Friday, February 24, 2017

Fly Fishing In Humble Circumstance

Emily Dickinson once compared herself to being like a Robin in “humble circumstance.”  Emily felt small and unknown. With only several of her poems published in her lifetime, she never achieved status, renown, or popularity.

Was this lack of status Emily’s choice? Was it her destiny?  What is interesting is that captured in Emily’s poetry is the belief that the angels had something to do with her lack of status and her humble circumstance. She projected this belief to the Robins she saw in her garden when she wrote, “Angels have a modest way to screen robins (and apparently her) from renown.”  Whether this is true or not, it seems that Emily felt as though the angels were screening her.   Did some angel conspire with her in some manner offering to guard her from gaining popularity?  Did the angel screen her from becoming a renowned poet in her lifetime?  Was this the price or sacrifice asked of her, and/or that she demanded of herself, that would allow her to remain in a place of humble circumstance, and perhaps the only place she would be able deliver her deepest and most passionate poetry to the world? Certainly, Emily would not be the first gifted individual who felt the need to remain free from the limelight.

Did Emily genuinely fear that popularity would spoil her and take something away from her message? Did the angel, perhaps her guardian angel, continually warn her, screen her, protect her, and sustain her in her solitude and innermost being, so she could live an austere life writing her poems?   Or, was she simply neurotic as can be true of many gifted artists?

What about us? What about us more down to earth, common folks who will most likely not leave behind a profound legacy in any form. Can an ordinary individual such as me still have a similar experience of feeling screened away from most of society to protect and enrich my unique life message? Or, am I neurotic and crazed with a special touch of vanity?  Perhaps if someday I can leave a humble legacy that speaks to even only a few people, is that not of infinite value to society. Emily also said, “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain. . . or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.”   

I know my humble life as a fly fishing guide is not worthy of being considered renown in any manner, yet, when I read Emily’s prose and her life story, and consider my life experiences, I wonder if in some small way, I’ve been screened from success and recognition. How could I as a child fishing alone at a pond and teaching myself to fly fish think all that highly of myself when there was no one around to validate or recognize me? There were no pictures; no handshakes or ‘high fives’ when I landed fish. And, certainly nothing was ever posted on the internet for everyone to see.   

I often felt that in the few areas of life where I achieved a certain level of success; fly-fishing being one of them, the level of achievement and what I truly had to share, came about because of my lack of popularity in mainstream culture and from a feeling of remaining in humble circumstance. I rarely felt highly successful (there is always someone of greater renown and catches bigger and more fish!), and perhaps, this humble awareness was the only place I felt comfortable. So, in the end, what I have to leave others, (if I have anything to leave at all?), is the humble solitary path I once walked to the pond.

Yet, in spite of this humble path, I realize I have done my share of boasting and feeling proud of certain achievements. And I know I often tried to find paths that gave me recognition. Yet, mysteriously, there were limits, a type of screening and sometimes, things seemed even to back fire. Even while successful, there was often a sense that I would not be able to feel too highly of myself, because if I were honest with myself, I had to admit that at times I was simply lucky?  

All too often, it seemed that life events tumbled down the river.  While gazing off, suddenly a fish found itself on the end of my line (and I knew it was not my talent as an angler). Or, while feeling proud of how well I was fishing, the currents suddenly knocked me off my feet into a hole and I know I looked quite silly.  It seemed that just when I may have thought I was the best at something such as in fly-fishing, or any number of endeavors, something would happen that would cause me to fall back into humble circumstance. Sometimes, while feeling grandiose, and stalking a fish, I lost my balance and literally fell backwards in the river. Did the angels have their way of screening me and laugh? Did the angels have a way with the fish and laugh at me?  Did both fish and angel work together to keep me in humble circumstance? I doubt such falls from our hubris are posted for our fans to see.

Like many fly-fishers, sometimes I can hook fish after fish and I enjoy showing off.  It is hard to feel of humble circumstance while actively successful in fly-fishing and everyone is asking, “What are you using?”  Yet, I fail to tell the whole story.  Often there was some other angler across the river, (who I did not want to notice), who was doing just as well; or even better than I was.  Or, the next day I might return to the same spot in hope of repeating the performance only to learn the fish will not touch anything I cast.  I try every fly and technique but nothing works. I try even harder but I cannot turn a fish. Something seems to “screen me” and I fall back into “humble circumstance.”  I realize that on any given day, anyone, including the fish, can out fish me. Being a renowned fly fisher is only an illusion inside my own head.

If this is true, that angels, or life or what we call God, has anything to do with screening me from renown, then I ask why this might be important. Surely, God has better things to do than to keep me humble.  At the very least, for me, if I am going to view myself of being of humble circumstance (which is not easy to do in this culture, since it wants to make everyone popular! ),  then in that lowly place, I might learn to pay attention to some of the deeper currents of my life. If I can come down from the high place from which I often cast and learn to pay attention to the “bigger” life around me, and of others, then, I might truly learn to live in humble circumstance. Then and only then, I shall not live in vain.

If our lives are a story, song, or poem for others, then from that place of more humble circumstance I might deliver my best life poetry, offering up the best parts of my life story, and be able to make the best casts to fish and people in my life.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Big Sky of South Park Over the Dream Stream

The big sky of South Park over the Dream Stream. (Picture taken by my friend Cody, manager of Anglers Covey Fly Shop).

We knew the big fish were not up from 11 mile reservoir but that also meant the crowds were not here yet. Why fish anywhere else when we could wander the meanders of the Dream Stream in relative solitude, in search of big trout under such a surreal sky?

The sky teaches me that I am not all that important and my all too often demanding ego can settle down.  Feeling small allows me to simply wander, consider my insignificant place among the natural world and to not even care about catching fish.

Why would I want to hold up my small catch (of any fish, no matter how big) against this vast sky?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Dream Stream: Sometimes a Man Needs to Keep Walking

Below is a revised re-post from two years ago when I learned the value of being willing to walk in search of big fish. It is that time of year already as some big fish are moving up out of 11 mile reservoir into the Dream Stream. Below are a few thoughts on the mindset of the big fish hunter.  A.S

Sometimes a man has to just keep walking. Such was the case when I found myself on the "Dream Stream" section of the South Platte River in South Park. I had to keep walking along the meanders on down toward 11 mile reservoir looking for a hole or run to fish in between the crowds. I carried 2 rods rigged and ready,  in case I found an opening; in case I spotted a big fish. However,  I never saw a big fish. I never found a good run. With the Platte flowing at a trickle of 50 cfs., I simply could not find good holding water not already occupied. Fly fishers were holding tight to whatever water they could find and were not budging.

At the inlet to 11 mile reservoir, I turned around, and started walking back up the river. I did see some small fish in marginal thin water, but I kept walking. I did not make a single cast.  I was not interested in casting to small fish. This is the dream stream, home to big trout and I had big fish on the brain. I was being as selective as big fish can sometimes act.  

When stalking big fish it helps to have this mindset of refusing to cast to smaller fish. It helps if you can be willing to catch nothing in hope of waiting for that one big fish. Why fool around with little fish and waste time? Better to keep walking. Better to keep searching. Keep waiting.

However, it takes a certain kind of nerve to be willing to report back to your friends that you caught nothing. It takes a certain kind of nerve to be ok within one's self not catching a fish. How much easier it is on the ego, at least to be able to say, "I got a few small ones."  Yet, this is what the big fish hunter must be willing to do. You have to be willing to "get skunked." And this too is part of the mind set of being a big fish hunter.

This is why it is better to go alone when fishing for big game. When you go with others, we often get wrapped up in the need to catch something as we forever try to measure up to one another.  We can become desperate and focus on catching something; anything, so we do not look bad. Have we not all felt this way while fishing in a group?  We start thinking, "I can't be the only one who did not catch a fish," and so, losing our focus, we start casting to small fish.   Better to stalk big fish alone, unconcerned about the demands of the ego that often takes us off course.

This is why it is better to not even tell anyone you are going. When your friends and family know you are fishing you then have to "give a report," of how the fishing went when you return.  In some sense that fishing report makes you not alone. While you fishing you are already writing the fishing report in your head, complete with excuses and distortions and that report will influence how you fish. On the other hand, to tell no one you have gone, is to truly fish alone and be free from their influence and the pressures we place upon ourselves and our egos.

This is why, on this particular day, I was free to  keep walking the Dream Stream.  I was alone and I had told no one. I was able to keep walking and willing to hold out for what I was truly seeking. If need be, I was willing to get skunked for that cause. I was willing to keep walking with knowing I might catch nothing. I was willing to not even make a single cast until I found a run that might hold one big fish.

It was after taking a two hour walk and when I was just about all the way back to the parking lot, that I noticed 3 gentlemen leaving the gauging station hole just below the county road bridge. I stepped in the tail out of the hole. Before casting, I thought about my long walk. I guess that was all I had done for the past two hours. I had gone for a nice walk along the Dream Stream looking for a fish that forever lives in my dreams.

No one was with me. No one knew I had even gone. I was free to not catch a fish. I did not have to report to anyone. I did not even have to make a single cast.

It was in that freedom that I made my first cast of the morning. It was in that deep, dark, and mysterious hole that the big Brown took the small red midge and I felt the pull of a great fish.

I found what I was looking for.  Sometimes a man has to just keep walking.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Mainstream: Willing to Walk

I have most often been somewhat leery of the mainstream. If the crowds at school were all telling me I needed to try this or that, I was skeptical. I often walked away and found my own quiet place. This approach in life extends into my fly-fishing. 

If it seems that everyone is fishing a particular mainstream run I tend to shy away from such places. Of course, I know there are lots of fish in the popular holes and while guiding, I often feel a need to put my clients in these mainstream runs. Yet, when I am willing to wander from the mainstream, often I find nice fish holding in unlikely water. I learn to fish and live on the edges. I just have to be willing to walk.

This winter I spent $600.00 on a Summit County Ski Pass so I can ski the wide "main-stream" runs of Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapaho Basin. Yet, how strange that while I am skiing among the masses on these beautiful runs, I find myself looking for narrow, quiet little runs through the trees. Once again, I tend to slip away from the noisy crowds. I just have to be willing to walk a little.

I know of other fly-fishers who also have this approach to fly-fishing. I guess we are looking for a quiet narrow tumbling stream that we can call our own and offers us a true sense of belonging and solitude.

Sometimes we just have to be willing to walk. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Winter FlyTying

My friend Scott Hartwig and I enjoy tying flies on a cold winter day while sipping on hot coffee and reminiscing of past days on the river. We look forward to warmer days ahead and what flies might work. I must admit, this is one of my favorite winter activities. Of course there is a time to brave the elements;  hit the river or to ski the slopes but sometimes it is nice to just sit, keep warm, and talk about life, in one of the local coffee shops. Tying flies is part of the ritual and the preparation of fly fishing.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Fly Fishing Deckers In Mid-January

It was cold with snow flurries but not as cold as last week when a friend said there was ice all the way across the river!  I was hopeful that the winter weather would keep other anglers home. I was wrong. I looked up river to the cable hole and I saw eight anglers. I looked down stream and saw 3 anglers. We were lucky to be in the parking lot hole and have some space. Hard to believe it was so busy on a mid-January morning.

We found the fish willing to take a variety of midges. To me, there really is not a lot of true science to fly selection while on the South Platte River in the winter. Midges, midges midges. There was no "secret fly."  Black, red, white, olive. They all worked and none of them worked. Some with beads and some without.  When none of them worked, we went smaller;  22-26 hook sizes.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The South Platte River in Solid Form

It is a bit strange to look at the snow, or even ski or snow shoe on the snow, that will become the South Platte River. How strange to see the river in solid form; beautiful yet life-less, at the source.

Stranger still to look farther out into the clouds that seem to merge with the mountains. I think of a line from the book of Job, "Have you seen my storehouses of snow?"  I ask myself, Are these the storehouses of snow or are they still farther out, beyond the gray? 

The melting will begin soon forming rivulets moving down from the highest mountains, that will join and form the river that we will fish. How strange to be at the beginning of the river. It is quiet up here. Downstream, the noise has already begun. Fly-fishers, such as myself, looking for a hole to fish. I think I will sit here for a while; just a little while longer, and enjoy the quiet solitude. 

Snow pack is already exceeding normal levels. I try to picture what kind of a river we will be standing in and fishing in June.  We have had some dry years and the fires but we have also had some flood years. What will this year bring?

For now, I will imagine the fish moving under the snow.