How Not to Fly Fish on the Cullasaja

FullSizeRender (1)It was a dreary morning and I sensed I was on my way to some fantastic failure.

You see, that morning I had agreed to go fly fishing with some buddies. It’s not that I don’t know how to fish, just that I don’t know how to fly fish. And I began to sense that they were two very different things.

Initially, what tipped me off was the gear and the discussion of the gear. I’m used to worms, jigs and bobbers. So while the guys were rigging me up, I was first I was asked if I had a leader. I wanted to say “yes, you’re it” but then realized he was talking about something on my reel, if that is in fact what you call this long, goofy-looking fishing stick I’m holding in my hand. Next was, “Let’s give Carson a red squirmy.” That sounded like an uncomfortable initiation activity I wanted no part of, until someone pulled out a squiggly, near infinitesimal lure. I wondered how a fish would even see the stupid thing while traveling down a rushing stream, but oh well. Lastly, I was given an “indicator.” I think I would’ve been excited about that, but no one told me what it would indicate. I suspected it would have something to do with indicating there were in fact no fish hooking up with my squirmy.

As we made our way down to the river, I must say that I did look the part. Namely, I sported my Dad’s high-quality waders, which would keep me dry as a bone, assuming I didn’t fall in. I had a backpack with a sandwich and a fly rod ready for fly fishing, whatever on earth that is.

I really didn’t know what fly fishing was, because nobody told me. My friends were so juiced about getting on that river and catching their own damn fish that I quickly realized I would need to figure it out myself. So the outing’s first lesson was that I wasn’t going to get one.

So there I stood, on the shores of the Cullasaja, wondering how to fly fish. I watched my buddy Ryan and it looked just as strange as it always did on the outdoorsman shows. A series of back and forth arm motions that strung a line out over the water and seemingly never letting it settle for a fish to get interested. The line was being held, but not retrieved. There was a reel, but no reeling. I could see every bit of the clear river, but no fish. How would this work?

There are times in life where you realize you’re going to make a fool of yourself but you just can’t help it. I came here to fly fish and darn if I wasn’t going to give it my best, measly effort.

So I attempted to emulate my friend, jerking my arm back and forth with the type of flailing that must’ve resembled a disturbed turkey. At the end of it all I had no squirmy in the water and a big ball of monofilament staring back at me.

FullSizeRender (2)Instead of spending half a day trying to work that out, I decided to keep up with my buddies now wading up the river and not be left behind for a bear to eat. I soon realized that fly fishing is not the kind of sedentary fishing of scratching your ass and drinking beer that I was accustomed to. This was work. Wading upstream over slippery rocks with nothing but a pole to keep your balance is tough. I soon realized the achievement of my day would not be catching a fish, but avoiding a plunge into the river. A new goal, and I was determined.

Once I reached a more placid stretch (without falling—win) I decided I could screw around with my mess of a fishing line. So I cut the line, lost the teeny-tiny weight (not purposefully), abandoned the indicator (because who am I kidding) and set my line up with just a squirmy. I doubted this was a recipe for success but at least I could make out like I was trying to fish.

After an hour or so, my prescience of not getting a lick of action was confirmed. But I was feeling pretty good about accomplishing my goal of not stumbling and submerging myself in the river. Which led me to my second fly fishing lesson: Don’t ever think you won’t stumble and submerge yourself in the river. 

Now, before the big one, I had stumbled a few times and caught myself in a shallow area, which only soaked the end of my sleeve. I was still wonderfully dry. But then, after two hours of relative uprightness, I lost my balance and three-fourths of me went under. I quickly rose, only to feel the stream of cold river water rushing down my torso, through my loins, and into my warm, fluffy socks. I was soaked, which is rather discouraging while wearing waders, because now I’m thinking “what’s the point now in even having these damn things on?”

With my socks squishing in my boots, I trudged over the bank and had a seat, wondering what to do next. It ended up being a good time to take off my pants and have a sandwich. So I did, and that was nice. My crazy fishing buddies had yet to consider a pause for sustenance, so I proudly felt ahead of them in this aspect of the outing.

I took off the rest of my clothes and pointlessly hung some of them to dry on a long stick housing a large spider. I changed into my dry clothes and watched the fellas fish while finishing my lunch. I got back into my semi-dry waders and re-entered the fray.

The weather, to that point, had been overcast but bucking the forecast, not raining. I remember thanking God for the nice day. I think He smiled at me (he was probably lovingly laughing at me most of the time before that anyway) and then promptly the sky opened and a deluge transpired the remainder of the afternoon. There ain’t much worse than not catching fish when fishing, except for not catching fish while fishing in the rain. This break from our fortune even convinced the most avid in our party to quit. We walked up the bank and back to our truck.

Perhaps this has all sounded like an elaborate complaint from an insufferable pessimist about his miserable, frustrating, and embarrassing fly fishing experience. Yet, I can tell you it was a truly worthwhile and wonderful adventure. I enjoyed the beauty of God’s creation, and watching my buddies engaged in an activity that made them come alive. I enjoyed the time to be quiet and reflect on a number of things I generally don’t have time for. And I appreciated enduring the struggle of doing something I hadn’t before, of laughing at myself and learning good, wet lessons, and resting in the awesome grace of God’s favor on miserable-little-fly-fishing me.


The next day I went to a small lake with my friend Ray. We stood on the shore to cast a few lines and pass the time. And in 10 minutes, with no squirmies, waders, slipperly rocks or rushing rivers, I pulled in a beautiful rainbow trout. How about that?


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