"All good things - trout as well as eternal salvation - come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy."
"The best fisherman I know try not to make the same mistakes over and over again; instead they strive to make new and interesting mistakes and to remember what they learned from them."
"The great charm of fly-fishing is that we are always learning."
"You go fishing because it is graceful."
"It is impossible to grow weary of a sport that is never the same on any two days of the year."
"Angling may be said to be so like the mathematics that it can never be fully learned."
"I think I fish, in part, because it's an anti-social, bohemian business that, when gone about properly, puts you forever outside the mainstream culture without actually landing you in an institution."
"Haig-Brown never wrote with a message. Happily absent from his writing is that boorish, tiresome stance of the "expert" giving his boring advice on how we might catch more fish or kill more game. Instead, he observes and informs purely for its own sake, and does it with an astounding clarity, a complete lack of hysteria, and no sense whatsoever of personal gain".
"Fishermen are searchers. It is true we search for fish, at times with great diligence. But we search also, as men always have, for experiences; and there are no greater experiences than the seasons, varied and repeated year after year in our special comings and goings".
These quotes, including the one from my wife, hint at some of the reasons I go fishing, and why I agree with Russell Chatham (penultimate quote) and want to vomit in the company of self proclaimed "experts" who preach one method or another. The quotes tell of something far beyond a "sport" to be mastered; perhaps beyond the grasp of those folks striving to be best, different, or most knowledgeable. Fly fishing is the most individual, virginal, personal and effortlessly satisfying thing I do. You might feel exactly the same way for a raft of entirely different reasons. It's made to measure entirely for me - one size - with no pressure to achieve because my success is measured by me, and I don't care to. We all perceive different angles when gazing at the finest paintings, tasting different food, reading beautiful prose. This is obvious to many of us, of course. I even recognize it in my kids when they hone in on a sliver of detail that only they notice but which has huge resonance for them, unaffected by the push to compete. Sure there is commonality and brotherhood in fishing; but there are no metrics because the same things never happen twice. This is the only certainty, and what precious thing that is: to always do something new, where the lessons always change and cannot, and should not, be codified, packaged, bought or sold. Maybe this is a difficult concept for people who need order and tangible progress to feel comfortable; to feel recognition. Mercifully for the rest, there is no syllabus of fly fishing; no right or wrong. The sole prerequisite is to go outside and have fun.
Some days I catch fish and maybe from time to time I'll get some real big ones, but typically I don't. I'm only confident that tomorrow I'll stumble down the river bank, hook a tree or myself, fall in, miss every take, lose every fish, and leave my rod on the car roof as I drive off. If I get really good at this I'll laugh at myself, and I'll call that success. I take these things to be good medicine; I'm not a robot and I get it wrong repeatedly. My ambition is to use my own limited experience to understand rivers, lakes, and fish. No more. It always works because there's no template or competitor (or there should not be.) I care less and less what others think, and this is probably another barometer of progress. Trying to win at fly fishing would be like trying to win the country fair art show. The rosette and public recognition might feel good for an hour, but tomorrow my two year old son will show me a daub that blows mine away. The wind will change, and today the expert judging panel calls my painting rubbish. So I'll aspire to come last, or to have my contributions derided, disqualified or laughed at by all comers. I'll sneak away from the fete excited to know that they can't see what I see; that you cannot win at art. Plainly it is better to forgo the competition.
My fly fishing could be completely unique from yours, or it may be similar, but I couldn't write you a text book or how-to guide to save my life. I could show you how to cast a fly, or all manner of deeply mundane things to help you on your way, but I'd need to flatten and bleed the life from the best bits, and where's the fun in that? Fly fishing is better, has more depth and color, more magic, strangeness and down right cool than the world's best efforts to visualize the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or whatever the fuck passes for the next life-changing eye candy. Every time I leave my house to go fishing I get a childish buzz like I'm pushing the panel at the back of the wardrobe. It makes me feel young and I suspect it always will. Fly fishing is laughingly lumped in as "sport", but this doesn't fit its incalculable dimensions, nor the fact that the human race have access to it - a blessed relief today. Anyone can go fishing and have as much fun as me, doing the same easy things, through completely different Polaroid's. You cannot teach someone how to fish or tell them, because of your experience, what is the right way, even to tie a simple Partridge & Yellow, let alone how it works in the water. But why aspire to compress and conform, to act like we're part of some stuffy club? If I understand the beauty of angling, I understand why there is no higher aspiration. No one gets to be really good at this, because all of our comings and goings are special.
When I step into a river or lake you might as well stand right there whistling Dixie, I'm lost in a wardrobe. To everyone outside the foil is perfect; I'm just one of the multitude of boring, lazy men snoozing under a tree, fishing line tied to his big toe.
No-one will be any the wiser.