I had wondered why my boyfriend’s closet contained more fishing rods than my brain could fathom and what the dozens of fuzzy, hairy things on hooks, strewn all over the desk in the corner of his living room, might be. I knew well, after dating Bill for a few months, that he was an outdoor enthusiast, judging by all the gadgets and gear randomly located around his home. I knew little to nothing about fly fishing, float fishing, hunting, tracking, game calls, fly tying, stocking schedules, etc., etc! It was practically all foreign to me. Early on, he had made one ‘golden rule’ very clear. Although Bill appreciated my sprucing up his bachelor pad and my cleaning antics, I was never, ever, to touch his fly rods. I just figured they were valuable heirlooms passed down from his father or another beloved family member and kept my distance.
Although I grew up in an area of Pennsylvania known by outdoorsmen for its plentiful fishing and hunting grounds, my only childhood fishing experience involved dropping a night crawler into the lake near my home. That usually resulted in my screaming out to my sun-bathing Mother for help when I actually caught a fish: resorting to stepping on the fish to stop it from flopping slime all over me, and, finally, my younger brother trying to free the little sunny or bluegill, also without touching it! These memories are still near and dear to me, but beyond a hook, a worm, a bobber, and my squeamish assistant, I was clueless.
The first time Bill asked to take me on a “fishing date,” it was in a little row boat on a pond near his parents’ house. I was both nervous and excited, and, of course, more concerned about what I would wear to look pretty for him, (and, I guess, the fish). We rowed out in the questionably seaworthy, alarmingly rusted boat. He showed me the basics of baiting the hook, casting away from the hanging trees, and setting the hook if I thought I had a bite. I naturally didn’t pay much attention as I thought, “How hard can this be? I’ve caught fish before … even though I couldn’t take them off the hook, isn’t that what he’s here for?” I quickly found myself in a state of panic, with a big bass on my line, repeating “Oh my God, I got one!”, while reeling in what felt like a propelling brick. Low and behold, Bill helped me net a nice largemouth bass and was so happy for me that he wanted to take a picture ... of me ... holding it.
That moment would be the beginning of the butt of all future fishing jokes. I felt my face become flushed and sweat bead on my upper lip as I glared at him with what I now imagine was absolute shock and revulsion. I have to touch it? He casually held up this big, slimy, flopping fish that dangled from his thumb and told me to just stick my finger in there and smile. I contemplated how to go about this with some choice cursing under my breath. After what felt like hours, I finally turned my head and grabbed the bass like a child that didn’t want to stick her fork in her brussel sprouts. I shuddered as I held up the fish and felt my eyes suddenly well up. Click.
And now there was photographic evidence. I cried when I held my first fish. My boyfriend, practically born with a rod in his hand, had to laugh as he couldn’t understand why holding a fish was such a traumatic event.
Although I figured the odds were against me that Bill would take me as his fishing buddy again, I was not kicked to the curb for my antics. I redeemed myself and joined in on some more pond fishing and dabbled a bit with bobber fishing. I accompanied Bill’s family for the tradition of opening day of trout fishing and tested out my bobber fishing skills from the water’s edge. I watched in awe as he waded into the water, unzipped his chest pack, took out a case and chose one of those fuzzy, hairy hooks that he so diligently tied. He moved the rod like it was part of his arm and cast the line with such ease. I mostly observed and occasionally asked a few questions about the things that I learned were flies and how casting was entirely different than tossing a bobber out in front of you. I was mystified and intrigued. Still, these precious possessions of Bill’s were only objects that I could watch him fish with and never touch, move, look at, breathe on, etc.
Shortly after, that all changed. Bill and I went fishing locally with a couple of friends to try our hand at catching a fresh dinner. It was a beautiful day, and I was excited to get outside after a long week of work. We met up in the parking lot, grabbed our gear, and cheerfully headed down the railroad tracks to the “good spots.” We set down some of the extra gear and split up for different holes. Bill joined me, and our friends went a few yards down river. He helped me rig up the bobber rod and pointed towards the current while telling me where best to cast. I made my way out to the spot and began tossing the bobber where I thought the hole would be. Bill heard his friend yell that he hooked up, so he grabbed the net and hustled down to give him a hand. It was in that moment when I looked back onto the creek bank and staring back at me was Bill’s sacred fly rod. I looked down the creek at Bill’s back, looked at the rod, and dashed to grab the forbidden object. Although I heard Bill’s voice in my head, “never, ever touch the fly rods,” I didn’t have a second thought beyond wanting to try to imitate what I had been watching for far too long. I gingerly walked back to my spot and stared at this foreign gadget in my hand. I thought back to what I would see him do when he approached a hole. I reached to unhook the fuzzy fly and pulled on the line. Wow, did it feel completely unlike any other rod and reel I’ve used! That was due in part to Bill being left-handed, but I still did my best to cast the line, which turned more into a fling. After a couple of attempts, I held up the rod as the line drifted through the ripples and near the hole. Nothing. But that didn’t stop me from taking another stab at it. Just as I was about to lob it in the water again, a familiar voice startled me, “What do you think you’re doing?” I instantly reverted to my adolescence and responded with a quick, “Nothing!”
At this point, there was no turning back. I’d already broken the ‘golden rule’, so I thought I might as well take the chance and try to fish with this new toy. To my surprise Bill attempted to give me a few pieces of advice, but I wanted nothing to do with it, and responded a bit harshly with, “I know what I’m doing, I’ve watched you do this a thousand times!” With that and my inherited stubbornness, I flung the line into the water and tried to prove that I could mimic his exact movements. Holding the rod up with my extended arm, letting the fly dangle under the current for a fish to take a quick bite at, and then trying it all again once the line reached the bottom of the hole. As I struggled, I heard Bill trying to give pointers in the background, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it; I was too focused on figuring out this new challenge on my own. Looking back, I’m sure that it was a comical sight.
A few minutes in, and after the point when Bill figured his efforts were fruitless, I felt a tug on my line. I instantly felt a burst of energy through my fingertips and my legs turned to Jell-O. I hooked one. I reacted with a set of the hook and tried to make sense of the reel as I heard the zip of the line pull forward. Time moved in fast-forward. I heard Bill blurt out, “You got one, sweetie!”, and he instructed me to keep the rod up, let go of the extra line, and reel in. Somehow I comprehended enough to keep the fish on the line, and I was reeling in my first trout on a fly rod. Look at me! I wasn’t like a fish out of water! Bill had the net and with a quick scoop, I saw the beautiful gold and reddish tinted spots reflecting back at me. Not only did I catch my first fish with a fly rod, but I caught my first wild brown trout. Bill helped to get a picture with the magnificent fish, fly in lip, and he couldn’t have been prouder. Our friends cheered with a thumbs up, and yelled, “Nice one, Nelly!” I was beaming.
This was the first time I ever fly fished and one of the most adored memories that I have. I suppose his love of the sport, hobby, and art of fly fishing rubbed off on me. I enjoy the outdoors, hiking to new fishing spots, and having a laugh or two when it comes to trying to catch and release my own fish. The challenge and fun of catching a fish and my competitive nature love the idea that maybe I will catch more or bigger fish than the expert. From that moment forward, I wanted to fly fish every chance I could. I got my very own fly rod and learned mostly from observing. I am still a bit stubborn and want to learn on my own and go through the trial, errors, and tangles. It makes the challenge all the more exciting and addicting. Now, our weekends are centered around our next fly fishing adventure, whether it be to locally stocked streams, hiking to find rare and wild trout, or driving hours north to fish for giant salmon and steelhead. I love the mystery of finding out what will be on the other end of my line. Over the past few years, I have graduated to hooking and landing some beautiful trophy fish, and have, of course, lost even bigger ones. The best part of picking up that rod and going against the only ‘golden rule’ was now I have a permanent fishing partner: my husband, Bill.