Fly Fishing And Being Thankful

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

Once again fly fishing is there when I need it.

Over the years, when I have been at my worst, my fly rod has been there like an old and dear friend. It’s kept me company when I was alone, it’s focused my mind when I was in despair, and it has comforted me when I was in pain. Fly fishing has been my refuge when everything else has failed. I never expected to lose it when I needed it most.

I guess I’m making a habit of sharing something personal on Thanksgiving. If you read what I wrote last year, you know that the past 16 months have been the hardest of my life. I don’t say that lightly, and there has been some competition, but since the loss of my godson I have been to places in my heart I never imagined were there. A year ago I said I didn’t know if this was a thing I could fix with a fly rod. I know now, that it can’t be fixed at all. It must be accepted, absorbed even, made part of the whole, but there has still been some question whether the fly rod would come to my aid this time.

Life is, at best, one half risk and one half reward. That equation weighs into all things, but nothing more than love. If you can give your heart and keep that ratio one to one, you are way ahead of the game and that isn’t exclusive to loving people. There is risk in giving your heart to anything and fishing, at least for me, has not been an exception.

My heart, it seems, is prone to dehydration. It runs dry from time to time and water is the only thing which restores it. The solitude of standing in a river, or on a flat, grounds me. It washes away the bitterness and drowns the discourse. The purity of a fish’s soul calms me. The act of participating in that lovely creature’s struggle, and the act of releasing it, seeing it swim back into a deep pool reminds me that there is peace waiting for all of us. I know it isn’t something everyone understands, but it has comforted me.

I have to remind myself that it is only a coincidence that our world became such an angry and divided place at the very time I needed a little extra understanding. It has been very hard not to take it personally. I didn’t know what I was putting at risk when I decided to make fly fishing a job. I had no idea that I was hanging a target around my neck when I spoke publicly of my love of fishing. That sounds silly, but I’ll wager you’d be shocked to read some of the emails I get. Would you guess that I’ve had my life threatened for writing about catch-and-release fishing? I have, and I’ve been chastised for taking photos of fish. By taking on the task of sharing a love of fishing with those hungry for it, I created a cosmic lint brush, which has gathered some pretty rotten folks.

I don’t mean to complain. There are unsavory things about any job, and this is just the crappy part of mine, but with the angry division in our recent culture, the volume has been turned way up. I’ve had some pretty negative experiences with folks in the fly fishing community, and even the business, this year and it has taken its toll. I bear my own share of the blame. Grief has made me a much less patient man and there have been many times I’ve felt compelled to offer some of my pain to others. I’m not proud of it, but it’s a fact. I’m not very good at backing down from a fight on a good day, and good days have been hard to come by.

Any of my fishing buddies will tell you that it’s been pretty hard to get me on the river lately. I have plenty to do and it’s been easy to make excuses, but the truth is that for the last several months I haven’t cared to pick up a fly rod. That’s a difficult thing to admit. It’s also painful that the thing which has always restored me has become such a source of frustration that I have not been able to face it. It’s a loss I never imagined and was not prepared for. It also came at the worst possible time. The fact that we have not had rain here in Georgia for over three months has driven the metaphor home. With the forest which shade some of our best wild trout water on fire, everything around me has run dry, including my heart.

So last week, as I prepared to fly to the Bahamas for a week of bonefishing, I was filled with uncertainty. Not the feeling I’m accustomed to in that circumstance. I was not at all certain what I would find there. Afraid that I might be walking into an argument, rather than a release.

Fortunately, I din’t have to wait long for my answer. I found myself, once again, surrounded by friends. By anglers with full hearts and generous souls. Folks who love fish and fishing and had plenty to share. Stepping on the bow of the flats boat felt like coming home. The warm Bahamian water flowed through me, the sun washed over me, and the first beautiful shining bonefish to come to hand filled my heart. I watched that lovely creature slide from my hand and into the deep green water and I knew there was peace waiting for me.

There will be plenty of struggle in the years to come, and more than enough uncertainty. For my precious, lost boy all of that is over. As odd as it might sound, I’m thankful for that. When he smiled it was infectious, but it was far too seldom. When his heart ached, it crushed the very breath from his lungs and the light from his eyes. It came down with the weight of ten-thousand souls. I am thankful that he no longer carries that pain. I will take my small piece of it and I will carry it for him. Most of all, on this Thanksgiving, I am thankful that I will not have to do it alone. I am thankful to have my fly rod back. I am thankful to have my tribe back. And I am so very thankful for the pure souls of fish.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones. May it be full of love and joy.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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22 thoughts on “Fly Fishing And Being Thankful

  1. thoughts and prayers with you and your family.
    Thankful for your honesty, sincerity, and willingness to share your passion, all year long. Tight Lines & Happy Turkey Day,

  2. God bless you and yours on Thanksgiving. You are an artist in sport and in expression, seeing things and feeling them in ways some can only imagine. So it is wonderful that you put yourself out there and share your passion in spite of pain that is multiplied by your passionate soul. Envy, greed, and mean spirit will always be part of the human condition. These days, however, some (a growing minority) seem to find offense and lash out over the strangest matters, and C&R and photographing fish are prime examples. The digital world and me society have seemingly turned our societal value scale on its end. But good folks must and will endure. There are still too many of us and we care deeply about issues grounded in reality. But in the meantime the sporting life, like your trip to the Bahamas, will provided needed respite to heal the soul. Drive on my friend. We need your voice and your camera.

  3. God’s speed Louis. That is a beautifully written piece. I too feel the vise of anger clamping down harder by the day. As an educator of America’s youth, I bear witness to the atrocities that children have to deal with, both the impoverished and affluent alike. However they are also a beacon of light and I’ve come to determine that it’s my perception that makes it a reality in my soul. So I’ve found myself thanking an elderly affectionate couple sitting next to each other for setting a good example for my daughter and complimenting a young family for how well behaved their children are. Your words brought to mind a stanza from the Desiderata, ”
    “Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
    it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
    Exercise caution in your business affairs;
    for the world is full of trickery.
    But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
    many persons strive for high ideals;
    and everywhere life is full of heroism.”
    Continue your fantastic work and may it tip the scales on the ongoing battle of light versus dark.

  4. Louis,
    I recommitted to fly fishing 2 years ago after nearly 20 years away during which family and career took precedence. Your writing, your passion and your honesty are second to none and have helped reignite a long missing fire in my belly. Please know that what you write really matters and has a real, palpable and measurable effect. This article is proof positive. My thoughts and prayers are with you and yours. Keep fighting the good fight. I (We) need you to.

  5. I was deeply affected by your posts these last two Thanksgivings, particularly the sorrow expressed last year. When we no longer enjoy the things that make us happy we know we are enduring hard times. Regarding the trolls, haters and critics I would not want to be the focus of their scorn, but it is what they do and all they are capable of. As The Sheriff said ” Continue your fantastic work…”

  6. Totally agree with you. Fishing heels. Being absorbed in nature is better than any medication. Fishing for the Dollaghan in the River Maine in Ireland is a magic bullet for all the world can throw at me.

  7. Thanks for doing what you do……writing the truth about life and yourself as you see it. That’s all anyone like you can do. Keep a goin’.

  8. There are so many of us who are dealing with more grief and loss than we can bear. Thanks for sharing so honestly. My heart and prayers are with you.

    All the best,


  9. Louis,
    Thank God there are people like you in this world, and, more specifically, fly fishing people. Yes, there are those in this sport that challenge our sanity and well-being, but they are few.

    While I have toyed with the idea of traveling your way to fish, I’m even more determined to do it now. I’d love to learn from you, Louis.

    God bless.

    Bill Ruland

  10. Any day I have more gratitude than I have expectations is a pretty good day. I can’t remember where I heard that that but, for me anyway, there are no truer words.

    Today, I will be grateful for passionate anglers who inspire me to be not only a better fisherman, but a better person.

    Fish On…

  11. What an impressive and heartfelt piece this is. I have been a silent reader of your blog for months and seeing this truly hit home for me. I’ve been grieving the loss of a friend and the lack of water here in the southern Appalachian mountains has left me with a strange disdain over my normal fly fishing therapy. I hope that I too can find my happy place on the water again. Thanks for the words of encouragement.

  12. These posts from you, this year’s and last, bring tears to my eyes. I find myself nodding at the familiarity of your words and emotions and smiling over the obviously joyous redemptive place fly fishing has in your life as I read along. Thank you for your honesty and your willingness to share yourself with us. Having suffered a loss this year as well, I’m waiting for the day when it won’t be the first thing I think of when waking. Your words soothe and provide a reality for what the future holds. Thank you. Now, let’s go fishing.

  13. Love your work. Wait for it every Monday morning. Ignore the assclowns they are not worth a second of your time. Very sorry for the loss of your Godson. Carry him with you always along with every other positve force that this life brings your way. Hang in there.

  14. Thank you for sharing. We just hope you know that no matter how many squeaky wheels cause you to question your audience and your impact that there are so many of us who look forward to hearing from you like a good, dependable friend. We should have said this long ago to you: THANK YOU! We appreciate you, your words, and your talent.

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