Vail Colorado is a destination I return to in the summer with fondness. When temperatures climb at home, traveling from desert mountains to alpine heights opens opportunity for outdoor adventure.
An experience I have often viewed with curiosity is the activity of fly fishing. This interest was ignited years ago after viewing the movie “A River Runs Through It”. Scenes of a young, charming, flaxen haired Brad Pitt casting a fishing rod and releasing a line that revealed the appearance of a golden thread, flying across beautiful starlit, majestically rushing water caught my intrigue. Thinking I could capture some embodiment of this seemingly transcendent experience I therefore decided to book a day floating on the Eagle River fly fishing with family.
My daughter and fiancé were along for the journey to try something new although their exuberance at this time for a new experience did not match mine. They both made it clear the night before that they could take it or leave it, yet were ultimately willing to take part in this adventure. Having a base line willingness to step into uncertainty and try new events is an important part of life. Willingness, even in the absence of exuberance can unfold wonder.
The minute we took our places in the float boats a crash course in fly fishing commenced. Our guide reviewed the essential steps in the proper order; i.e. cast, mend, follow, set, fight the fish. We practiced each one of these foreign techniques initially fledgling in our attempts to muster the finesse required for this dance upon water. Our guide explained that “ambush water” provided the ideal state of the river’s flow to catch fish. Ambush water is tumultuous water where fish more commonly reside. Due to increased water turbulence, when a fly from a fisherman’s line sits on torrent water, a fish can easily be hoodwinked and take the lure. There we were standing in our raft amidst ambush water pretending to be masters in the steps taught to us seconds ago. Revisiting the first step of casting. This primary step sets the stage for the catch. Too much force in the cast and there is a loss of placement. Harder and faster are words foreign to casting. It is an initiation step that should feel like poetry in motion. Imagine the experience of life similar to casting? Sometimes we find ourselves standing in the ambush waters of life. Nothing seems calm yet we know this is where reward resides. In order that we reap the benefits of the environment and its gifts one must cast their line. This life line is our talent and action. Setting forth in an overbearing aggressive fashion, rarely reaps benefit. Cast our intention too cautiously and ambiguity and unfulfillment ensue. There is a balanced grace required to cast the line towards our life successfully.
The next step of sequencing the technique of fly fishing is to mend. Mending is a subtle, integral step consisting of a soft pickup of the fishing line after it has been cast ensuring movement in sync with the river current. The goal is to have minimal drag of the fishing line as it moves down stream. My first attempt to mend was a large pick up of the rod moving the line back from where it was cast. This ensued with a jump and skip of the fly bait lifting it up and over the water. A telltale sign to a fish that something is fishy. The more I practiced the mend of the line the more I realized the action required softness and a featherlike re-direction. Mending the line in fishing is similar to life. When we direct intention out in the universe amidst the ambush (commonly called adversity), how many times does our life plan calibrate to our wishes? We constantly have to mend. We find ourselves mending words and deeds in each relationship. We find ourselves either over mending while taking too much control and force, then not mending enough or not mending at all. Life can be a series of casts and mends.
The third step in the fly fish sequence is to follow. After the fish line has been cast and the fly bait landed and softly re-directed in line with the current, it is time to follow. Following consists of following the line and the fly as it moves with the water. Follow also consists of watching and waiting. These are moments of silent observation. For most of the day I felt this acuity towards nothing else other than the present moment equivalent to a flow state. This is a level of precise concentration. Any movement of the fly bait and the next step needs to be taken, which is the set. The set motion is required to set the hook. A fish will only hold a fly in its mouth a second or so before it’s spit out. In that second the fly needs to move. This is accomplished by raising the rod over one’s head to tighten the line. Sometimes the fly moving upon the water is turbulence, the bottom of the river, or an actual strike of a fish. Regardless, the set action is required to create tension on the fishing line. One never knows when the possibility of a catch is probable. The last step in the adventure of fly fishing is to “fight the fish”. I think a better reference for this step is to dance with the fish and then love the fish. Fighting the fish consists of working with just enough tension on the line as soon as the fish is hooked to ensure it can be caught. Too much tension and the line could snap. Not enough tension and the fish might release. An array of multicolored rainbow and brown trout were caught throughout the day. After the catch, we followed the precepts of respect and reciprocity by admiring natures beauty and releasing the fish back to the circle of life.
After casting the desires and intentions we have towards life and mending, when necessary, with those around us one must take considerable time to follow. We must follow steadfast in our direction. Patience and observation are gifts. They allow us to see subtle nuances. We become empowered to set and take action to create healthy dynamic tension towards our life goals. When there are aspirations we can learn to fight for them in ways that are respectful to all involved.
“Cast, mend, follow, set, fight the fish” became five steps relatable to life. The epiphany occurred that we keep moving through this life cycle with equanimity. Sometimes we do too much of one thing and not enough of another. Then on occasion, we find ourselves in a masterpiece of movement with fluidity and ease. Now and then we get tangles in our fishing line as with life. We learn along the way that we caused the tangles and more effortless action will materialize when we learn how to untangle our own tangles.
I realize I have just scratched the surface of understanding fly fishing. The entire day our guide was indicating the vast array of flies in the air and on the water. He rambled the identification of Midge Flies, Mayflies, Blue-winged Olives, Drakes and Salmon flies just to name a few. After classifying each species, he knew when it was time to change out the intricate fly bait and align it with the ever-changing presence of insects on the river. This combination of knowledge and intuition is masterfully necessary as we hone our talents.
The entire family walked away from a day of fly fishing with affection and wonder. The exuberance may not have been there as a whole; yet, energetic interest now exists. On the tail end of the experience, my rumination on fly fishing’s parallels to life became awe-inspiring and we all agree we took away valuable lessons from this poignant experience.
Contact vailvalleyanglers.com while in Vail Colorado for an experience of this nature.