Fly fishing is life. Everyone always asks, “How did you learn to fly fish?” The story starts like this: I’m one of 5 children who grew up in the small rural community of Waterville, Ohio. Some of my greatest childhood memories are camping with my family and spending the whole day fishing. My dad made it a priority to spend one on one time with each of us and I always chose fishing. When we went out as a family, my parents spent their time patiently untangling, unhooking, and re-rigging our messes. Patience is key when it comes to fly fishing. And my parents’ lessons in patience have led to my ability to find enjoyment in even the pains of fly fishing. Turning tangled line and flies into something worthy of convincing a trout to eat; it’s all about the process. Fly fishing teaches you to slow down and appreciate your surroundings, notice the little things, and unplug from that crazy life away from the river.
I remember flipping through my mom’s sketch book when I was little. Looking at all the tattered pages of pencil & charcoal drawings of people, animals, and still life set up. It inspired me. I began drawing things I was passionate about when I was a kid- birds, animals, and landscapes. On paper, I was a perfectionist. I would compare my drawings from the “How to Draw” books to see how close my line work was. Now, it’s easy to see that my creative drive led to my fly fishing adventures.
At 8 years old, I ditched my cousins play date to sit with my uncle where he taught me to tie my first fly. I had never seen anything like it. The way the fur and feathers looked after being wrapped around and tied on a hook was so intriguing. We were creating tiny little sculptures and I was the sculptor. Wanting more, my dad helped me create a makeshift vise. It was composed of two vice grips from the garage and clamped to the kitchen counter. I was determined to tie all by myself. After digging through my mom’s sewing drawer collecting colored threads and hunting down pelts of fur and feathers we saved from hunting, I began tying my very own creations. By spring, my fly box was filled to the brim with some extremely ugly flies that I couldn’t wait to use. Almost every summer morning, I would meet the neighbor boy from across the field at the corner where the old train tracks met the road. Walking to his grandparent’s farm pond with rods in hand and fly box in my pocket, we talked about catching a big one. Thank goodness for the eager bass and panfish in that small farm pond, that’s where my life as a fly fisher began.
The sharing balance between fly fishing and creating artwork has been ever so rewarding. For me, creating a painting is a time to think and develop thoughts and ideas. It seems like painting is the last thing on my mind while painting. Often, I’ll return from a daydream and see that my hands have been on autopilot. Putting lines on canvas feels natural to me, almost second nature. This is where learning to create more problems on canvas has kept my skills sharp and my creative mind coming back for more. The journey to finding a solution to a problem is only part of the process, trial and error. You’ll either learn what to do or what not to do in the future. As both an artist and guide, it’s a parallel universe as far as risk taking. There is no reason to fear a new approach. You can always paint over it and you can always tie up a new rig.
Why do I guide? I was brought up to serve others. It’s something I’ve always felt sure about. As a guide, not only do I get to share my passion with others on a daily basis, but I get to serve others in the process. Whether its tying grandpa’s wader boots up on the side of the river or holding a little one’s hands to get across, I am always serving. A huge part of it is convincing others to unplug and enjoy the moment, “Leave your phones in the car just in case I push you in.” I am often a guide of others escapes. Some need help being distracted from a breakup, illness, a big corporate meeting next week, or any of the struggles life throws our way. I become an on-water therapist some days. I listen and let the nature of fly fishing do the cleansing. People get off the river and tell me, “Thank you, I needed that.” Fly fishing helps a person find clarity and puts the trials and tribulations of life into perspective.
For me it’s never just about the fishing. The river is a complete escape from the world. As a naturally anxious and over-stimulated human, I look to the river to still my mind and to ground me. When I’m on the river, my imagination goes wild. As an adult, I think it’s important to use our imaginations. Imagining every new drift with a fish at the end of it and visualizing it inhaling your fly from the surface. It gives an angler a taste of their dreams coming true, even if it’s just as small as catching a fish. That’s why I love it, fly fishing is always about the little things.
I always ask the same question to every little angler I guide, “What’s your dream?” I’ll never forget one little girl’s answer. She wanted to climb a mountain so high that she could reach out and grab a piece of a cloud, put it in a jar, and take it home with her. It’s never just about the fishing.
You can follow Mandy on Instagram @mandyhertz_flyart