As fishermen and women, we’ve all read the above or maybe had it drilled into us at some clinic by a master Jedi fly caster. It’s the mantra given to all those who seek those shy steelhead or trout to make sure that when casting for fish, be it on the fly or with terminal tackle, you cover as much of the river as possible and don’t stay in one spot. Time spent on the water is precious, and it makes sense to make the best use of it. Don’t waste your time flogging the same stretch of water over and over again because there is no guarantee of success. If you’ve not connected with a fish after the first few passes over a stretch of water, it’s quite likely you won’t.
Take a minute to re-read that first paragraph. Think about it. And then realize, as I did, that it applies not only to fishing but many other aspects of life. Things like your career, your relationships, your families. Goals. Aspirations. Dreams. And yet we keep casting our lines over the same stretches in the river of life, hoping that we will get a different result simply because we are consistent. We think that if maybe we bounce it off the bank here, or drop in just behind that rock there, that the results will somehow magically be different.
The truth is that all of us get into routines. Ruts. We find ourselves walking along those well trodden, ankle deep paths that so many before us have trampled into the moss, like those well worn bear trails we’ve walked alongside our favourite rivers. We trundle along, doing what is expected of us, playing it safe, never colouring outside of the lines for fear that it won’t be accepted for us to do or be anything else. We take jobs that don’t inspire us, stay too long in relationships that aren’t working, maintain unhealthy habits that are easier to continue than change, all the time looking back over our shoulders wondering what we are missing?
I can confess to doing all the above.
I was in a marriage that should have ended sooner than it did, and I’ve worked many jobs I don’t enjoy because I felt it was “what I was supposed to do”. I drank too much and hid from dealing with my anxiety and depression. And I’ve had such an overwhelming feeling of “is this all there is?” for so long I can’t remember when I didn’t.
I’m in a better spot today than I was before. I have a great partner who understands my need to go fishing more than most and how it recharges my soul. I still drink, but in moderation and certainly not to get drunk. My anxiety and depression are a constant battle but one that I own and for the most part I feel I am winning (although somedays, I question that!). But despite all of that I still struggle with finding a way to make a living from the things I am most passionate about. But that last nugget I am working on and hope to share some information in a blog post that I hope (fingers crossed) will be coming soon.
So let me tie all of the above back full circle to what this blog is meant to be for – fishing!
Some time ago, I started to move towards becoming a fly only fisherman. I put away my center-pin and level wind rods, shelved all my lead weight, pink worms, gooey bobs and Jensen eggs, and announced that I was retiring them. I would be 100% fly fishing only and wasn’t going to swing plastic and lead through the river again. I was…reformed.
Now I don’t judge. I’m not a fly fishing snob. And I have certainly caught my fair share of fish on terminal gear and proudly so. But there is something more challenging to using fly gear especially in the winter time when you are battling high water and fast currents. It’s very easy to get discouraged when you can’t get your T16 fly line down to those resting steelhead! Cast, after cast, after cast….it can be discouraging. Much like life (are you following along?). You get into that rut, that mindset, that this is what I need to do even when it is clearly not working. Stepping out of that bear track after all might just trip you up!
Flash forward then to December 2021. Present day. COVID nightmare and all (hmm….I just had a thought for a new fly pattern called that….). I’ve made it a habit to go out fishing during my Christmas break from work just about every year, and this year has been no exception even with the unusual Arctic outflow Vancouver Island experienced this week and the snow it brought with it. As I considered what to pack for the day, I thought about the river I would be fishing, the conditions, the cold water, and the chances of catching a fish. I knew that getting a Steelhead to hit a fly would be…tough. Probably impossible. But I also knew that the likelihood of them being in that river, and at this time of year….was high. So I grabbed my box of terminal gear “stuff”, my center-pin and my level wind, and I hit the road.
If there’s one thing I love it’s a nice Vancouver Island Steelhead river in the winter time. The super clear turquoise waters contrast so brightly with the white covered cobbles on the riverbanks. The footprints of deer, elk, river otters, raccoons, bears, rabbits and squirrels pressed firmly into the fresh snow are such an amazing reminder that the amount of life all around is far more visible in winter than in the summer. I love the soft quietness that engulfs the trails and river banks when the cedar, firs and ferns are blanketed in snow. But most of all I love to soak up the solitude and peacefulness that comes from standing amongst this amazing scene and casting your line.
I’ll admit that my first few casts on the center-pin with a light jig on the end were not pretty, it looked a little rusty to say the least. It took me a few more to recall the muscle memory of casting that kind of rig but it soon came back to me. I spotted a seam of water just down from where the river was spilling in from higher up, a glassy section tight along a rock face and just abreast of the main current. Just the right depth of water and walking speed for a steelhead to be resting in. Whereas my first cast towards my target was just a little too far out from the opposite bank, my second one landed exactly where I wanted it to go. The drift was PERFECT.
As I watched my float meander down the seam, my jig just touching the bottom slightly, it happened right at the end of the drift. The float went under, the tug hit, and I was on! Up and down the pool the fish raced, taking me for a ride more than a few times. It came to the surface, rolling and thrashing to show me it’s bright silver sides with just a touch of pink, before making two more runs down the pool, then back up, causing me to reel franticly to catch up. I knew where I was standing wouldn’t work to land the fish, so I carefully made my way to a slower section of river by the bank and keep working the fish gently in towards me. I tore off my woollen mittens using my teeth so as to keep the reel in check, not wanting to tail the fish with wool hands and risk injuring it. One more big run taking all the line I had recovered followed by more frantic reeling and finally the fish was within 10 feet of me! But with one final solid thrash and splash of water, it spat out my jig and was gone.
I was stoked, in fact I may have even fist pumped the air. I didn’t care that I hadn’t landed the fish or gotten a photo in fact I felt the opposite. I had been given a gift. A fish had come to me and played my game, and in return had left unharmed and untouched by human hands. In my opinion that is more than enough for me to feel satisfied. I fished the rest of the section of river I had planned for the day, and didn’t touch another fish. But I didn’t care. Not one bit. For I had stepped out of the rut and it had paid off handsomely.
As I write this post I am reminded again of the many similarities to life this fishing story has. It prompted me to ponder that sometimes you need to change things up even if only for a day, in order to see what could be. Rediscovering something old might be just what you need to put that motivational spark back into your soul. Or it may help you to decide to stay the course with what ever it is that you have been doing all along. There are times in life when you simply need to cast and retrieve, take a few steps, and cast again. To not give up just because your first attempt failed. To not stay doing something that doesn’t work, but instead take that “step” and cast out again. To maybe look at your toolbox and try something new or dust off something old.
I won’t be giving up fly fishing and returning to terminal tackle. But I will say that I won’t throw any of that stuff away either. There is a time and a place for all types of fishing gear and tactics and to eliminate one doesn’t make sense to me if the conditions call for it. The same can be said for life choices. You do what you need to do and what works for you in the conditions presented. I hope that as I get older I get just a tiny bit wiser with my choices, but I am definitely taking a long hard look at how to make a living doing what I love. And I am working harder to improve myself and my own choices in life to make sure that as my time in this world runs on that I make the very best choices I can.
All I have to say…is that there is more to come. Cast…Step…Repeat.