Friday, July 12, 2013

Help Wanted: Seeking New Home Waters

Help Wanted: Fly fishing rabbi seeks new home waters near central New Jersey. Beautiful stream a must. Large trout preferred. Harmony and peace desired.

On July 1st, my family and I moved to central New Jersey as I now have the honor and blessing of serving as the rabbi of Temple B’nai Shalom in East Brunswick. When the boxes arrived at our new home, we began to unpack and get to know the area. I quickly became enamored with East Brunswick as I found a great Jewish deli, a good bagel shop and a good dry cleaner. In one moving box, I discovered my green fly-fishing bag, filled with vest, net, reels and flies. When I saw the fishing gear, I knew that there was one other place that I would need to find near East Brunswick: new home waters.
In Connecticut, my home waters were close enough that I could get there in about an hour; far enough away to feel that you have left your everyday life but near enough so that you can cast a fly on the spur of the moment. The ideal home waters are set in a place far from the sounds of the highway, so that we only hear water flowing over rocks and the breeze among the leaves. Home waters are year round cold-flowing streams, where fish survive the hot summer and reproduce and flourish. And the ideal river is not too crowded, so that we can stand in the stream, look around, and see only the beauty of our world. The ideal home waters are a Garden of Eden, paradise, a place of perfect natural beauty and large trout.

Of course, there is no perfect stream, no Garden of Eden for trout (although I came pretty close to finding one when hooking a five pound rainbow on a secluded river in Argentina). Yet my home waters in Connecticut, and before that on Long Island, felt like a small slice of paradise. The Farmington River in CT was not terribly secluded but ran cold all year long, so that sometimes in July I would shiver under my waders. In heart of suburban Long Island, the Connetquot River was an oasis of peace, located in a beautiful state park. I always felt renewed on the one-mile hike to the stream, past the lake and through the woods.

I now live in my home in East Brunswick. I have found my spiritual home at Temple B’nai Shalom. All I need are home waters, a fly-fishing home, a place to soak in the beauty of nature, to commune with the trout and to find peace and harmony.
I have heard rumblings about the trout streams in North West, NJ. There is a well-known and famous gorge with a river flowing through it not too far as well. I am sure there are others. If you know of any good trout streams somewhat near East Brunswick, NJ, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment on this blog post.

Shalom and Tight Lines,
The Fly Fishing Rabbi

Monday, December 12, 2011

Fly Fishing and Conservation

When first learning to fly fish, all of our energies are consumed in mastering the basics; getting the right gear, learning to cast, becoming comfortable wading through the stream. Then we hook our first trout. When the line goes taut, our adrenaline spikes. We somehow manage to get the fish to the net and break out in a wide smile, whether the fish is a eight inch brown or an eighteen inch rainbow.

We begin to become comfortable in our own skin as anglers and we have held a good number of trout in our hands. Then at some point when waist deep in the cold water stream, we pause and look around. We see the yellow, orange and red leaves of Fall. We hear the sound of the water flowing over the rocks. We realize that the trout stream is a Garden of Eden, paradise, a perfect place in all of creation. And we come to understand that the rivers we love are fragile and need our help to thrive.

Trout can only live in cold pure water streams. When temperature and pollution levels run too high, the rivers can longer support the sleek salmonids. There is a long list of human activities that threaten trout streams, but perhaps the most fundamental is our ever-expanding use of our earth’s limited resources. If our grandchildren are to fish the same streams where we cast a fly today, we must find a way to live in harmony with the trout, so that they too can flourish.

Conservation in fly fishing begins with the desire to give back. We receive so much from a day on the stream that enriches us, the excitement of a rising fish, the peace and harmony of being in nature, the joy of holding a beautiful trout in our hands. And we come to realize that we too can give back a little to the fish, the rivers and to our planet.

Caring for the trout stream can begin with the smallest of steps. I am always disturbed when I see trash in a river or on the banks. How someone would want to ruin such a beautiful and perfect place? So when casting a fly, I pick up the empty beer can or plastic bag and shove them in my waders to throw away later.

Catch and release is an important part of conserving the precious resource that is the trout themselves. If we kept all of the fish that we caught, our streams would soon be empty. I also take steps to help ensure that the trout will survive its brief time out of the water. I do not play the fish to exhaustion. I wet my hands before picking up the trout from the net, as the oils on our hands can harm the fish. If I take a picture, I do so quickly, and then return the trout gently to its watery home.

Conservation is such a natural part of fly fishing, that anglers have banded together to increase their efforts to aid the rivers that we love. Trout Unlimited,, boasts a membership of over 100,000 anglers. Local chapters of TU organize stream clean-ups and educational programs. At the national level, TU works to advocate for protecting the cold-water streams where trout thrive. I am a proud member of the Candlewood Lake TU chapter in Connecticut. The Federation of Fly Fishers,, has as its motto “conserving, restoring, educating through fly fishing,” and has projects that focus on native trout and protecting against the spread of invasive plant and algae species that harm rivers and streams.

God placed the first human beings in the Garden of Eden to till and to tend it. We are to work the land, to till it, to use it for our benefit. Yet we must also tend to it and protect it. In our Garden of Eden, the trout stream, we as anglers likewise seek ways to tend to the stream and to the fish to ensure that our rivers will continue to flourish for all the generations to come.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fly Fishing and Compassion

Compassion is a core value in many religious traditions. Judaism teaches that everyone, no matter how poor, must give tzedakah, charity, to remember that there is always someone out there in a more difficult situation. Jews must also visit the sick, feed the hungry and perform gemilut hasadim, acts of loving kindness.

A day of fly fishing in Argentina this spring reminded me that compassion can occur on a stream as well. Although not in the famous fly fishing region of Patagonia, my guide Lucas and I spent a few days fishing the streams of Cordoba Province. On the third and final day, completely exhausted, I cast my black woolly bugger into a deep pool. When I tried to lift the fly, it would not budge.

For the next ten minutes it felt like trying to pull a safe through the stream. The rainbow trout that I finally held in my hands Lucas estimated to be 22 inches and 5 pounds. It was twice the size of anything I had ever caught before. I was giddy.

After the requisite pictures, I held the fish in my two hands. I paused for a moment to appreciate its beauty. I thought briefly of keeping the trout for dinner. But then I realized that this magnificent fish should live another day, and I released her back into the stream.

When you have the power to harm someone or something, and you choose not to, you have preformed an act of great compassion. I could have easily kept or killed that fish. But I realized that despite my power over the trout, I needed to be kind and let it go. Catch and release fly fishing teaches us to have compassion for those fish, and perhaps ultimately those people, over whom we have power.

Choosing not to harm others out of compassion applies well beyond the stream. Managers know that they can make their employees miserable. They can also choose to act with kindness and try to understand the employees’ perspective. In family life, we all know what to say to our spouses, siblings and parents to make them angry or to hurt their feelings. In every relationship, we have the power to harm those that we love. But we have another choice as well, to be kind. Just as I held that fish in my two hands, we hold the strings to the hearts and souls of our loved ones. We too can choose the path of compassion and kindness.

While I release the vast majority of fish that I catch, I also keep the occasional trout. As a rabbi, I have no moral objections to keeping fish for sustenance. However, the act of releasing a fish can also teach us lessons about compassion that extend far beyond the stream. The Hebrew word for compassion, rachamim, is also related to the word for womb. Just as a mother cares for a child, we too are to care for others. In fly fishing, as in all of life, our task is to reach towards this high standard of compassion, to treat others with kindness and to use our power not to harm but to help.

Monday, June 27, 2011

John Gierach Fly Fishing Books Giveaway!

This spring, I received copies of two new books by the famous fly fishing author John Gierach: No Shortage of Good Days and Another Lousy Day in Paradise and Dances with Trout. I will be giving them away to readers of the Fly Fishing Rabbi Facebook page.

To be eligible to win a free fly fishing book, please “like” the Fly Fishing Rabbi Facebook page here:

Four winners will be chosen at random, two for each book, from the followers of the Facebook page on July 15th, 2011.  More information on the books from the publisher is below.  I hope you enjoy them!

The Fly Fishing Rabbi
Eric Eisenkramer

With more than a dozen previous books, John Gierach has earned “placement among fishing’s A-list literary writers” (Booklist). Gierach’s latest, NO SHORTAGE OF GOOD DAYS collects twenty essays on the art of fishing and the pleasures of outdoor life, all served up with his trademark humor and clear-sighted wisdom about his favorite sport, and even more so, life. And his legion of devoted readers will celebrate the reissue of two of Gierach’s earlier classics, Another Lousy Day in Paradise and Dances with Trout, published together for the first time in a single trade paperback volume

NO SHORTAGE OF GOOD DAYS takes Gierach from the mountain streams of his hometown Rockies to the Appalachians in Tennessee, from the Atlantic coast of Canada in pursuit of salmon to the west coast extremes of Alaska and Baja California. He fishes waters both familiar and foreign, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of trusted friends, fellow enthusiasts, and local guides. Whether enduring the heat or cold, rain, mosquitoes, or the ignorance of others, Gierach surveys it all with equanimity and a philosophy gained from a lifetime of fishing: “constant exposure to the ordinary is good for the soul.” A gentle, non-combative partner with nature, his beliefs on the value of conservation and the importance of catch-and-release requirements ring through as strongly as his love for fishing.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fly Fishing & Frustration

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.