Fly-fishing and the Other Stuff That Gets Us Outside

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By Daniel Galhardo

I believe fly-fishing is first and foremost and excuse for us to spend time outside.

And it is an incredibly good one. But, deep down it is truly nature, the environment where we find ourselves, that keeps us going out for more. Yes, I know a couple of fishing lunatics that can keep going back to the ugliest ditches to catch fish; but I know way more people that wouldn’t go to those places more than once for a fish of any size, yet keep returning to beautiful parks, pristine meadows and picturesque mountains even if the fish are not that big.

In fact, I know many people that keep going back to those places even when fishing is not the main intention. They just want to be there. Sometimes I find myself in that camp.

FullSizeRender-7I could wax poetic about how “many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” (Thoreau). But I believe you have heard that enough that, by now, you either have come to hate the cliched sentence, or have come to believe it. Regardless, I would imagine you already sense that any excuse to be outside must be grabbed.

At this time of year we experience our infamous runoff season. The snow that has accumulated in the Colorado peaks during the winter melts and inflates our rivers. Although “snow melt” makes for a cool Colorado beer ingredient (Upslope beer is awesome by the way) it also makes it a bit tough to fish near home. So, at this time of year I find other excuses to get me outside.

One of the things that gets me outside at this time of year is foraging.

I get outside and roam forests and fields in search of edible mushrooms and mountain vegetables. Foraging is actually not too unlike fishing. It often gets me to beautiful places. And, the process of actively looking for something, just like looking for the spots where the fish may be hiding, fills the parts of my brain that are normally busy thinking about work and life’s challenges.

FullSizeRender-6When I go fishing, I typically notice a lot of things in the stream that I wouldn’t pay that much attention to while on a regular hike. I notice the way a current may form a whirlpool and gather things such as insects and leaves in nooks between rocks. I notice the shadows that betray the location of fish. Likewise, foraging allows me to notice things I wouldn’t pay much attention to while fishing. I notice the way a fern uncurls as it comes out of the ground, or the patterns and texture of a small patch of moss. I even notice the smells are different. While I’m fishing, my nostrils seem to pick up the freshness of water and the scent of fresh pines more than the earthy smells I notice when I’m walking on dry land. It is interesting to notice these differences.

Last week I went on an outing that filled my soul – yeah, I know, cliché… But, it was so true.

One morning I woke up with an intense desire to go fishing. The rivers were blown out of proportion here. I had an early morning meeting, but couldn’t stop thinking about hitting the water. Going for a regular hike with the dog was not going to fill the need I had. As I had my morning coffee, I decided I needed a more intimate, and perhaps more adventurous experience with mother nature. A few minutes before leaving for my meeting, I decided I was going packrafting, and foraging, and bring a tenkara rod along just in case.

IMG_1557There was a piece of forest I had a hunch could hide some morels, the most prized forager’s find at this time of year. But, the only access to that piece of forest was by crossing the river, which was running at scary volumes. But, if my hunch proved right I would score gold on that side of the river.

I pulled the packraft, life jacket, foraging kit of mesh bag and knife, some snacks and my tenkara rod kit out of the gear room and quickly threw it in the trunk. Finished my meeting and drove off. When I arrived at the river, I noticed that the piece of forest was actually in the middle of strong class 3 rapids. Because of private property above, I had to put in in the middle of the rapids and very quickly make my way across the river. But, if my packraft found itself perpendicular to the currents I’d likely flip. It was a fine dance between going fast enough to get across but not so fast I’d flip. My main option for a take out was also in the middle of the strong class 3 rapids, if I missed it I would find myself in an uncomfortable chute that was borderline class 3.

IMG_1552I started paddling quickly across and to my relief I made it to the other side intact. The next 3 hours I spent losing myself in the woods, noticing every detail my predatory instincts brought up in me. I looked for morels, but couldn’t help noticing the small plants coming to life after a long winter and that now uncurled here and there. I also couldn’t help but jump back at the sight of the 5 snakes I saw in those 3 hours, one was a 4ft long snake sunbathing on a branch at waist level. It moved quickly when I jumped back. I’m not crazy about snakes. It seems the difficult access to that side of the river made it prime snake country.

IMG_1562I did strike gold by finding several morels along my meditative walk, and then several patches along the streamside right when I was about to get my raft ready for the crossing back.

I paddled back to the side where my car was, and luckily made it out without flipping and without getting in the hairy class 4 below. Alone in that whole stretch of Colorado I let out a very loud and excited yell. Wohooo!! YEAHHHH! I sounded exactly the same as when I caught my last 20 incher. Adrenaline had full control for a few minutes after I made the crossing, carrying my couple of pounds of mushrooms.

But the real prize was not the morels. It was the experience. I never did get to pull my tenkara rod out on this trip. Yet, I feel the piece of my soul that was missing fly-fishing that morning had been filled.

Daniel Galhardo
Gink & Gasoline
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4 thoughts on “Fly-fishing and the Other Stuff That Gets Us Outside

  1. Nicely written. Because of a severe injury as a result of a motor vehicle accident I’m the fisherman who has to stop and fish under the highway bridge or in the muddy ditch in an old industrial site. Expectations of beauty and pristine experience are left at the car. Weeds and wild flowers, every fish a gem, frogs, tadpoles, and the bird in the willow 5 feet behind me has the most beautiful song. I am grateful.

  2. I agree that it is the complete experience that gets me outside to fish. Being outside in nature is what reboots my sanity after a week of driving a 35 foot bus around the narrow streets of a city; and after days of dealing with technology addicted people who will ask me a question while their full attention and eyes are on their ‘smart’ phone.

    A couple weeks ago I was fly fishing a small lake that I often fish, and as I was slowly moving along the far bank I saw a small group of vibrant yellow iris that someone had planted in among the bramble and brush that lined that side of the lake. Their presence was in stark contrast to the varied shades of gray that made up the trunks of the brush and small trees that almost hid them from view. As soon as I saw them it brought a smile to my face and on that day I also saw my first yellow-billed cuckoo bird in the same area.

    Today after traveling an hour and 25 minutes to fish a small lake for the first time I saw some fish splashing in the shallows in the only spot I could launch my boat. When I got closer I saw that 5 pair of bluegills had hollowed out nests there and were spawning and defending their eggs from other fish. I watched them doing their thing for about fifteen minutes; three nests had a mating pair on them and the other two had a single fish patrolling his two foot square of turf.

    It was while I was watching them that my sanity returned, and I realized ‘again’ that this is what life is really all about…staking your claim on a relatively minuscule area of turf, modifying it so it suits your needs and defending it against all potential threats. So I went back to my truck, put the location in my GPS’s memory and chose to fish somewhere else.

  3. Robyn, great story! Thanks for being so mindful of those bluegill staking their claim and pushing on the life cycle. We don’t always need to cast a fly to feel we are part of nature do we? Well done!

    • Over time I have come to realize that anything we do beyond basic survival requirements is a privilege, not a right. And that another organisms survival requirements has greater precedence over my privileges. Learning and accepting this principle has opened a whole new dimension to my outdoor experiences.

      Almost always the animals I see while fishing are aware of my presence long before I am aware of theirs; and if when I do become aware of them, I give them the necessary space they need and the time they need to assess that I am not a threat to them, they allow me the additional privilege of sharing the same neighborhood for a little while. This is after all, the reason I go there to begin with.

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