I’d love to claim that I came by fly-fishing honestly. That it was in my blood and I grew up in waders beside cold mountain streams, following along behind my grandpa as he pointed out insects and cast his line in secret fishing holes. What a legacy that would be! Unfortunately, both of my fly-fishing grandfathers passed away before I had that chance and despite my parents’ best efforts, I resisted most of their attempts to introduce me to the outdoors until my mid-twenties.
Then one day, it just clicked. I couldn’t put words to it. All I knew was something was missing and the answer was outside. I knew nothing about fishing besides the fact that it ran in the family, and I had a romantic image of myself with my feet in a glittering river, performing that rhythmic cast Brad Pitt models so appealingly in A River Runs Through It. I didn’t come by it honestly, but something told me it was a part of my destiny.
After several hectic years of pursuing a career in food, I reached a point where my heart and soul needed some peace and quiet. To be outside and in the midst of something a little bigger than myself. I began making friends with anyone and everyone who could take me fishing. A 70-year-old regular at the restaurant where I cooked. My mom’s brother in Montana. My husband’s uncle. I didn’t care when, where, how or why, I just wanted to be outside, and on the water. I convinced my uncle-in-law to take me out on a warm summer evening in 2013. The first time I cast, I was hooked. The view of the Santiam River from the front of our drift boat was every bit as idyllic as the picture in my mind, and I remember taking a deep breath of the twilight air, feeling like I’d finally arrived where I was meant to be. The river was on the low side in late July, and though it was a rough ride – we lost a rod and put that drift boat to the test – I was drunk on excitement and forever sold on flinging that fly.
My first full “season” of fishing started in Oregon’s coastal lakes. I spent every Thursday paddling around in a float tube, learning how to cast, tie knots, identify insects, and catch and release frisky little rainbow trout. My mentor, Richard, a fisherman of more than five decades, showered me in tips and tricks, tools and philosophies. As we slowly worked our way from lakes to streams, streams to rivers, and explored more of Oregon’s waterways I started to do a little exploration on my own. Diving into the world of flies and gear I realized there was an endless wealth of methods. Pretty soon I was spending hours watching fly fishing videos on YouTube, reading articles on entomology and following fishermen on Instagram. Richard began to refer to me affectionately as a “lost cause,” a hint of pride in his voice.
It didn’t take long to realize that despite the tradition and history of fly fishing, and the enduring society of “good old boys” with a reputation for exclusivity and borderline snobbery, fly fisherman come in all shapes, sizes, opinions and ideologies. Any day on the river you might encounter an elderly, pipe-smoking gentleman dressed in classic tweeds and a beer-drinking frat boy touting all the biggest, brightest tackle and talking a big game. Despite the slight disdain they may have for one another, there’s something in common. It draws them to the water again and again.
As I near the end of my second full season of fly fishing, and the close of a historically dry summer and poor fishing season, I realize my love for fishing has grown into a love for rivers – loving the places they flow and the creatures they nourish. It’s come with a desire to protect and preserve them.
Though I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of a long struggle between man and nature, I’m realizing that perhaps it wasn’t just the fishing that drew me. Perhaps destiny was intertwined with love and awareness of the world around me. The heart for the wild places that fosters this hobby that has enriched my life.
There’s a burning desire to preserve these places so that perhaps my grandchildren will have the opportunity to come by it all honestly, and learn to cast a fly with their feet in a glittering river.