A worm dunker redeemed

Although it’s been a while since I’ve been in the stream, I fancy thinking of myself as a fly fisherman. I’d fished with my family when I was a kid, tossing earthworms into murky water and waiting for the red and white bobber to move. I’d seen fly fishing a little on TV and thought it interesting and somehow exotic. But then again, growing up in a dying midwestern town, a lot of things from away seemed interesting and exotic.

After moving to North Carolina in ’97, we spent a lot of time exploring our new home on the weekends. It was on one of these outings that I watched a fly fisherman making short, delicate casts to tiny fish under the cover of a rhododendron thicket. I was hypnotized, watching him work the water, moving from one pool to the next. This was different than the fly fishing I’d seen on Saturday afternoon TV, with their long, floating casts to big fish on some wide-open western river. It was somehow more personal, more intimate.

Fishing the small wild streams in the southern Appalachian mountains is not about distance and power. It’s about stealth and skill. It’s about hiking an hour back in to a stream you can hop across. Most of the time it’s short flip or roll casts into a pool, but sometimes it opens up a little and you can do some casting like most people associate with fly fishing. The rhythm and grace of a fly line in the air – back and forth, and then settling gently to the water, is simply intoxicating. I don’t know that I’ve ever done anything that’s brought me such a feeling of peace and focus.

“In my family, there was no clear division between religion and fly fishing.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It, 1976

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