Catch and Release: Fly Fishing as Re-Creation

Suzanne - memphis, Tennessee
Entered on March 25, 2009
Age Group: 65+
Themes: nature, sports
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After my divorce, my children’s father took them to Disneyland. At home I was caught unprepared for the unraveling loneliness and the skeletal memories of sixteen years that rattled through the house. Friends intervened. A trip was planned, an innocent adventure that became the catalyst for a life-long passion. We went flyfishing.

None of us had ever fished before. I borrowed gear from male friends, who hooted while giving me my first casting lesson in the middle of my street. My line slapped the asphalt and swatted leaves from overhanging branches. But I persevered, too ignorant to be embarrassed.

For three days we six women waded the stocked stream in the Missouri bootheel. We whooped and shrieked with each strike, oblivious of streamside etiquette. We were awful. At night we drank wine and played charades with shoulders aching from the day’s work on the stream. Laughter came easily; sleep was sudden and unbroken.

Even in my ignorance I knew I was gripped in the infancy of a passion. It wasn’t until later I realized, as we often learn these things only with delayed vision, that wading and working that stream had begun to release me, like the rocks washed smooth and seamless in the riffles, from the grit and rough grain of the past.

Since that time both I and my fishing have changed. Fishing has taught me that trying too hard is a worst enemy, that relaxing into a cast, for instance, and simplicity are the most difficult of secrets. Alternately sport, art, physics, intuition, meditation, therapy, and alchemy, it demands a sense of humor. It teaches patience and humility, discipline and awe, respect and gentleness. Like any other experience worth its salt, it demands that you continue to learn.

I believe that standing in a river’s current and casting to the horizon is a process that can heal when other, more traditional means fail. Fishing is recreation, but it is also re-creation. Time and thought cease; fishing for fish is not really the point. I walk out of a stream or river at the end of a day with the parts of me that are whopperjawed, out of line, and frayed washed smooth. Communion is what happens at the end of a fly rod.

I have fished through litanies of grief — over the deaths of a marriage, a lover, my mother, and my only brother — with whom I fished often and who taught me the meaning, both literal and metaphorical, of catch and release.

But the past 23 years are also filled with knee-slapping-happy stories stretching across 18 rivers. The latest chapter took place this past fall in Montana, with my three children, son-in-law, and new grandchild Kate.

Each afternoon from a window we’d watch the same bear cross the low boulders that join the two trout streams beside the house and disappear into the woods up the mountain. One evening, as the sky spread out in its blaze, I called everyone to the stream. We stood in sweaters and jeans holding hands, balanced on the rocks. And, spontaneously, with apologies to The Book of Common Prayer, I began: “Kate, we stand here, surrounded by angels known and unknown, in the path of the bear, on rocks older than we can dream about, beside the waters of trout from which we all once came, to welcome you to this world. You have come to teach us about unconditional love. And we stand here to wish you an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love, and the gift of joy and wonder.”

And I reached into the pocket of my jeans, pulled out a dented measuring cup from the kitchen, dipped it into the trout stream, and baptized my grandchild.

May she also become a lover of rivers. I already have her first rod picked out.