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The Art of Mindfulness: What Yoga Has Taught Me About Fly Fishing

ump_dadwtrinmtnsusancreekvrt1How many times have you been caught daydreaming by a fish? Maybe you were lost in the rhythm of cast, step, swing when a steelhead grabbed your fly and you pulled it right back out of the fish's mouth, or perhaps you were casually mending your line upstream when a big, hungry rainbow decided to make a meal of your elk hair caddis. Chances are, most fishermen have had these types of experiences, and more often than we would like to admit! It is easy to zone out and enjoy the ride when the fishing is good, but to catch fish under difficult circumstances is a challenge that requires concentration and focus. Some might call it "zen". I like to think of it as being in the moment. Living in the moment is a concept familiar to most of us, but practiced by few. Counter to the cultural stereotype, it is not the same thing as going skydiving or quitting your job and spending your life savings on a backpacking trip through Argentina. I'm talking about being aware in the present. In yoga we practice this by taking our body through a series of postures and breathing exercises that by design require us to be focused on what is happening in the moment. A true student of yoga strives to bring this same level of focus into every day life. Humans are creatures of habit, and our natural tendency is to fall into an almost autonomous pattern of living. We give into our desires, we nurture our fears, we worry about the future and dwell on things in the past that we can't change. In short, we live a lot of our lives in a sort of robotic trance that prevents us from achieving our full potential and it is very difficult for most of us to take a step back and ask ourselves if this is actually how we want to go through life. The more I practice yoga, the more similarities I see between yoga and fly fishing. In their highest forms they are both moving meditations. They are arts that require patience, practice and discipline to perfect. Each can be what you want it to be, and what an individual gets out of practicing either depends completely upon what they put into it. These days, when someone achieves the level of expertise in the fly fishing world that lends them the esteem of other anglers, they are often described as being "fishy". While I'm not trying to take away from anyone's abilities or talents with the long rod, I would argue that there is no mystery behind how one person can catch so many fish while another might struggle under similar circumstances. These guys don't have mystical powers. They aren't blessed by the fish gods and as far as I know there is not a human on this earth who has figured out how to whisper to fish. What are these guys doing that other people aren't? They are being present while they fish. They have learned to pay attention to the environment around them while focusing on technique, allowing them take advantage of subtle opportunities that only present themselves to those who are aware. Now before I start to sound like I'm galloping around on a white horse, let me just mention that I am not always 100 percent on my game, in fishing or in life. Make no mistake, being present is not easy. It takes practice, persistence and a ton of mental energy. I will say that some of my best fishing experiences have come from trying to be more conscious on the water, and that bringing this practice into my every day life has made me happier and more productive. What are you doing while you are on the river and your fly is drifting along a likely seam? Are you watching it intently and waiting for any sign of movement around the periphery, mending when required to make sure it drifts as naturally as possible? Are you thinking about the fifty seven new e-mails in your inbox? Are you wondering why your fishing partner always gets so lucky? Ask yourself what your intention is. Maybe you are just trying to get out of the house. Maybe fishing is just an excuse for you to get together and kick back with your buddies. I'm sure regardless of the motivation, you wouldn't mind catching a fish or you would probably be golfing. You don't have to be a yogi to understand that the guys who catch all the fish are the ones who pay attention to the present and focus on what is going on around them. In my opinion, swinging flies for steelhead is the perfect paradigm to demonstrate the principle of being present while fishing. Too many steelhead fly anglers spend their days on the river just going through the motions of cast, swing, step, repeat. It is said that the best steelhead anglers are constantly adjusting their position, their cast and presentation to suit the subtle variances in the river. A good piece of steelhead water is rarely uniform. Most runs have multiple current seams, depth changes, boulders or other obstructions and variable water speeds. Logically, it would make sense for an angler to account for several factors such as the distance and angle of the cast, the size of the mend, the speed of the swing, the position in the water, the number of steps taken between presentations, and the fly itself among other things. This is a lot to keep in mind, I know, but with practice it becomes second nature. Sure it is much easier to step into the water waist deep and start blasting your line across the river in automatic steelhead mode, slipping into a daydream while you wait for that big pull, but will you be ready when that pull comes? Is your fly even in productive fishing water, and is it getting down to where the fish are at the right speed? These are questions you will only be able to answer if you are focused, alert and above all present. You don't need to practice yoga or meditation to master this principle. Fishing is the perfect place to begin your practice. Next time you are on the river give it a try. I guarantee it will improve your experience, and hopefully transcend into your every day life. -C
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