My mother was the fisherman in the family. Pop wasn’t into it, so fishing trips were few and far between; however, when we did go, mom got excited, and started her preparations the day before the trip by making dough balls. I don’t remember the exact concoction she used, I wish I did, but the dough balls weren’t for the fish, the dough balls were for the crawdads that she used for bait. She would clean the crawdads down to the tail-meat, and using a cane-pole, bobber, and hook she caught a lot of fish.
The old man sat on the bank and read a book while mom baited and tended the poles. He never got his hands dirty cleaning crawdads, or landing fish. Mom would have three or four poles going at a time, moving up and down the river bank, catching and cleaning crawdads, baiting hooks, and landing catfish; it was her thing. When we were at the river, she was focused, and it was best to stay out of her way, and not do anything that would scare the fish. It must have been her that showed me how to thread a worm onto a hook, because I had that messy operation firmly planted in my head the first time I saw a guy fly-fishing on TV. I asked my dad what they used for bait and he told me they used flies, “How do they get them on the hook?” I wondered. “They tie them on.” He told me. I got this vision of tying a house fly down on a fishhook, which seemed to me like a tedious operation, so I gave fly-fishing no more thought until one foggy Sunday morning fifteen years later.
I was heading home through the north Georgia Mountains after spending the weekend helping a friend with a historical preservation project. The sun hadn’t been up long enough to burn off the fog and visibility was poor. I was slowly making my way along when I spotted a guy fly-fishing a pond not far off the road. I pulled over to watch. It was a pretty scene. The fog obscured the man from the waist down; the tip of his rod vanished into the fog above him; the fly-line disappearing and reappearing with the rhythm of his cast. After watching him land a couple of fat Bluegills, I decided to walk over and get a better look at what he was doing. He was standing at the end of a dock that projected into the middle of the pond and when I walked out to where he was standing he was adding another nice fish to his stringer. “Those are some nice fish.” I said.
“Yeah, I think that’s enough for Breakfast.” He replied. We talked about fishing and he showed me the fly he was using—a yellow and black Bee looking thing—and he gave me a quick casting lesson. I was hooked; I was just as hooked as the fish he was taking home for Breakfast. I stopped at a sporting-goods store on the way home and bought a fly-rod, reel, line, and some flies. From that point, if I wasn’t fly-fishing, I was thinking about fly-fishing.
I bought books on fly-fishing where I learned that I needed more stuff. I needed more and better fly-rods. I needed a fishing vest—one with lots of pockets—and all the stuff to put in it. I needed a tying vise and tying materials. I needed hip-waders and chest-waders. I needed marriage counseling and a good lawyer. I was possessed by obsession, driven by neurosis, and gripped by fixation. I went to all the fly-fishing meccas and began hanging out at fly-shops, where I learned that I needed more stuff. I read everything I could get my hands on about fly-fishing and studied the life cycle of aquatic insects.
When I tried to get my wife to relocate to better fly-fishing country, she said that she didn’t want to leave her friends. When I found out that it was just the one friend that she didn’t want to leave, I got the paperwork done and relocated. When I found myself a member of a sub-sub-subculture, collecting Bamboo fly-rods and exclusively dry-fly fishing, I realized that I had a problem; I needed to make more money. I took a job that was seasonal, working six months out of the year so my summers could be devoted to fly-fishing. My winters were taken up with repairing rods, tying flies, and pouring over BLM maps looking for ways into places that I had yet to fish.
I was incapable of holding a conversation for more than five minutes unless I was talking about fishing. I would watch my dinner date’s eyes glaze over when I mentioned my new reel or a new fly I had come up with. I didn’t want to talk about feelings. I wanted to talk about how a Phillipson taper was better in the wind than a Garrison taper. When I would mention that I had just dropped three grand on a fly-rod, they would get a look in their eyes that I have only seen from scared cats. Relationships lasted until I heard, “Do you have to wear that funny looking hat everywhere we go?” I was incompatible. . . . I bought a dog.
One day, coming down the canyon after one of the best days of fishing I had ever had, with my Chesapeake Bay retriever sitting on the seat beside me, it hit me. I was living the life that I had read about in all those fly-fishing books. It had only cost me one marriage, four relationships, and a lucrative career. I had arrived.