"The journey is the destination," is a statement that I heard somewhere, a quote from some unknown author. [Even a Google search did not produce a certain source] Whatever the original source that the idea rings true, but unfortunately in this day of instant gratification we are quickly forgetting the truth of this maxim.
Like a mountain climber sitting at the top of a high mountain I can look back on my journey, my journey through the world of fly fishing, and I can say without equivocation that the journey really is the destination.
Back "in the day" I did not have the opportunity to attend a fly fishing school or attend a fly fishing seminar. We did not have the Internet, You Tube, or DVD's. Like all of the other fly fishers that I came to know in those days I learned how to fish with a fly by buying a fly rod, a reel, a line, some leaders and, most importantly, some flies. I had read some articles in Sports Afield, Field and Stream and Outdoor Life but beyond that I really did not have a clue about what to do or exactly how to do it. Thus began the journey, and what a journey it has been.
Along the way I met the late JC, aka Castwell, and between the two of us we eventually learned to be pretty good fly fishers. How did we do it? Well, we went out on the water and we learned by doing.
Now, I don't want to denigrate all of the wonderful teaching tools that are available to modern fly fishers. However, when I talk to fly fishing outfitters and guides I increasingly hear that an increasing number of their clients really have no true fly fishing skills and really have no desire of acquiring them. They may be proficient casters, they may have the current "must have" fly fishing gear, but beyond the basic essentials they really don't have a clue. They expect the guide to provide the necessary expertise that will allow them to catch the fish they would never be able to catch if left to their own devices.
Now perhaps I'm just behind the times. In this day and age of instant gratification, limited time, and the high paced lifestyle of our modern society perhaps it is unrealistic to expect that anyone would actually take the time to learn by doing. Perhaps the modern angler has to maximize their time to get the biggest bang out of the limited time that they can devote to any given activity. Again, many of the professional outfitters and guides that I know have comment that for many of their clients a day of fly fishing is only part of the agenda. To be sure they want to catch some big fish but they need to be off the water in time for cocktails and dinner at one of the hot local watering holes.
On a recent trip to a well-known trout fishing destination I watched a guide spend nearly an hour showing his client, a 20 something young man, how to cast a nymph rig from a boat. It was obvious that this individual had never had a fly rod in his hands prior to this moment. The basic setup was a 9 or 10 foot leader, a large strike indicator and two weighted nymphs. The guide went through the drill; strip off about 10 feet of line, make a back cast keeping the loop open, lob the flies and indicator forward and slightly ahead of the boat, make a quick upstream mend by flipping the tip of the rod and watch the indicator. When the indicator moves lift the rod up smartly. After several aborted attempts at keeping the back cast from either striking the boat, the rod, the guide, the angler or all of the aforementioned objects the "angler" finally managed to successfully make a few casts. The guide, satisfied that his client had achieved a sufficient level of skill, pushed off and headed downstream. I'm certain that over the course of the day that he succeeded in getting his client into fish but I wondered what his client had really learned about fly fishing.
Now before someone casts a disparaging comment about my apparent distain for using weighted nymphs and indicators understand that my intent is not to malign the use of either weighted nymphs or indicators. Both are valid methods of catching fish and, although not my preferred method of fly fishing, I have used them both a various times. My point is not to disparage the method but the mindset behind the method. If this is the only way that an angler using a fly rod can catch fish how much does it differ from using a bobber and a worm?
Back when I was learning to catch fish using a fly rod I spent more than one day frustrated by my inability to catch anything but the challenge of trying to figure it out kept me coming back. In time I learned to cast better, to make better presentations, to control drift and prevent drag and generally become a fly fisher. I learned how to catch fish using dry flies, wet flies, streamers, and nymphs. I never heard of using an indicator and learned to control the drift of my nymph and watch my leader. It's likely that I failed to detect lots of hits but that was part of the sport. Part of the enjoyment of fly fishing is the challenge of trying to figure out how to use fly fishing gear to solve the question of how to catch a specific fish. If you lose that challenge you miss the very essence of fly fishing.
I feel fortunate to know many fly fishers that find enjoyment in unraveling the various challenges that make fly fishing more than simply hooking and landing another fish; anglers that understand that the journey really is the destination.