solitary man fly fishing in a lake

The end of a semester is a natural time to reminisce about the past and dream of the future. Lately, I’ve dedicated much thought to the nature of my favorite outdoor activities. Since it’s nearly time for alpine lakes to thaw and the upslope winds to bring them life, my mind drifts towards fly fishing. A critical eye quickly reveals that fly fishing, like most other outdoor activities, is rather contrived. For those unfamiliar, fly fishermen use artificial flies to mimic a variety of insects that fish eat. They go to great lengths to deliver the fly to the fish without raising any alarms. If luck shines on them, fly fishermen generally admire their catch before promptly releasing the fish back into the water. I have walked out of the river from my best days of fishing the same way I have left the river on a slow day of fishing, without anything tangible to show for. Clearly, there must be something other than catching fish to be gained from spending a pensive morning in the mountains that keeps us coming back, but what?

Perhaps John Denver said it best while describing the Centennial State: This is a place where the only thing you earn is what you spend. There exists something intangible yet special that we gain from spending a day out of doors. For many, myself included, the lessons we learn and the experiences we have in the mountains are the real treasure.

I have found that these uncertain times demand a sense of patience and humility. Luckily, spending time on the water fly fishing has given me many opportunities to exercise these exact qualities. An example comes to mind from my first summer in Colorado: I had spent more time than I am willing to admit tying an artificial fly I had never made before. Once I had a finished product that I was proud of, I tied it onto my line and walked the short distance to the Animas river. My first cast prompted a brook trout to rise to the surface and take the fly. I excitedly set the hook only to watch my line go slack. The knot with which I had attached my creation to the line had failed, releasing both the fish and the new fly into the river. Defeated, I watched the startled fish disappear into the depths of the Animas. I did not continue fishing that evening.

As I recall this anecdote years later, I cannot help but smile at my own misfortune. The river humbled me that day. Today, many of us face great uncertainty. Due to the current state of the world, you may have been forced to adapt, postpone, or abandon plans. Lately, I’ve felt much the same way that I felt that summer’s night years ago. The frustration was enough for me to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Despite my disappointment, I returned the next day and double checked my knots. I learned from the experience and adapted. I haven’t had a knot fail me since (though I’ve lost many flies). These days, I find myself exercising the same patience in my daily routine that I learned to have when fly fishing. I credit the Animas river and my fly rod for teaching me this patience and humility that has been so helpful during this global pandemic.

I look forward to the day when I can nostalgically reminisce about this time as well. While I wait, I’ll continue to practice my patience and let the river humble me. Until then, I hope you can get outside, find some peace, and recreate responsibly!