treat others with respect, he becomes a better person
In religion, expectations are important as well. The Torah, the Hebrew Bible, contains 613 commandments, each one containing an expectation of behavior. When Rabbi Hillel was asked what is the most important command of Judaism he said: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the commentary.” Likewise, God expects ethical behavior from us all. The prophet Micah said: “God has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Expectations from teachers, from coaches and even from religion can be a good thing when they motivate us to do better or to be better. But expectations on the fly fishing stream are probably a waste of time. Not too long ago, someone asked me for the most important tip in fly fishing. I said to him: “Be sure to look up from the river every once in a while, take a breath of air, hear the soft sound of the flowing water, and appreciate the beauty of all that surrounds you.” In fly fishing, when I expect to catch trout, I am guaranteed to be frustrated sometimes. When I expect to be out in nature, to soak in the solitude of the stream and to leave behind the stress of the world, I find fulfillment.
Picture: On Mt. Equinox in Vermont.
I may still get frustrated when not a single fish rises. When that happens, I will try to remember that time I went fly fishing and left my rod behind. After I discovered that I could not fish, I decided to go hiking along the stream. I saw deer and ducks. I got stuck in “sinking mud,” almost becoming a permanent resident of the stream. I spent time outside, in nature, and I was able to look around, to relax and to appreciate the beauty of our world. And I learned that sometimes you do not need a rod and reel to have a good time on the river.