On a regular basis I am asked just what the draw is exactly that pulls me to fly fishing, and in particular, dry fly fishing? At times I can bring to mind a particular example of an experience on the water, or that perfect rise that has stuck in my head. Or, I will refer to the challenge or chess-match that matching a hatch can often be. Quite often the person asking is a non-fisherman, so it stands to reason that the response they would more readily grasp or relate to is the romantic aspect of the experiences fly fishing can provide. The settings we find ourselves in, the gracefulness of the cast, or the emotional side of admiring a beautifully marked brown trout as it slides from your fingers back to its watery lie. Though both non-fishermen and fly fishermen alike can obviously relate to those things, the equipment and challenge aspect of our pursuit will be sadly lost to the piscatorially-challenged individual. And while I can't always put a finger on "the" part of fly fishing that brings it all together for me, I'm usually walking around with enough of it my head and close at hand to provide some usable insight.
For me the experience can begin and end at times on the tying bench. Tying a cluster of my favorite dry flies can often leave me admiring them with enough satisfaction that I would continue to tie whether or not they ever ended up seeing water at all. Tying for me is an integral part of the total experience now. So much so, that I wonder at times whether I would even continue to fly fish with the passion that I do if I was no longer tying.
The settings that we find the trout we pursue as well can provide the consummation of what fly fishing is for me at times. Sitting on a bank watching fish sip the surface can be the therapeutic release that brings me to that perfect place. If one listens close, you will hear the cacophony of the outdoors that is far from quiet in reality, yet when taken in as a whole is what we come to acknowledge as being the "silence of nature". Is it the calming effect of the sound of waters that does it? Is it the fact that car engines and doors shutting are far more offensive to the ears than a breeze through leaves or the chirping of birds? Or is it not unlike growing accustomed to the hustle and bustle of life around you in the city, where only new-comers seem to hear it after awhile? Regardless, it is part of what pulls me to fly fishing, and can often be "the" reason at a given moment.
Or is it as basic and simple as the act of catching fish? There are plenty of times when I have felt absolute nirvana after making a perfect cast and drift to a challenging fish, which ended in a nice fish in-hand. Certainly for many that is the aspect that can pull them to the sport and then keeps them. No shame or concern with that at all, since that is my overall goal in this pursuit as well; the catching of fish on a fly. At times it is the entire experience for me, yet other times it is simply the exclamation point at the end of the experience.
Recently however, I found myself sitting at my bench tying a personal favorite the "Bivisible Moose". It's been with me for a number of years. Not a fancy pattern designed to catch the eye of fishermen; it requires only basic technique in its construction. It does however carry the added benefit of regularly catching its share of fish. This in itself does much in the way of bolstering its standing in my book. With a Moose body hair tail, thread body and Brown/grizzly hackle it just does the job. A true layman's form of a search pattern, and often a first glance is the only glance it will receive by others. But I am never on water without at least a few in my box. Which, in a few days is where I was found, sitting on the bank of a local water in hopes of seeing a productive hatch present itself. After about 20 minutes I had only witnessed one rise. It had been a rather splashy rise along the far bank, which really proved only that a fish was over there. It really held no evidence of what was being eaten, since it could have been an ant or other such bug falling from the trees overhead as easily as it could have been the chase of an emerging caddis. That single rise in itself was of little help, and no hatch was visible in the air. So, looking at my box, my eyes were drawn to the Bivisible Moose in size #14, which is a reasonable standard for pounding up fish when no surface activity is present. And in my mind, an acceptable excuse for fishing a dry fly when everything was pointing towards nymphs.
Tying on my ugly-bug of a moose, I waded out to position myself to fish the entire pool effectively from a point midway into the tail-out. From there I could reach everything, including both banks. I was in fact standing in fishable water to accomplish this, but it was done in the thoughts of staying put throughout. My first few random casts produced little aside from loosening up my form a bit, and I noted to myself to pick spots instead of simply casting to the pool in general. On my next cast to the point of a small funnel at the head of the pool I received a hard rise and miss what appeared to be a sizeable fish. Pulling in my slack to repeat the previous drift with a roll-cast, I watched as my fly passed by me on its way downstream. There it danced on the current, perfectly profiled and riding the water with an obvious elegance not unlike the naturals it was tied to imitate. I was slightly taken aback by it really, since I and others normally refer to the pattern as basic and ugly. Yet when placed in its intended environment, it took on a natural elegance that was unmistakable. It crossed my mind that the naturals as well can take on both appearances. What to some may be a rather ugly insect, to the observing fly fisherman a dun drifting along in the current is an elegant symbol of what we pursue. Its beauty is in fact often quite striking. On that next roll-cast I hooked that fish, which proved to be an average but very nicely colored brown trout of 10 inches. It fought with strength not coming to the net easily, but eventually found its way to my hand where turning it to the side I observed my fly in the corning of its jaw. Once again, the Bivisible Moose was ugly in appearance and I laughed out loud to myself as that thought crossed my mind.
At that very point-in-time was I to have been presented with the original question, my answer would have been perfectly clear. The reason I am drawn to dry fly fishing is found within the hidden elegance of the pursuit itself; elegance that quite often begins at the fly tier's bench in the form of a very plain and sometimes ugly creation of feather, moose hair, and thread. An elegance that can only be seen and appreciated if one is fortunate enough to be there, in that perfect moment, on the water with rod in hand.