Saturday August 23, 2014

Determining why it is that we fish

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Welcome to Week LXXXVIII of 'Fishing Parkland Shorelines'. Like most of us I am a novice fisherman, loving to fish, but far from an expert. In the following weeks I'll attempt to give those anglers who love to fish but just don't have access to a boat, a look at some of the options in the Yorkton area where you can fish from shore, and hopefully catch some fish.

When I received 'Why I Fly Fish' from author Chris Santella, I have to admit I found I was immediately asking that same question, albeit changed a bit since I have limited fly fishing experience.

But, why do I fish?

That is not as easy a question as it might seem.

I say that because fishing has evolved for me over the years.

I was once one of those guys who equated enjoyable fishing with catching fish. It was the days when I was younger, and is an affliction which my son now has.

Today I see fishing as less about fish, although I still like catching better than not.

But if the fish are ignoring my lures, I can now simply enjoy the experience.

The warm sun, an unusual cloud formation, a leopard frog, a mallard with little ones, these are the things fishing has become.

Lisa Cutter, who operates California School of Fly Fishing (, one of the fishermen in the book, touches on a key aspect of fishing for me when she notes "I've meditated for thirty-seven years. It's a way I can lose myself for a time, a method for getting away from the chatter that's in my mind. I think for many people who take up fly fishing, the attractiveness of the sport is the same as what I find in meditation – for the time you're on the river, it gets you away from the chatter in your mind."

She is right. Fishing is a place where you can leave the 9-to-5 world somewhere on the road to water.

When you fish you can forget for a time all the troubles life tends to deal each of us, and we can return to something simpler, a moment in time where it is you, a rod and line, connecting you to the water, to the fish, to nature.

I fish for the retreat to a quieter place.

I fish to reconnect to nature.

I fish to relax.

And then finally, I fish for the thrill of the strike, the tug on the line, the retrieve to see what I have caught, and what I will later enjoy from the kitchen.

I also think it's a case where anything we fall in love with must continually challenge us on some level, or that love will wane.

Professional golfer Nick Price relates that well in the book.

"I think the most telling similarity between golf and fly fishing is that with both sports, you're constantly learning, constantly trying to improve your methodology. Just because you played golf well one day doesn't mean you'll play well the next. I've been playing golf professionally for thirty-five years, and I often find myself saying, 'Why didn't I figure out what I'm working on now back in my twenties?' The same is true of fishing. If you ever think you know everything about fishing, you're in deep trouble. The fish behave differently wherever you are, and you need to try to stay a step ahead of them. That's what fascinates me about fly fishing. You never stop learning, and that's what gets me really excited every day I go fishing," he said.

That is the great thing about fishing, it always offers something new. No two days are ever alike based on everything from air and water temperature to cloud cover.

And there is always some new water to try, or a new species to take on.

Myself, I am becoming increasing intrigued by the battles carp offer, and after reading what Kirk Deeter, an editor-at-large for Field & Stream magazine had to say in 'Why I Fly Fish' I am drawn even more to the oft overlooked carp.

"Carp really get your wheels spinning. I like to equate carp fishing with soccer. Around the world, carp is the number-one sport fish. A staggering amount of money is spent on carp angling. There are carp in ponds in England and France that are mourned when they die; hundreds of people might pay tens of thousands of dollars for a chance to come fish for it. But here in America, it's just starting to catch on," he said.

That is why I always love reading a good book on fishing, and 'Why I Fly Fish' is indeed a good book, it fires a new interest in an old love affair.

As basic as the book title's question is, I was curious what had the author drawing together the material for the book.

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"Most of my fly fishing writing up to this point had been travel-oriented, exemplified by 'Fifty Places To Fly Fish Before You Die'," said Santella. "With this book, I tried to look at how places fit into the way we experience and appreciate fly fishing. With 'Why I Fly Fish', I was trying to get at the satisfaction and inspiration that aficionados derive from the sport. What is the appeal? The passion?

"There are certain commonalities that many share – a love of the outdoors/connection with nature, a chance to be alone (or with a close friend). But there are a host of other appeals that the sport has, and this book was an attempt to chronicle said appeals."

Which of course led me to wonder how Santella decided on the anglers to be covered in the book, a diverse group to say the least, including fly fishing legend Lefty Kreh, business mogul Donald Trump Jr., and actor Henry Winkler.

"I wanted to represent a spectrum of anglers – from professionals who make their living some way around the sport to people who have had success in other areas of endeavour but who feel fly fishing is an important part of their life," he said.

"In terms of writing – it took me roughly six months to compile the interviews and write the book -- though I should mention that this was not six months solely devoted to this book; I was juggling two other books and my marketing consulting clients. I'm an ardent multi-tasker!"

So which stories struck a chord with Santella?

"Two profiles stick out for me," he said.

"One is Senator Mike Enzi's. When you interview a public figure or celebrity, you're always conscious of the clock ticking; they have only so much time to give you. While interviewing Senator Enzi, I was very conscious of time, and that perhaps I wasn't quite getting the material I wanted. I wanted to be respectful of his schedule and almost terminated the call when he wanted to tell one more story – about how he happened to be on an ESPN fishing program. The kicker to the story was that he ran into a constituent at a cafe in Cheyenne, Wyoming who mentioned that he'd seen him on television that morning. The senator asked the constituent what he'd been talking about – the constituent replied, 'You weren't talking, you were fishing.' Senator Enzi then quipped that 'In Wyoming, that means a lot more than talking.' It made the profile and gave a wry perspective on politics (in my opinion, anyway).

"The other profile that jumps out at me was Brian O'Keefe's. Brian, an amazing photographer and adventurer, explained how fishing – more specifically, his family's disbelief about his childhood fishing exploits – led to photography, and how photography helped lead to his many fishing adventures. There's a nice full circle to Brian's story."

Regular readers may recall O'Keefe from an interview included here last March on his amazing online ezine 'Catch'.

'Why I Fly Fish' is not Santella's only book on fishing, but it was one where he had an opportunity to write from a slightly different perspective on the topic.

"I have to say that while I've written on many subjects, fly fishing is my great passion, and it's always very satisfying to be able to write on this topic," he said. "My fifty places fly fishing books are first and foremost travel-oriented writing, though I try to look at where personality and place intersect.

"Writing about the 'why' of fishing gave me the opportunity to look at the intersection of sport and personality and perhaps a chance to sketch characters. This was a bit of a departure for me, but hopefully I succeeded on some level."

So when not writing Santella likes to get out and fish himself, with a fly rod.

"I don't have anything against other forms of fishing, fly fishing is what I know, and what I enjoy," he said. "For me, fly fishing scratches many itches – it's an immersion in nature, a chance to connect in a very immediate way with the life force (in the form of the finned creature at the other end of the rod), a chance to travel and spend time with friends who share similar values and interests.

"Perhaps more than anything else, it's an opportunity for single-mindedness of purpose. When I'm swinging flies for steelhead, it's cast, swing, step, cast, swing, step.

"Very, very zen.

"Sometimes I use this time to think things over, be they family matters, writing projects, finances; other times, I think of absolutely nothing at all beyond the birds and bugs floating above river and whether or not I covered the water as much as I could.

"Both are very satisfying."

And as every fisherman does, Santella has his favoured haunts.

"My favourite – and the favourite for many Portland area anglers – is the Deschutes," he said. "Location – less than two hours away – is one reason.

"The other is the river's great bounty – all native redband trout (a form of rainbow) year-round and summer steelhead from July through December. The Deschutes is an oasis – it's a ribbon of cool water that flows through rugged canyon/high-desert country. In the summer, I'll often get in the car at 3:30 p.m., drive out to the mouth (where it joins the Columbia) and hike upstream a mile or so to fish some favourite steelhead runs. I can be on the water by 5:30, have a good shot at hooking up, and then hit a favourite pub in Hood River for a beer and pizza on the way home, and be in my bed before midnight.



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