I remember the first fish I caught on a dry fly. It took me months. It was a four inch fall fish. A minnow. In the months leading up to it I’d been frustrated with every previous attempt to hook anything besides the random tree branch that always seemed to surprise me, even though I knew it was there. This wasn’t that long ago mind you, about eight years ago. I’m almost forty-two, so even then I wasn’t a kid, and I was beginning to believe the saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I remember thinking every day I hit the water trying to figure out this whole fly fishing thing that maybe I should just stick with a spinning rod. I now know that it would’ve been one of my worst decisions had I just quit.
My problem was that I was seeing the first hint of a splash and ripping the fly away from the fish before they ever had it. I was setting the hook like I did a largemouth bass and a crank bait, when I needed to just let the fish take the dry, turn for the bottom, and hook itself. But my real problem was that I was trying to make fly fishing what I had always perceived it as. Dry flies and trout.
These days I’m more than settled into the fly fishing life. I’m not saying I’m too comfortable with it, but I’m sure there’s some that would. Just ask my ex-wife. I’ve had other interests in life, but after I hooked that first minnow, it lead me to my first trout, and then my first bass. And then I saw the light. Like the first time I matched up all the colors on a Rubik’s Cube as a kid without taking off the stickers, I felt like the smartest person on earth. I’d been making fly fishing difficult. I’d been trying to conform to what I thought it was, not what it could be. I discovered streamer fishing, and found that even when I wasn’t catching fish I at least felt like I was doing something other than just watching. I sold off an entire shop worth of metal working equipment and tools, gave away an old motorcycle project, cleared an entire book case of automotive literature, and left a previous life behind. Fly fishing became life.
It’s a funny thing sometimes, maybe a little odd at others, how one thing can lead you into another. When those things feel like they’re exactly what you were looking for only you didn’t know you were looking, I figure it’s not something to question too deeply. You just go with it. Fly fishing brought me to writing. It started out innocently enough with a blog on the JP Ross Fly Rods web site. Jordan was a good friend and when he asked me if I wanted to help with content on the site I had no idea where it would lead me. I found the only thing I was as passionate about as fly fishing was writing about fly fishing. And now I wasn’t just going out in search of new waters and fish, but I was going out in search of my next story. I never looked back. Jordan is one of my best friends to this day and he pushes me constantly to keep fishing and writing.
I’ll never forget the first John Gierach book I ever read. It was Death, Taxes, and Leaky Waders. When I finished it I had two thoughts in my mind. I needed more of his books, and I needed to write my own. So this past January I self-published my first book, Reflections of a Fly Rod. It’s the first project of any kind that I ever started…and finished. And while I’m still writing a weekly story on the JP Ross web site, I’m working on my next two books, and I have a rough outline in my head for a forth. Fly fishing has opened up a whole other life for me.
I don’t fish nearly enough, but then again, does anyone ever really? Upstate NY has no shortage of water, whether it be still or moving, and working around a job and two young boys who are baseball fanatics I try to put a bend in a fly rod at least once a week. There was a time not too long ago that I worked on the road and fished six days a week, but those days are gone for now. From my front door I have three rivers and the Barge Canal within a three minute drive or less, with no shortage of fish. Smallmouth and largemouth bass, trout, pan fish, pike, pickerel and carp, if it swims, I’ll chase it. I’m a streamer junkie, there’s no denying it, but I’ll admit to having dry flies stuck in the dash and my hat more often lately. I guess I’m still trying to escape the old dog stereotype by actually learning new tricks. I have to say, while the excitement of a smallmouth crushing a streamer still gets me, seeing a fish take a dry fly is a lot like the look on Indiana Jones’s face when he first set on eyes on the prize in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
When I first gave up the previous life of hot rods and welders and racing fuel fumes my old gear head buddies would constantly question me. Was everything alright? You’re not really quitting are you? You’ll get back into it…Won’t you? These days it’s become commonly accepted, at least for the most part I believe. Now when I run into an old hot rodding acquaintance, it’s a hand shake, and how’s the fishing? And my answer is usually the same, which is great. Even if it really hasn’t been that good. Because what they probably wouldn’t understand is that it’s not about the fish all the time. Something you probably already know if you’ve made it this far.
I’m not a patient person. If I have to string up a rod when I get to the water I try and work too fast. My hands shake, I struggle with stringing the rod, and I fumble with knots. Suddenly the Rod Vault is the answer to my impatient issues. Not by me working through my impatience, but by avoiding the issue altogether. If I pass by a pond and decide to pull over, I’m ready to fish right then. There’s always a rod ready to cast. If I see a hatch on my way to work in to morning, I can actually pull over with enough time for a couple casts without being too late to work. The Jeep is lifted just a little, it’s got a winch and a roof rack. When I put the rod vault on it one of my gear head buddies said it was because I still wanted to tinker with my ride. Nope. I don’t care about cool paint jobs and going fast anymore, just getting to that first cast faster.
Fly fishing has changed my life more or less for the better. It brings me the peace that nothing else has ever been able to. It introduced me to writing and now the two feed off each other and I feed off of them. I’ve never had a real goal in my life. Some would say that’s bad, some would say hey man, good for you. Life throws curves and I’m in the middle of one of them right now. I’ve been asked a couple times over the past couple years where I see myself in 5 years. And in the middle of this curve I was asked again by a good friend. I’m told it’s a question smart successful people are supposed to ask themselves so that they can visualize a future not so far away and be successful in their life in small steps leading to big things. My answer is always the same. Where will I be in five years? Where ever it is, I’ll have a fly rod in my hand.
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