Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fly Fishing for Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish

I am very pleased to be able to share this article by my friend Dr. Michael Attas, a practicing cardiologist, ordained Episcopal priest and avid fly fisher:

While I cherish my time on my home waters of the Rockies, I also long for the chance to explore new places with my fly rod and to move into new territories-both physically and spiritually. On a trip to Belize, we searched for the big three for salt water fly fishermen—tarpon, permit and bonefish. Each requires a certain type of equipment, a certain mindset, and a certain set of expectations. Each fish is a glimpse, in its’ own way, into the mystery of creation and its’ ecologic diversity.

The tarpon has the appearance of some prehistoric silver monster from the depths, with majestic mouths and colors. When you hook a tarpon, the run and inevitable leap towards the heavens is guaranteed to stir the heart of even the most experienced fisherman. It is almost a given that the first time a tarpon is caught it is rarely landed, for the experience and physical skills required are just so different for a fly fisherman who lives on trout waters. As a cardiologist, I realize that reeling in a tarpon is like a salt water version of a treadmill stress test—if your heart can stand the runs and jumps it is probably in pretty good shape!!
The leap to the sky of the tarpon demands that the fishermen “bow to the king”— in order to keep the fish hooked we must lower our rod tip with our body and let the line have some slack before it re-enters the water and makes another daunting run. To me, this expression has some wonderfully religious overtones. We must always stand in reverence and humility before the creator of the universe. We cannot demand too much, pull too hard, keep the line to the divine too taught or we run the risk of missing some feedback to the presence of God in our lives.

Our relationship to God is often on based on trust that the link will remain even when we don’t sense its’ presence. It is not about meeting God on our terms, but on His. When we trust that process, we become like the fishermen who finds—much to his surprise—that the king Tarpon is still tugging mightily on his line despite his trusting movement of supplication. When we let go of our need to control God, it is often when God can move into our lives in new and powerful ways. Control is not something that works in our religious lives or our experience with a majestic fish like a tarpon.

For many experienced salt-water anglers, the permit is the Holy Grail of fly fishing. I have known very good fly fishers who have fished for decades to permit and never had even one take their fly. It is utterly maddening—one makes a perfect cast to a clearly feeding fish and the fly is met with total indifference of a mighty flash of escape. I had a very experienced guide tell me that he had cast to hundreds of permit, and then for no clear or discernable reason one time a permit simply decides to take a look at the crab pattern he threw. In our modern times, we like instant gratification and clear user manuals. If that is your mindset when approaching a permit, you almost certainly will be disappointed.
Bonefish are perhaps the most fun fish for most fly fishermen. A five pound bonefish will take a long screaming run, making that delightful sound a good reel makes as it does what it was designed to do. Watching school of beautiful tailing bonefish feeding is like glimpsing a tiny fleet of sailboats—their tails point to the heavens as they grub around the bottom for food. Or a school may move through the skinny waters, causing the classic “nervous water” look.

We cautiously lay a line out with grace and ease; the strike is not heavy often but a brief tug as we strip the line back. But then the magic happens—before you can almost respond with your mind a bonefish has made run of 150 yards and is close to the backing of your line. Luckily, you come to your senses and begin to play him and draw him in. Perhaps one more run and he is spent, and a gentle release into the wilds reminds of why we love this sport.

Each fly fishing trip to a far off destination represents a new beginning for me, for I have to leave my comfort zone. I must become familiar with new flies, new gear, new insects. A month or two before trips I often get out the 10-12 weight rod and hone up my heavy rod casting. I begin to work on the double haul, something we simply don’t have to do in the Rockies. I try to get my muscle memory back in shape, so that I don’t waste a part of a trip having to relearn things that I don’t have to practice often enough.

It seems to me that sometimes my spiritual life often needs a similar sort of jump-start with freshness. A willingness to try new things has led me to sudden spurts of a feeling of connection to God as well as to new waters. They seem to go hand in hand. But it can only happen when I say Yes.

To read a previous post on The Fly Fishing Rabbi by Reverend Mike, Click Here. He also writes a column for the Waco Texas Tribune on health, ethics and religion.


Cammie Novara said...

"Each fish is a glimpse, in its’ own way, into the mystery of creation and its’ ecologic diversity." I can really relate to that in every possible way.

Dustin's Fly Box said...

That looks like so much fun!! I like your blog and started following