Column: Reverie on the river

One of the most rewarding aspects – and there are many – to fly fishing is the steep learning curve. Once you’ve mastered certain techniques, you must apply and/or adapt them to new situations. Provided, of course, the need doesn’t arise to learn something entirely new.

I still consider myself a novice despite the fact I’ve been throwing line since 30-some years ago. The proprietor of a fly fishing emporium conducted a 10-hour guided tour of the Au Sable River with me prefaced by in an impromptu lesson in knots and casting.

The highlight of the day was catching a large rainbow that leapt out of the water to take my fly. Something about the sunlight reflecting off the ornate coloring of the trout as it rose and twisted above the surface was haunting, inspiring, poetic and addictive. I’ve been chasing that high ever since as a tonic for tumult both internal and external as well as equal measures of spiritual relaxation and utter enjoyment.

For every Nick Adams’ moment out of a Hemingway short story, however, there are infinitely more fun anecdotes of pleasurable experiences fishing either solo or with close friends. With friends, there’s significant reduction in trial and error – if they’re having luck, they’ll share with you what patterns and colors they’re using. And sometimes they bring better beer, whiskey and cigars. The latter works tremendously well in warding off mosquitoes and other annoying insects, but employing it as a bug repellent doesn’t mean it can’t be somewhat refined and enjoyable at the same time. Not for us any tea-sipping, crumpet nibbling delicacies on the river banks of some Impressionist painting, although I must confess the World’s Most Beautiful Woman looks pretty cute in waders.

As noted above, I still consider myself a novice – I’m acquainted with plenty of young Turks more than half my age who have forgotten more than I’ll ever know about the sport. Although I must confess there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in catching bigger lunkers in greater quantities than they do when I’m completely dialed-in with the right fly, the right cast into the right spot, the right retrieval and, honestly, the right amount of luck.

If fly fishing is a competitive sport, the person fishing’s biggest adversary is his or her prey – the thrill is in the hunt and, substituting trout for rabbits, I’m Elmer Fudd on steroids. Remember Father Peter Longergan played by Ward Bond in “The Quiet Man?” He’s but an archetype for many of us who return to the same hole day after day, week after week, month after month, seeking the elusive “hawg” or river-monster trout only to be flummoxed.

For example, I watched two good friends endeavor to extract a whopper known to inhabit a specific deep pool on one of our favorite streams at different times this past summer. Combined with my own efforts, hours were spent attempting to entice this beautiful brookie. Taking a cue from a grasshopper that landed on my hand as I entered the river yesterday, I tied a #12 foam-body Hopper with rubber-stimulator legs on my tippet. I witnessed a rise with the first cast into the riffles on the pool’s edge, a roll and half-hearted strike of a very big fish with my second throw into the still water just beyond the first, and a freight-train into a concrete wall collision with my third cast into the eddy.

After a prolonged battle on a 3-wt. rod and subsequent photo op, my summer obsession finally sated, I let the beauty go for my friends to try and catch another day.

Bruce Edward Walker ( is a Morning Sun columnist, contributor to The Federalist, host of the Acton Institute’s “Upstream” culture segment of the Radio Free Acton podcast, and Journalist in Residence at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal in Mecosta, Mich.


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