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Why Fly Fishing by Claire Topalian

Having only a romantic notion of “FLY-FISHING” running through my imagination, I am bent on learning the sport. If I can admit to one thing up front it is this: when I am bent on something, the borderline aggressive determination (also read: stubbornness) that tends to surface is something you’d not want to meet head-on as an opponent.

For a number of reasons, fly-fishing has captivated me, despite the fact that I am a complete outsider – or perhaps partly because of this reason. The more deep-seeded reasoning may come from cultural exposure: I’ve always loved A River Runs through Itand was enthralled by The River Why.

The more immediate impetus might stem from the fact that I injured my ankle a little over a month ago, and being a naturally restless person, I needed an outlet that didn’t require too much consistent strain on my right foot. I suspect that the reasons behind this motivation will continue to unfold as my project progresses. Perhaps what draws me in most from a philosophical standpoint, though, is the drought that I perceive upon examining my own life. This is a drought in terms of nature, prayer, and patience.

Tackling a project like this is a response to this lack and a personal challenge that I hope becomes a life-long journey.So, as with any new endeavor that I develop a curiosity around, I’ll begin with books and questions. Simple Fly Fishing by Yvon Chouinard, The Curtis Creek Manifesto, The Fly Fishing Handbook from L.L. Bean… What are the types of flies used? How will I know which to use? What knots do I need to learn, and when do I use certain knots? What is a tippet? (Truly, I am starting from scratch.) From there, I put my research to use ‘in the field’; that is, out on the lawns near my apartment, where I can practice casting (much to the confusion of my neighbors, especially those in my age group). Eventually, there’s only so much I can read, and only so many times I can cast a line towards Lake Washington before I need to stand in a river – if only to get a change of scenery and avoid losing heart.

This is a project with purpose, so I will be writing about the process: each outing, class, and development as well as every reflection on the sport itself, my progress, and my setbacks. I also hope to gain a deeper understanding of why others fly fish, and plan to write about that consistently. I want to entertain what draws people to this sport. Why is it that when I meet someone who identifies as a fisherman, their passion seems to emanate the moment the topic arises? Why do humans love fly-fishing?

I suspect that the more meaningful answers to these questions will be drawn out over time, but I can postulate around a few angles. Recently, I came across an article by James Prosek in the New York Times. It is beautifully written and touches on the appeal that fly-fishing has as a part of our evolutionary journey. He writes, “To me, trout fishing, in particular fly-fishing, is many things, but above all, it is a conversation, a communication — with a creature to which we are connected by common ancestry not so very long ago (420 million years, give or take). The rod, the line and the hook are the tools of this communication, but the fly or lure is the ultimate translator between languages, between our world of names, structures, systems and hierarchies and theirs of instinct, impulse and experience. Trout fishing connects us not only to our ancestral past, but to our legacy as hunter-gatherers, to a time when we needed to catch and kill in order to survive.”

This resonated with me: I find that the standard rhythm of “city life”; the 9-5 churn, is just that … a churn that threatens to chip away at our adrenaline-based resources and moments, gradually pushing us away from those experiences and depleting our childlike fuel tanks, our imagination and our flexibility to “get away” – even for a day. I’m not someone who is opposed to professionalism or the business world; there are plenty of elements within that space that appeal to me, but not at the cost of those experiences that bring us closer to our “ancient selves.” These are the experiences that seem to fade out of view more and more as society complicates itself. Worse, the more removed from our ancient selves we become, the more money we spend trying to obtain it again – whether that is channeled by paying a hefty sum to a guide group to summit Mt. Rainier, or an up-front investment in a new “extreme sport” that quickly becomes an all-in-one Craigslist sale.

As a young woman, I am simply striving to participate in the modern society around me on a professional level (also read: earn enough money and professional stature to maintain some influence and connection point to projects in my community) without sacrificing a sense of adventure, albeit menial at this point. Fly-fishing may be one of those outlets through which we re-connect with nature and our ancient selves on some level…an invitation to disengage with technology and other modern complications and re-engage with patience, water, and humility.

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