THE LONG WAY HOME
In mid-April the Ladyfisher and I made the long trip from our winter residence in Tucson, Arizona back to our home in Livingston, Montana. By road it’s approximately 1,300 miles which at my age takes 3½ days. After 2 nights in motels with 4 cats and a canary it’s always a welcome sight to see that last exit on Interstate 90 that says Livingston.
I always enjoy wintering in Arizona since I have never been a great lover of winter. When I was a child I was always sick all winter. I caught every cold that was going around, I always had an earache, and I caught every childhood disease. I never enjoyed going out in the snow and getting wet and cold so I never became involved in winter sports like skiing. Therefore it seems strange that most of my life I have lived in the northernmost states – New York, Michigan, and Montana – where there are only two seasons, winter and road work. It has only been the last few years that I have been blessed to be able to spend the colder months of the year in the warmth of southeastern Arizona. However, Arizona is only my winter residence, Montana is my home.
My trip back from Arizona reminded me that we often take some long trips before we realize we already have found what we are looking for. John Denver sang, “Hey, it’s good to be back home again. Sometimes this old farm seems like a long lost friend, and hey it’s good to be back home again.” That’s always the way I feel when I get back to my home here in Montana.
A retrospective that is present in many of our shared experiences is a longing to get back to something that we lost along our trip through life. Perhaps the older we get the more keenly aware we become that there were things in our lives that we sacrificed in our haste to get somewhere we thought we needed to be. Perhaps it was a job, a career, a love interest but there was something that moved us away from some aspect of our lives that we wished we could go back and recapture.
Many of us long for what we perceive was a quieter and simpler way of life. While the past was seldom as we remember it today it certainly was less complicated and things happened at a much slower pace. Did we miss a turn or did we simply ignore the signs?
I think that most of us can remember back when fly fishing was a simple pastime. It was supposed to be fun and uncomplicated; a respite from the demands, real or imagined, of the work-a-day world.
Way back in the last century when I started fly fishing there were few concerns about what rod you were using, heck there really weren’t a lot of choices. Oh, you could buy a bamboo rod from someone like Orvis®, but a fiberglass rod from the local bait shop seemed to do the job and it was far less expensive. The same thing was true of the reel; a Pflueger® Medalist or something similar held the line just fine, and it made a neat clicking noise when you stripped off the fly line. Fly lines were mostly designed to float, which they did but not real well, so you stretched them between a couple trees and rubbed Mucilin on them. Leaders and tippets were nylon, and the flies in your fly box were probably the same ones that your father or maybe even your grandfather had used. They had names like Adams, Quill Gordon, Hendrickson, Cahill, or maybe even Parmachene Belle or Scarlet Ibis. They were simple flies made of fur and feathers and you believed that they would catch fish, and they did.
At first we just wanted to go fishing and maybe catch a fish or two. Having achieved that lofty goal we started to think it would be fun to catch more fish, and then we wanted to catch big fish, and maybe even a truly big fish. It was at that point that things started to get complicated. We convinced ourselves that this fly fishing stuff was serious business, and maybe it was really even important, and if we were going to be successful, whatever that meant, we needed to be more serious about our pursuit of it.
Up to this point we had been content just to get our fly on the water, but suddenly we discovered that according to the ‘experts’ that, like a journey, half the fun was getting there. There is, after all, a right way to do this and if we were going to be serious about this thing we needed to know how to do it right. So we learned how to throw tight loops and double haul. Now our casting looked pretty but our equipment looked like junk. That old fiberglass rod we purchased at Fred’s Bait and Tackle Shop, although it had served us well and caught a boat load of fish, would no longer suffice. For a few more dollars, quite a few more in most cases, we could get a new rod that was lighter, faster, and would, the salesman assured us, allow us to cast with a tighter loop and easily add ten feet to our cast with the same amount of effort.
To go with the new rod we needed a new reel, lines that floated, and lines that would sink. We needed lines that would sink fast and lines that would sink slowly. We needed double tapered lines and weight forward models, shooting tapers, and, if we fished in salt water, lines made specifically for that genre.
Multiplying faster than mosquitoes in spring were the number and type of flies that we needed to have in our fly boxes. There were dry flies, wet flies, soft hackles, no-hackles, nymphs, emergers, cripples, spinners, streamers, and flymphs. And these were just the flies you needed for trout fishing! They no longer had names like Adams or Cahill, now we had Chernobyl Ants, which look nothing like an ant, not even ones from Chernobyl. There are Stimulators and Madame X [these are not ladies of ill repute], Turks Tarantula, and even a Club Sandwich. There are Copper Johns [not a bathroom fixture] and Bead head nymphs, which are not a new species of mayfly larva. You almost need a gillie just to carry around all the flies you might need just for a few hours of fishing. Whatever happened to simple?
Over time the stuff we needed to just go fishing took on a life of its own. We bought more rods, more reels, more lines – we bought more of everything. Like computers, these things were intended to make fly fishing easier, more pleasant, and more relaxing. Yah, right.
Perhaps it’s a stretch going from my return to my home in Montana and finding one’s way back to a less complicated and more relaxing day on the water. Like my trip from Arizona to Montana, it’s a long way home. I’ve learned that it really doesn’t matter if my casts are picture perfect, or if I own the latest fly rod or reel. I’ve pared my fly selection down to a few proven patterns, and I concentrate more on presentation than I do on fly selection. I spend more time reveling in the beauty of my surroundings and giving thanks that I have one more day to be in such a beautiful place. It’s been a long journey but at last I think I have finally arrived back home.