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Becoming a Fly Guy

As a general rule, I take an open-minded approach to life, giving any new experience a fair chance to impress me. Then again, I’m kind of obsessive about things I know I like and have often failed to proactively find out what’s cool, even when it comes to fishing.

While happily ensconced in a cocoon of lure zealotry for 10 years in Japan, I completely missed the drastic image makeover fly fishing underwent in North America.  Until recently fly was, in my view, the kind of thing restricted to guys twice my age from the northwest who listened to Crosby, Stills and Nash, and wore Stetsons. Now I know it to be the youthful, uber-cool, artsy subculture of the fishing world. 

Superficially, it’s not my thing, but I respect anyone’s pursuit of game fish, and figured I owed it to myself to at least get competent with a fly rod, on the off-chance I’d one day find myself in the company of some dedicated fly guys.

Sure enough, some buddies invited me to the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido for the late summer pink salmon run. To be honest, I was more interested in soaking up the great scenery and gorging on local seafood but, as fate would have it, I cracked the basics of fly casting in far less time than I had imagined.

We motored out from a tiny port to a seaside camp near a nameless river mouth.  There were salmon all over, but they only ate when it rained and, luckily, we found ourselves fishing in a downpour several times. The rain not only stimulated the fishes’ feeding instincts, but also brought out the rowdiness in us. 

Much the trip was spent engaged in silly hijinks – slipping and falling over, playing stupid pranks, and even running from bears once or twice. The laughter that resulted was the kind so powerful, you have to stop to catch your breath. We were like a group of fifth graders from central Tokyo, taken to the forest for the first time, and overdosing on the fresh air and open space.

I initially had trouble controlling my fly line as I tried to back cast and haul. Neither of the instructional videos I had watched, nor incessantly reminding myself of the “ten-and-two rule” was doing the trick. Then, halfway through the morning, I kind of “Zen-ed out,” forgot about form and focused on the spot in which I was trying to drop my maribou. That’s when a switch flipped, and I suddenly had it down cold.

My experience fly casting that day reminds me of a book I read on Buddhism in which the author analogizes becoming enlightened to realizing something for the first time and just saying, “Oh.” It was that simple. 

I landed more salmon than I could count over two days, but I’ll likely remember this trip for the satisfaction of skillfully using my tackle for the first time. Maybe I’ve been a fly guy all along.

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