A tugging of the line: of hearts and fish

Featured photo by Filson.

What’s the story with fly fishing anyway?  Most folks’ impression of fly fishing comes from the 1992 movie A River Runs Through It and the lasting images of Brad Pitt “ghost casting” on the picturesque banks of the Gallatin River in Montana. Norman McLean’s words resonate as well.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”

Who doesn’t shiver a little when they read those lines?  And what connects them to fly fishing?  What is it about this odd sport that tugs a little bit at our souls?

I mean we all know that if all Brad Pitt wanted in that movie was to catch fish, he should have chucked a nightcrawler into the river and then sat on the bank drinking a six pack and waiting for something to bite.  In some way, as the movie and the book capture so well, fly fishing connects us with our environment in a much more intimate and immersive way than just throwing out rapalas.  But how?  Why?

To answer those questions, it’s important to understand what fly fishing actually is.  It’s not just trying to catch fish.  It’s trying to catch them by presenting a lure in the most perfect imitation of the natural food source as possible.

The majority of a trout’s diet is made up of insects.  Hence, we use “flies” to imitate their natural food.  Then we use a variety of rods, leaders, lines, and other tools to present those flies in the most natural way possible to entice the strike.  That’s the essence of it, really, and that essence is pretty simple.

It’s the assembly of those tools and putting them all together that creates the connection.  To actually use them effectively, we need knowledge of the fish’s diet and its behavior, the local habitat and insect life, the weather, the season, and a host of other factors.

What McLean depicts so effectively, and what Pitt embodied, was a man who has become one with his natural surroundings in such a perfect way that a wild animal can’t distinguish him as an outsider or intruder.  Fly fishing is a constant interaction with our natural surroundings and connects us to our environment in a way that sitting on a bucket never can.  And that connectivity with all the things that merge into one and the rivers that run through it is what pulls at the edges of the soul.

Words by Owen Dolan.

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