A most valuable lesson in life I’ve learned from fly fishing: Accept that things change, and embrace it

There are a few constants in fly fishing: a rod, a reel, and line, plus flies and a leader. The rest is up for grabs. You can head out on the water and have an epic day, or wind up thinking the time burned could have been better spent in the garden. There could be a blizzard-like caddis hatch, or you could snag every streamer you own on unseen rocks. You could meet partially overcast skies, a sun high and bright, or two feet of fresh snow. You can catch every fish in the river, or go home ‘hungry’. Such is life. At times jubilant, then melancholy. A walk in the park, followed by aggravation and/or disappointment.

I woke Saturday just before five, and with some restlessness in my mind. I’ve fished almost exclusively for trout and carp this summer, a much too brief and less than fruitful trip to Florida for redfish the only break. And while I’ve had a wonderful time hanging out on river and lake with friends, I also felt a strange desire to head out this morning alone.

A single rigAfter exiting the truck I was immediately greeted by a triumvirate of exuberant Golden Retrievers – they had gotten away from their handler during their morning walk and decided I was worth meeting up close and personal. I considered it as joyful a start to the morning as I could ever hope. Rod rigged, I headed up a canopied dead end road while a faint morning mist whisked between trees where the sun’s first beams had not yet penetrated. At the trail head, I laid my rod and bag down on a bench, immediately reminded that the last time I had visited this place it was not a solitary pursuit. I don’t generally fish by myself, but things change.

A well worn trailDown the trail I went, immediately noticing that it was well worn from horse hoof (and human hoof) traffic. The last time I remember thinking the fishing must be really good, as the path was devoid of wear. At the end of a short decline, a open gate, latch donned in chain long since wrapped round and round itself to prevent fair use, invited me in. Last time that gate had been closed.

Crossing the small field to the water, my sandals immediately became soaked in the fresh morning dew. My recollection of last spring was dry and barren, what grass existed matted down by the weight of snow that only briefly disappeared for the run we’d made. Now, the field was in full bloom, complete with tall blades and thorny underbrush. The sights, the texture, even the smell – all changed.

Once matted, now tall grassTreading on, I noticed blade and spine brushing against my barren lower legs. It wouldn’t have bothered me had I been wearing pants as usual, but it is summer and summer means shorts. Nevertheless, I wasn’t perturbed. In fact, the brush wasn’t so heavy as to cause any injury, and the faint scratching on my lower legs actually felt good against my slightly dry skin.

Upon reaching the waters edge, I spotted no signs of my prospective quarry. So I began casting blindly, hauling as far as I could toward the center of this dead still pond while simultaneously stomping down the grass just a foot off the bank in front of me to prevent tangles and the inevitable short stops of the multi-colored deer hair popper in flight. I was seeking bass, and bass enjoy cover. Why hurl this fly where no cover existed? It defied logic. And then wham!

A bass in hand is safer than one overheadOne gloriously chubby fish had taken the bait, and after a millisecond’s struggle keeping it away from fallen limbs near the landing bay it was hanging off my hand. Nobody around to show my prize to, it was memorialized in zeros and ones, an outcome that wouldn’t generally satisfy this angler. Yet something had changed.

The sun rose just above the treeline far across the field behind me, signaling a new day was well in hand too. It warmed my back ever so slightly, a balancing act for my cold, damp feet. Into the morning I cast that popper, first far, and then near. Every so often I’d see a violent splash around the fly, or a shadow cruise up behind it for a gulp, and reel time would begin. I recall this venue producing fish, but not like this – within an hour thirty I had a dozen bucketmouths in my grasp, and at least two or three more that had been lost midstream. I also recollect that of the times I’d visited the bass were healthy, vibrant specimens, the stunning iridescent green appearing down around their lateral lines making up for the fact that they were, for the most part, small.

Even that had changed.

Things change

Retracing my path to the truck, I realized my own steps seemed lighter, nary a hint of anxiety driving them. I absorbed with precision the sounds of birds chirping and the rustling of leaves in the mid-morning breeze. I also bumped into a German Shepard and a Bernese Mountain dog, they too wanting for my attention. I complied, and tails wagged. I made a quick phone call to confirm some future dinner plans, and then stopped by the fly shop. Thirty minutes of verbal abuse later (some things never change), I was eating a breakfast burrito compliments of one of the shop patrons.

A fly fisherman comping grub for the hell of it? Now that’s what I call change. I accept. But sorry dude, you’re not my type. No embrace.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks go out to Fishing Jones, for cluing me in.


Nice post, MG. I like the point about how sometimes you catch fish in ways that defy logic.

Bass on poppers is hard to beat.

I should also get points for restraint. “Gloriously chubby” leaves the door open for a lot of things to work with, but I didn’t want to offend your more genteel readers.

Thankfully fish make decisions via instincts, or least that’s what we’re led to believe. I tend to apply a lot of analytical skills on the water (and life in general), but I’ve noticed that doing the same certainly has its place.

And thanks for taking it easy on me – I’m sure those one or two genteel readers out there appreciate it as well, although now that you’ve pointed out the error of my ways I doubt I’m safe for long.

Matt Dunn says:

Thoughtful piece MG. I love fishing alone with only the ones and zeros leftover. And I wish I could catch more chubby bass.

Thanks kindly Matt – I’m taking cues from a combination of Pete, KBarton10, Alex the Fat Guy, and yourself. Probably more a sign of danger than a compliment, but let’s roll with it.

Matt Dunn says:

I’m humbled. I love that zeros and ones line.

Jim Holt says:

Great post!! I just wanted to pass along we caught 18 Reds yesterday in the back country. There were a lot of Reds in there, the bigger fish wanted Mullet, but I did figure it out and was able to capture a few nice fish in the mid 20’s. You definitely need to try to get back here this fall. We also finished 10th in the Greater Jax Kingfish tourn. There were 474 boats in it this year.


Gracie, I’d say that “gloriously chubby” one is one heck of a find (should have kept her, what with the lack of companionship and all–or is that what the phone call was all about?). Nice shot of the “chubby toes” in the first pic too.

Really, that bass is a beaut. And the shot is pretty sweet too (are you sure Alex wasn’t peeking over your shoulder taking snaps?).

Embracing change…nice.

Tim Marek says:

That a great piece of writing my friend. When are you publishing a book with all of these great stories?

@JH – Thanks for rubbing it in, bastard! I’ve got a fly that looks precisely like a mullet, so all we need is some luck next time around. As for the Kingfish Tourney, congrats! That’s quite the accomplishment, although I’m not surprised. No chance you burned any gas with teasers and a fly rod, eh?

@Scott – Alex is a god among men, at least behind the lens, and a damn good teacher to boot. I’m just a good listener. The phone call was just that, dinner – I mentioned it because I was totally absorbed in the sights and sounds, but in transition back to the truck I was mentally shifting back towards business-as-usual mode. The photogs served as fine primers for this post, memory joggers if you will, and I’ll be taking a lot more of them from now on as a result.

As for the chubby toes bit, I’ll just classify it as unintentional metaphor.

@Tim – Yikes…a book? NOTE TO SELF: Buy Marek a beer. Or ten beers.

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