Friday, March 8, 2002


I recently read A Flyfisher’s World by Nick Lyons. It’s a nice anthology of his magazine articles from the early ‘90’s. I recommend it. As I was reading, it occurred to me that Mr. Lyons is one of my fly fishing heroes. He has successfully blended fly-fishing, writing, and publishing into a wonderful career. Of course this career has not been without its frustrations and compromises. In fact, those very frustrations and compromises are at the heart of many of Mr. Lyons’ stories.

This realization about heroes got me to thinking about other fly fishers who are heroes to me. There is a retired gentleman and former club president here by the name of Hugh who pretty much gave me my start with my local club (MN Fly Fishers). Two other former club presidents named Greg and Brian are the standards by which I measure my casting (and surely I fall far short). My good buddy and Best Man Lew taught me to fish with nymphs and thereby multiplied the number of fish I catch several-fold.

Ask another friend of mine Bob about the relative merits of various dog breeds, or my good friend Bill about the finer points of wading in ranch country, or retired writer Jack about any of a thousand things in the heritage of fly-fishing. All three carry fabulous knowledge and great good humor to liven a western fishing trip. A woman I know named Ellen ties the most beautiful Blue Winged Olives I’ve ever seen. I catch fish with flies I’ve tied myself because she taught me how to tie them. I shall be her student always.

Now probably none of these people would think of themselves as heroes. If asked, they’d just say they were trying to pass on a little bit of knowledge here and there, helping some folks along the way, that sort of thing. They’d probably be a little self-conscious to know I was mentioning them here but I feel fortunate indeed to count them all as friends. I try to give back a small measure of what they’ve given me – a few flies, a kind word, or help with a fouled line. But what can you give back to a Nick Lyons or a Lefty Kreh or a Gary Borger? Yes, we might run across these folks somewhere. (In fact, Brian ran into Lefty Kreh on Christmas Island once and has been calling himself “Righty” ever since.) If we ever do see these folks, we might say a quick, half-embarrassed “Thanks,” but can we count on that? I think not. I decided the way I can say “Thank You” to these folks is by the concept of paying forward. I think that’s what they’d want, too.

It works like this. Watch these people. Emulate the ones you admire. That’s what heroes are for. Do what you can to do what they do, then put your own stamp on it. Share the knowledge you gain by doing so. Show a son, a daughter, a spouse or friend a new fly, a cast or a technique. Learn all you can about whatever interests you, whether it’s streamside bugs, fly line tapers, rod materials, flyfishing literature, or a new place to buy outdoor gear. Then pass it along – pay it forward. Be a quiet, half-self-conscious hero to the next generation.

It's Not About the Toys

I was just doing some e-mail administration and cleanup and I came across some stuff from an e-mail listserve discussion thread of a while back about why we fish with bamboo rods. I thought I'd pass on this little bit of flotsam.

This happened one evening when I was fishing in western Wisconsin in the spring of 1998. It was one of those beautiful May evenings we get too few of around here. I pulled up to one of my favorite spots and noted only one car parked there. I thought myself lucky, as this place is also one of everybody else's favorite spots. I got out of my car and walked onto the bridge, as is my wont, just to check out the stream. It was running well if a bit cloudy. Downstream about 200 yards I could see the owner of the other car, slowly casting across and downstream. I didn’t think much about it and turned to gear up.

As I finished pulling on my waders, an older gentleman came walking out of the woods - the fisherman from downstream. We shyly greeted each other. Shyly, because in this day and age you aren't ever sure if you're welcome at the stream, even though the law and fishing regulations may be on your side. When we both figured out we were "friendlys," he came over and we started to chat. He was fishing with his son, he said. He was visiting from Florida and they had a chance this evening to wet a line. His son runs a commercial graphics business in the northern metro of Minneapolis/St. Paul and is pretty busy.

The old gentleman mentioned that he hadn't fished in ten years. First the move to Florida, and more recently cancer had cut into his fishing. The disease had ravaged his casting arm to the point where it looked like he’d taken a grenade in Korea. His elbow was covered with a bandage from his most recent surgery. He said he'd been in and out of the hospital eight or nine times in the last three years, but he felt he was holding his own. I allowed as how perhaps the fishing was the best therapy he could find at this point and he heartily agreed. I tried but I couldn't take my eyes off his arm, wondering at the courage I felt it took to fish when he wasn't even healed from the knife. It made the scratches I'd gotten earlier in the evening from a patch of thistles look pretty silly.

We talked some more about how big the fish were – or weren't – in this stream, and whether it mattered. We decided it didn't. Just to have the opportunity to catch them was all either of us needed. Seven inches or twenty-two, the privilege was the same.

I waded in and started to fish while he watched. As I moved upstream, he started chatting with a couple of farm kids who came down with their worms to try their luck. I got involved with my tangled line and then a fish or two and lost sight of him. The next time I turned around, he was still talking to the kids.

When I finally got back to the car a few hours later, he was gone. He and his son had that evening of fishing that they wanted and that he needed. I hope it makes the difference for him.

Oh yeah – he fished with a 35 year old Shakespeare fiberglass rod and a shiny green automatic reel. You see, it’s not about what the rods are made of. Fishing’s not about the toys. It’s about wearing them out with people you love.