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August 26, 2013

The Theology Of Fly Fishing…

fishingI’m going to take a left turn, and head off in a completely different direction, to quote Monty Python: “And now for something completely different”… First I’m going to make a disclaimer for this article, I read and loathed Dante’s Inferno. It was nothing more than theological prose all wrapped up in sophistry, to my mind it was like reading a cheap dime store romance novel about heaven, hell and purgatory. So imagine my frustration at not being able to articulate without sounding like a new age fanatic, the spiritual and theistic connections I find while fly fishing.

Yep, Fly Fishing.

Before you jump to another page, let me see if I can articulate something I have discovered this summer, that has had an immense impact on my life and spirituality.

When I was a young man, I would spend as much time as I could fishing the streams and rivers of northern California, Big Pine, Lone Pine, it didn’t matter. In fact my greatest fishing story happened when I hunted a single giant rainbow in the stream above Lone Pine, eventually after weeks of trying to lure him out of his little shelf in the corner of the river, he took the bait. I reeled him in, and then did something I had never done before, I put him back out of respect for how hard he was to hunt. Normally he would have been dinner, but something changed that day, and I don’t think I’ve been the same since.

I’m now passing the mid century mark, and earlier this year, my wife and I took a fly casting class together. It was great fun, and it started a new journey that has now consumed my Saturdays. My first couple of times out on the water where less than successful, I even managed to hook myself in the arm, and learned a valuable lesson about removing the barbs from my hooks.

Mid-Summer we drove up to a remote spot above Boise, too a little town called crouch. I geared up, donning my waders, waist pack, and headed upstream with my fly rod. What happened next is hard to explain… It was fairly early in the morning, the sky was overcast, the water cool and inviting, all around me small rainbow trout where rising. I was alone, in the middle of creation, surrounded by breathtaking scenery. The only sound; water flowing over rocks, as it made it’s eternal journey downstream, and the occasional splash of trout rising to feed. I carefully chose my fly, and then waited, as fish started rising I would cast to that spot and wait… In one perfect moment, time slowed to a crawl, the worry’s that haunt my waking days faded, the water that flowed past me, was now flowing through me. I breathed in the solitude, and cares where washed away.

I hunted my quarry by hiding behind rocks, carefully moving downriver, those I caught, I admired their stunning beauty and then released them back into clear running stream. I, the man who thinks tree huggers are nuts, who thinks global warming is a sham. I, the eternal skeptic… Became one with my environment, the peace I felt, being part of something so beyond my faulty human perception, changed me. It was as if the creator was speaking to me, whispering through the pines and the babbling water. Healing my soul, and washing away my stains.

I scoffed when I read about programs that helped veterans recover, by teaching them to fly fish, more new age nonsense, I figured…

I’m not scoffing now.

To fly fish, you really have to become one with your surroundings, you listen to the water, watch it’s patterns, look for shadows, pools, riffles. What you cast out matters, trout are picky and cagey, so you must become part of their world. The details matter, every detail matters, and soon you find that you have lost all track of time. The water becomes part of you, and you become part of your surroundings.

I fly fish alone, not by choice, but simply that Michelle does not like crawling up the middle of a running river, and my closest friends just smirk when I mention fishing. I have learned to enjoy the solitude, at times I have wished for someone to share the experience, but mostly I just soak in God’s creation.

It hasn’t all been so ethereal, I’ve fallen more than once, discovered that some areas are deeper than they appear. Learned that the ‘water-proof’ waist pack, actually does a better job holding water in than it does keeping out. I spent a very frustrating Saturday morning a few weeks ago being ignored by trout that wanted nothing to do with ANYTHING I threw at them…

But even now as the cares of this world rush in to crush my spirit, just writing about being on the river, in God’s creation, soothes my worrisome soul. I still find peace when I pray, and during liturgy, but I also have found that a simple fishing trip can soothe angst within my heart. We live in a world of wonder, we keep looking for miracles, when they are all around us.

A warm summers breeze that sings through the trees, the babbling of the water as it makes it’s way downward. The solitude, and beauty of and untamed land. When I was young my Mother always called the Desert, God’s country. Even now I find great beauty in the open plains, and dry deserts of my youth. But I also find the same beauty in the streams and mountains of my home state Idaho.

It’s become an obsession, this fly fishing thing. And I’ve had to work hard to keep it from taking over my life, but the escape calls me even now. I hear the water calling my name, offering a cool respite in the heat of my daily existence…

If you don’t see me here, you’ll find me on the water…

And maybe someday, you can find me with a bamboo pole, casting out into the waters of heaven…


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