Why Fish, Part 1*

I have been fly fishing for just about 2 years, and within this particularly passionate world that means I am basically a beginner. Fortunately, I feel like a beginner, even in terms of understanding why I like to fish at all.

Fishing is not an obviously fun thing to do: standing in a cold river, wearing practical but incredibly unflattering clothing, threading tiny pieces of nylon through tiny holes, tying lots of knots, rescuing snagged lines… Not to mention the people who will accuse you of torturing fish.

And yet, it draws me in. Rivers flow through some pretty beautiful and remote country, so looking for fish is a good enough reason to check out small canyons and streams across the west. The dogs love water, sticks, bird poop, dead fish and beavers, so a day by the river is a grand day out in their eyes. Fishing is a way to extend time outside after a trail run or bike ride. If you camp by a river or creek, why not fish it?

The dogs even love fishing in the winter!

Through fishing I have learned about insects that live by and in the rivers, what hatches throughout the year, what fish like to eat, how they move in the water, where they hide, that different kinds of fish strike at food differently. Did you know that trout have teeth? Sharp ones! Trout in Wyoming are particularly interested in yellow. If you watch a river at different times of day, during different seasons, you will see fluctuations in flow, different kinds of birds (sandhill cranes, osprey, vultures, red winged blackbirds…), flowers and trees coming to life (and also going to seed and dying) on the shore. Fishing demands that you be present, observant and patient.

The distinctive white stripes on the fins of a brook trout.

As for the fish, they are beautiful, strong, colored and patterned with amazing variety. It’s not that often that you get the opportunity to get close and personal to a live, wild animal, let alone hold it in your hand. I treasure every opportunity to be close to wildness. And yeah, I assume that getting hooked isn’t something that fish like so much. I try to be as quick and respectful as possible in the catch and release, but I have to admit that catching a fish is pretty darn fun.

Dungeness River
Deep in the Olympic Peninsula.

I love to be outside in remote places most of all, preferably in motion, and with a sense of simplicity. When fishing was added into the mix I somewhat quickly came up with some rules/observations about how I like to fish.

  1. Dry flies. These sit on the surface and look like may flies, midges, caddis flies, stone flies, ants, grasshoppers, mice and other things that may land on the surface of the water. Some are fanciful, some are realistic, but the concept is the same. The fish come up to the surface and strike it. I like that I can see the fly, the fish and the strike. And when I cast the fly to a spot where I saw a fish rise, I am interacting with a specific fish I know is there.
  2. No fishing in agricultural areas. There are some really nice rivers that are banked on both sides with farms. I don’t like these surroundings, so I don’t fish there.
  3. If possible, go creeking. Creeking is the best! I love walking up and down a creek looking for bends and pools that are also open enough from trees to be able to cast. Plus, not many people seem to like it, which means no one is around. The fish may be smaller but they are hungry and fun to catch. Also, there are some really cool native trout in some of the creeks that you don’t see in the rivers. Bonus: there tends to be great camping near creeks.
  4. Barbless hooks. This makes it easier for the fish to shake a hook, and faster and easier for me to remove the hook if they don’t. It is not uncommon for me to have a fish in my net that has shaken a fly, and I can carefully ease him/her back into the river.

Rules are merely a reference point, of course, especially for a beginner just beginning to know the vastness of all that I don’t know. Chatting with my friend, fly and fish master Mike Tea, about my recent interest in smallmouth bass, he said, “Where trout are kinda like the stuck up country club gentlemen, a smallie is like a punch in the mouth from a teamster!” Say what?? This is a guy who catches hog-sized carp on the fly, so he knows what he is talking about. This I gotta try!

*I don’t know if there will be more parts, but seems like there might be more to say…

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