There is a secret about fly fishing:
You will never be good at it. Well, two secrets, actually:
1.) You will never be good at it, and 2.) That’s the point.
Much has been written about Sisyphus, the greek doomed by the gods to roll a stone up a hill over and over again just to watch it roll down before he reaches the top. Most of this was written by people smarter than me, almost always focusing on the sadness of Sisyphus’ situation. Camus takes another tact:
The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
— Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
Life is hard, and fly fishing is too. Hard things take work, and while it is easy to focus on a goal the real value in any experience always comes from the struggle not the reward. Or, to put it simply: the point of fly fishing isn’t to be good at fly fishing, it is to get better at fly fishing.
Getting better at things takes practice, and most of your fly fishing practice will take place in your back yard. There are no grass dwelling fish I am aware of, so these are hopeless hours. You may get lucky and catch other things though.
After many long hours, tedious hours of tightening your loop and timing your haul you will find yourself on a stream too small even for a roll cast. You will literally drop your copper john into a plunge pool and moments later pull out gem.
And you will be tempted. Tempted to question why you spent all those hours practicing, tempted to forget this hobby, tempted to stick to small streams where you will never have to cast. These are siren’s songs.
Anyone can catch fish, after all. If you want to catch fish just throw out a bobber, crack a beer, and be patient. Your time will come. Fly fishing, on the other hand, will require work, and patience, and yes, luck. You will grow skills you will sometimes use, but mostly discard in real world situations. Some days you will come home empty handed, but you will be happy, happy because the point of fly fishing isn’t to catch fish,
It’s to get better at fly fishing.
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Max Wilson is a graduate student studying ecology at Arizona State University. He writes here at Lesser Places, has occasionally written for Backpacker.com, and even more occasionally written for scientific journals. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.