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The Education of a Fisherman

The education of a fisherman is a powerful thing.

This is the first in a series of articles exploring the art of fly fishing.

“Three-fourths of the Earth’s surface is water, and one-fourth is land. It is quite clear that the good Lord intended us to spend triple the amount of time fishing as taking care of the lawn.” ~Chuck Clark


Those of us who call the fair state of Texas our home endure months of grueling heat, drought and a few weeks of bone chilling cold for the kind of day like I recently had the pleasure of being vertical for.

I have often said if the weather was like this all the time, everyone would live here. That being said, it is understood that it is not.

So on what could only be considered the most glorious of spring days in the history of spring days, and being one who does my best to never eschew good advice, I set out with my much better half and my best hunting buddy Josh to an early morning fly fishing class.

Presented by the local Orvis store on Westheimer in Houston, this was the second in a two-part series. The first class was basic casting instruction on a school playground and a knot tying exercise on a Sunday about a month previous.

A group of perhaps 20 neophytes, from 10 to 65, circled like nervous bait fish under the shade of 100-year old live oaks at the Houston Oaks Country Club in Hockley, Texas.

Accompanied by four or five old hands, we gathered in the early morning breeze and cerulean sky for a quick safety speech.

Matt from Orvis

“Wear a hat; as you false cast it will help to deflect the fly from sticking in your head.” Hmmm, hadn’t thought of that.

“Wear a wide brim hat if you have one, same reason but it works better than a baseball cap.” Nope, didn’t think of that either.

“Wear eye protection, if the hook goes in your eye, fight the first inclination that comes to mind and DO NOT YANK IT OUT!” Definitely hadn’t thought of that.

“Look out for snakes and fire ants.” Okay, I had thought of that; one out of four ain’t bad.

Young Fish, Big Fish, Old Fish, Blue Fish

Matt from Orvis, the youngest of the group, was busy doing what every young buck does in a gathering of gray heads, the grunt work, stringing rods and quietly sharing good advice about what to use and when.

There was David, a certified casting instructor and an affable fellow, obviously a mover, shaker and policy maker in the pond that he swims. I’m sure he would have been a pleasure to work with. He has probably forgotten more about this stuff than most will ever know.

David Lemke

My favorite at least for the day was Ray. An older gentleman with a slender build, he sports an aquiline blue blood nose that has seen too much sun. His accent is from up Nantucket way, his teaching manner is calm, more like a suggestion that you know you need to pay attention to. A few minutes with this guy and you could learn what would take you years to figure out on your own.

After a few practice casts we headed out, each to their perspective posts.

I observed at first. Some flailed away and beat the water to froth. I saw short casts, a windmill of arms and line that could be called a cast with the right amount of imagination, and more than a few casts that could only be described (mine included) as comical.

Weeds, grasses and overhanging limbs claimed their fair share of dry fly causalities on the back cast. But with time and patience under a steady experienced eye, something else began to emerge out of the fray.

A nudge here, a suggestion there, “Too much wrist, hold your arm stiff and turn with your body only” in a short amount of time even with a high breeze, results began to take shape.

There seemed to be almost a Zen to it, 10 and 2, 10 and 2. A myriad of things to be aware of, “Keep your loop narrow and your line low in the breeze, increase speed as the wind picks up and increase speed on your forward stroke.”

Ray Johnson

My favored boyhood sounds of redwing blackbirds and peeper frogs which I am always attuned to faded away and it seemed the only sound in the world was the swish of the line.

The exercise of a well thrown cast is similar to a cleanly executed judo throw, when it feels just right. There is no weight, no sensation of energy expended. The heaviest of opponents can be thrown with the lightest of touch. Two fingers on the lapel of his coat, a slight turn of the hips and your man is down. The dynamics of the two seem to be the same. Balance, timing and technique win out over sheer force. The power is in the finesse itself.

Ray demonstrated the roll cast. The roll cast is an expression of fluid dynamics. The atmosphere being a fluid, the physics involved are a fascination to see.

Experience was on display for itself and with an economy of motion; expenditure of energy in thrift sent a woolly bugger 30 feet straight into the wind.

Expert or novice, this is perhaps why we do what we do. Like the painter at his easel, or the writer at his desk, the world is pushed back at least momentarily to the tiny places in the mind.

The painter feels only what he sees; the writer hears only his own words. Lost in the moment, time stands still and all else fades.

The author

To the fly fisherman, the Ukraine is no longer on the verge of war and half the world with it. Civil strife and the unfairness of racism or the heartbreak of loss at least for a brief moment become muted.

“Call me Ishmael”

It’s not really the end result but the journey that becomes the focus. You don’t notice the sunburn until much later in the day, or muscles warmed by the day’s heat, that ache in a satisfying manner, your sun tired eyes fading with an evening highball that takes the last of the fight right out of you.

With a summer’s worth of installments on the books, look to us for novice observations and blunders to expert advice. Expect how-to and gear reviews, guide interviews, tips and recipes. Some fun, some laughs, hopefully some fine fish and an occasional reflective moment. We will do our best to have it all right here on Wide Open Spaces.

Keep an eye out for the next fly fishing installment.

See you then,

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The Education of a Fisherman