Fly fishing rod

Answering the question: ‘What do we love about fishing?’

Dawn on the North Carolina coast, seen from a fisherman. Photo: Gordon Churchill

I have been asked more than once what is it about fishing that makes me love it so much?

I could be on a big boat on the high seas chasing tuna that will take 30 minutes or more to land, or I could be knee-deep in a small stream chasing trout that wouldn’t be big enough to be used as bait. Does not matter to me. I love it. The question remains. I had a hard time answering.

Much of my reading over the years has attempted to focus on these issues. I dare you to read “A River Runs Through It” and not feel in your gut that Mclean loves fishing as much as he loves his family, and that it has united them throughout their lives (and continues to unite his descendants).

Thomas Mcguane, author of numerous books and screenplays, writes about fishing with a sense of nostalgia. You can sense that as he writes, he wishes he were there right now. Roderick Haig-Brown said you can never step into the same river twice. Was he really talking about the river or was he saying something about himself? John Gierach has made a career out of writing books full of fishing essays and it’s obvious he loves it. But the question is still the same. Why do we love it?

Maybe we should start with the “what?” What are the things we love so much about it? Maybe this will lead us to “why?”

I love the anticipation of going there. I like making plans with friends and texting that starts a few days before, planning meeting places and times. The bigger the trip, the more planning you need to do.

If you’re going to your usual place, it could be nothing more than “I’ll meet you at the usual place at the usual time”. If you are traveling, there is even more. Plane tickets? Car rental? Hotel rooms? guides? New rods, reels, lures, whatever?

Even a short trip of about an hour on the road has a commitment that requires a certain level of preparation that leads to anticipation. You hope the weather is nice that day and the conditions are favorable for what you want to do. You would definitely hope the fish will be where you expect them to be and do what you hope they will. Is your tackle in order? I spent many nights at the kitchen table tying knots, rigging gear, setting rods and making sure everything was okay before I even left the house.

A moment frozen in time as the red drum decides if it wants to eat. Video: Gordon Churchill

I prefer to have all my equipment in order as soon as I arrive. Nothing is worse, in my mind, than having to rig the boat ramp or standing on the beach as the fish snap and we lose time.

Then we arrive on site, and the fish are there, and everything is linked. All the planning has paid off and all the equipment is correct, and all the lures, baits or flies are correct. Then, if anticipation and preparation collide, a perfect soufflé, straight out of the oven, isn’t quite as satisfying.

I love standing in the water. There is a certain discomfort in entering an environment in which one is not made. This creates uncertainty so you are not entirely sure what the outcome will be.

I get in the water when I’m in a situation where the fish are just too far from shore and a boat would just mess things up. In trout streams, you need to be level with the fish. You have to see where the fish are going to be and what they are eating. To be close. Wading over bonefish dishes actually offers the opportunity to get closer to the fish than you can in a boat. These fish are super wary, always on the lookout for unwanted sounds, and being on foot is quieter.

If you go surf fishing, you are exposed to elements that can actually hurt you. If this random wave just catches you, you may end up underwater. Constant vigilance is required. I like this kind of fishing more than most. Being in the same element as the fish puts you on a more even keel – you seem to lose some of the advantage we otherwise have – and I enjoy the challenge. It’s just a lot of fun too.

I like this moment when the fish makes the decision to bite what you show. It’s the culmination of everything I’ve worked for so far. To cast a fly on a fish that I can see, I must first find it and then determine its direction of travel. It helps to have prior knowledge of the types of things he likes to eat in this situation, in which case I will have created an imitation as well. I have to do my casting and in doing so figure out how the wind is blowing and how it might affect me. Next, I need to land the fly in the spot close enough to the fish for it to be seen, but not too close for it to scare away. When the fish turns to the fly, I have to struggle with my emotions and not get too excited and mess up by pulling the fly out too quickly or even falling off the boat (Yes, I’ve seen it happen). At the exact moment the fish catches the fly, I have to set the hook just the right way so that I don’t pull the fly out of its mouth before it has had a chance to tuck the hook in or break the line. There are a lot of things that can go wrong here!

So it seems what I really like about fishing is the anticipation. Waiting. Hope. Just be where I need to be. A moment. The feeling you get when you’re about to put everything together and have a great day with your friends in a nice place, far from the world and full of memories potential.