Sometimes my life can be funny. Sometimes my life can be tragic. My professional life often entails the absurd. Shit, sometimes my personal life reads like a Charles Bukowski novel but perhaps not as much as it used to. I can thank my wife for her calming nature and enduring patience for the positive change to my personally induced chaos and those Henry Chinaski moments have become less.
I was rough and tumble through the days of my youth, brash to the point of being acerbic. Rash and ready for something other than my small town upbringing, my life smelled like spent shotgun shells and bourbon, and probably looked like a bar fight broken nose to outsiders. The irony lies in the fact that I spent my entire formative years desperately seeking something other than those hills and hollers where I grew up—and now I know that everything I needed was right there.
I used to travel for pleasure but now my professional capacity requires that I’m on the road, and away from the domestic bliss and tranquility that our little house contains, at least 200 days a year; I’ve ridden in all manners of transportation: Tuck-Tucks, rickshaws, horseback, llamas, and on foot. I’ve been on privately chartered planes that picked me up on the east coast and delivered me to a completely different climate 3,000 miles away from my point of origination, luxury motor coaches with soft leather couches and halogen lighting, 15 person passenger vans driven by aimless, wandering, and overly-prone-to-conversation runners. French Cargo vans with bleu-collared philosophers.
“Ahhhhh, Josef, there izzz always one asshole between me and happiness.”, the French truck driver said to me one day while we were stuck in traffic. His off-the-cuff remark has stuck with me and I love telling the story with my terrible fake French accent but his timely spoken-out-loud inner monologue resonated mightily with this country boy.
My past travel experiences certainly prepared me for it; to be a good traveler one must be mentally and physically prepared for the unexpected and have the ability to roll with the changes that might befall the unsuspecting. And this skill of adapting to changing circumstances has also manifested itself in my obsession/lifestyle of fly-fishing.
Travel has been a double edged sword for me; there have been many days that I’ve been on a 24-36 hour slogs of airports, bus rides, and 3 hour commutes that were spent working the throttle as fast as I could go (sometimes not legally) to get home. But, through it all, It has afforded me the chance to fish some out of the way places and a whole new world of people and fishing techniques have opened up.
The small streams of the mountains of East Tennessee and western North Carolina contain the attraction of both the history of my bloodline and the technical aspirations and lessons of how to fish a small creek with overhanging tree limbs and small pocket water. It was in North Carolina that I first picked up a fly rod and found the immediate reward of a more thoughtful way to fish and perhaps, on a larger scale, even how to live in a better manner. That might be a grandiose statement but I think you probably get it as you are reading this on a fly rod maker’s website. Yup, you probably get it.
The storied rivers of Montana hold the hope and idea of gentlemanly fishing for me, and the proud state showed me the beauty and reward of slipping a hatch-matched dry fly into the seam can result in bringing a healthy and native brown or rainbow to hand.
The varied terrain of Colorado, Idaho, Vermont, and New Hampshire each have their own memories and lessons for me and they are ones that still hold their value as I fish my way across the states. Each state taught me the importance of understanding the diet of Trout and the varying circumstances in which they eat; the inherent entomology of the area changed with each new stream or river, and the process to better understand the biology behind the changes inspired me to learn more—and eventually, learn to tie the flies that resembled those bugs.
The Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta offered me lessons in patience and fishing micro sized dry flies and steak size hoppers down one-foot wide channels of gin clear mountain run off.
A week spent fishing the salt flats of the Yucatan Peninsula taught me that I don’t know crap about the technique used for the double haul. That time spent also showed me that my eyes, so use to mountain streams, seams, and reading meandering rivers, had no idea how to see permit or bonefish 200 feet away.
This is a terrible example of how to adapt to changing circumstances as they relate to fishing because I haven’t been able to truly find a level of success that eases my frustration.
Kentucky has shown me the benefits of fishing small streams for smallmouth bass on the fly and has challenged me to dial in my fly tying and streamer technique. As a result, I think my tying has become better and more finished and, in some regard, so have I. Maybe I’m just getting older and can’t quite handle the long, drunken nights and fishing with a hangover.
So, in some fashion or by the grace of some empowering natural spirit, the act of fly fishing and it’s many swirling eddies of intricacy have diminished the self destructing young man of my youth. The simple act of thoughtful and mindful fly-fishing has had a substantial impact, the irony lies in the fact that I’ve managed to weed out the clutter of my absurd life experiences to find a simpler truth. The rougher edges of my youthful exuberance have diminished or, at least, softened with time and perhaps the rush of the rivers and creeks I’ve explored have somewhat polished my sharper edges, not unlike a river rock that has rolled around enough to round out.