This morning, on the eve of Thanksgiving and on the first of several days off from teaching, I found myself unable to sleep in beyond my usual work day wake-up time. A little frustrated, I got out of bed so as not to wake my wife with my tossing and turning, descended the stairs, and got a pot of coffee brewing. As I waited–impatiently–for a cup’s worth to be done, I chuckled a little at myself: yes, sleep is important, and yes it is a basic human need with which I continue to have a troubled relationship, and yes it feels like the coffee is taking forever, but how silly is it to wake up feeling frustrated when there is so much to be thankful for?
In that spirit, this post will be a fly-fishing-themed exercise in gratitude, an attempt to chronicle a small portion of the beauty it brings.
First, and without question the most significant, I am thankful for the shared experiences out on the water with my wife, Ann. Her interest in fly fishing began by enjoying watching me fish–specifically, she liked to see me cast. Not that I’m some expert by any means, but she was drawn immediately to it in the same way many of us are: awed by its simple grace, the melodic cursive we draw through the air as we cast.
Then, she wanted to learn how to do it. From lessons in our neighbors’ flat and open backyard to her first time casting while standing in a river, she loved it immediately: the proprioception of her body in space, finding the rhythm of the cast like a musician joining in on a song that’s already begun, the frustrations of watching her line collapse onto itself, and the joy of watching a tight loop unfurl and fall noiselessly to the water.
The only problem was: she didn’t want to catch a fish. As a young girl, she used to love going fishing with her dad, but whenever he’d catch a Lake George smallmouth, she’d turn away, empathizing with the fish and the certain agony it felt to be caught. She carried that same tenderness into fly fishing, at least until, despite herself, she enticed a New River brown trout to take a pheasant tail nymph dropped from a yellow stimulator. Nonetheless terrified that the fish was going to die and apologetic to it from the instant she first saw it to the moment I released it and it swam healthily away, she’d felt the thrill that keeps all of us returning to the water, and there was no turning back.
Now, she approaches the stream with the goal to catch a specific species or a new personal best. She recently caught “The Slam” on the Mills River and did so with pride. And she remains eager to continue perfecting her casting–still her first and one true love of fly fishing.
While I’m overjoyed to witness her fall in love with the sport, it’s our shared time on the water I’m most thankful for. We are both teachers, and I’ve learned that I love spending time helping Ann learn just as much as fishing itself. I’ll often leave my rod behind when we hit the water together, knowing full well I won’t want to leave her side (and sometimes because I’ve likely fished that entire morning while she slept in).
While it’s often true what they say–teachers make the worst students–Ann is one fantastic fly fishing student, always patient and persistent, eager to learn, and content to be in the beauty of it.
How fortunate I am, to be able to stack memories on memories with my beloved out on the water, admiring her as she grows and improves, watching the gears of her mind turn as she dissects the river, and sharing with her any of the endless moments of beauty out in the natural world. There is no sought-after destination or pursuit of an exotic species that could ever offer me something more fulfilling, and for that I am boundlessly thankful.
There is a wide gap between that and all of the other things I am thankful for in the fly fishing realm, but here is a brief rundown of a few more, in no particular order and by no means all-inclusive:
- My health
- This past April, I tore my Achilles. Being non weight-bearing for six weeks also meant no fishing for six weeks–and beyond–and that included missing a family fishing trip. I’m grateful to be back at a point now where I can walk–and wade–as I continue to work on gaining back strength in my leg.
- Winston Rods
- I own a handful of classic Winstons, including my two favorites: an 8-foot 4-weight Tom Morgan Favorite, and an 8-and-a-half-foot 5-weight IM6. I love the moderate action of my Winstons, and they feel like works of art just as much as fishing tools.
- My Korkers boots
- I plan to do an in-depth review of these, but I absolutely love my Korkers Darkhorse boots. I can wade with surefire confidence, which is always important, but especially now as I rehab from my torn Achilles.
- I’m no entomologist–far from it–but I am fascinated by the ecosystem of the river and the various bugs that are the food sources for trout. Nymphs, emergers, duns–I have a ton to learn, but I love all of the nuances and minute details of this part of fly fishing.
- It sounds silly, but my goodness I’ve learned a lot by watching what other people have to say about fly fishing, specifically Mad River Outfitters, Charlie’s Fly Box, Huge Fly Fisherman, The New Fly Fisher, and more. The latest issue of Trout Magazine includes a letter from the editor, Kirk Deeter, titled “There’s still great power in print.” The title speaks for itself, and as a writer and English teacher, I wholeheartedly agree: print is and always will be sacred, but there are so many great supplementary educational tools online.
- My fishing buddies
- I love fishing with people I love who love fishing (three “loves” in one sentence–is that acceptable?). Thanks to my brothers–Jeff, Jonathan, and Ted–my dad, my sister, my stepkids, my nieces and nephews, Teddy P, Mike Bennett, and many others for being my fishing buddies. Y’all make time on the water even more special.
If, like me, you catch yourself frustrated, stressed, or otherwise upset by things out of your control or by things that serve to obscure what you ought to be thankful for, spend some time this week–and always–wading in gratitude, chronicling any of the numerous beautiful things that color your life and fulfill you. Those things are there, and even though they may be easily spooked by the many unpleasant interventions of our busy lives, they are worth catching.