Outdoor Writers Association of America
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

April 17th, 2000

It Was A Very Good Year

"When I was seventeen, it was a very good year," I can almost hear Frank Sinatra singing as I type that. The song goes on to delineate the periods of a man's life. And it seems women are the factor which he recalls most.

The life of a fly fisher can be delineated too in what he fishes for, not exactly sex and fly fishing, but the object of our affection in the finny form does change. I would have said our taste evolves, but I don't think that is the case.

When we start out fly fishing, any fish is a triumph! Then it's larger fish, really big fish, fish somewhere we have to travel to find, and finally - we pick a favorite fish and concentrate on it. It may be one in the have-to-travel to locations (I really like bonefish) - or maybe we make the whole circle and discover the panfish we first caught are the best after all.

Fly fishing in many ways is hunting of course. That isn't any surprise to most, but it is more than that too. Just like the deer hunter who figures out the way to kill his deer pretty easily with a rifle may chose to abandon the rifle for a bow. If it is just about killing the deer that doesn't make much sense. Or the folks who decide black powder shooting is the way to go. Not terribly efficient.

So why do those folks do that?

I suspect it is to challenge themselves. God knows fly fishing can certainly be a challenge! And once we have our casting pretty well down, know which bug from which, some of the challenges become less. The fishing still 'does it' for us, but we begin to add a little more challenge back to it. I'm not sure what that says for the mental health of fly fishers, but I think it is what we do.

We tie harder flies, we tie smaller flies, that conquered, we tie Atlantic Salmon flies, or other very difficult replications of insects the trout may never see. It's the challenge.

The same of the size of fish, the species of fish, the far-away fish. We set up a scenario of our own invention to satisfy some inner need.

The need to prove to ourselves we can accomplish something in our lives which is totally dependant on our own choices and skills. Not all that much we can do in today's world which fits that requirement. There are just too many outside influences on our lives over which we have no control. At least when I'm fishing the only influence that really matters is how hard the wind is blowing. You can probably add to that, but mostly unless it is really blowing a gigger I can still fish.

So the choices of when and where and how are ours. Most of the time, the fish is also the fish of choice. Not just whatever the gods happen to offer up. And I find that interesting too. Why do we make those choices? What does that say about us?

As the years go by, I find myself sitting on a bank, watching the water and the world of the fish.

Perhaps not fishing at all.

"But now the days are short,
I'm in the autumn of the year;
And now I think of my life as vintage wine from fine old kegs,
From the brim to the dreg it poured sweet and clear,
It was a very good year."
~ LadyFisher

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