How Fly-Fishing Could Actually Make America Great Again

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

Could fly-fishing be the answer to America’s divisive politics?

I have a hard and fast rule concerning politics on G&G. There’s no place for it. I have never discussed my political views here and I’m not going to start now. I am, however, going to look at how we Americans discuss politics.

Just before the holidays, I took a trip to Louisiana for a little red fishing with a group of friends, including Joel Dickey. We had absolutely awful weather and with one day too bad to fish, and a long car ride on each end of the trip, Joel and I had plenty of time to talk. Politics were inevitable.

The first thing you have to understand about Joel and me is that we are as completely different as any two people you will ever meet. It’s safe to say that, fly fishing aside, the only things we have in common are that we are both highly opinionated and neither of us is very good at walking away from a fight. With our political views being diametrically opposed, an eight-hour car trip could easily be a disaster.

I have been politically involved since before I could vote.

The healthy function of democracy has always interested me and I have always considered it my responsibility to be informed and active in the process. For most of my life that has been an outlook which had been respected. That is to say that keeping up with politics and discussing it civilly with others was an admirable thing. That seems to have all changed. I have never seen a time when Americans were so divided as they are today. So uncivil and blatantly disrespectful. Today, if you take an interest in politics, most people consider you an asshole. The only thing that’s “cool” is to be out of the process, and I can’t help but think that’s exactly what our politicians want.

In spite of our differences, and our having way too much time on our hands to explore them, the discussion between Joel and I never became uncivil. It never does. I’ve spent countless days on a boat with Joel talking about every imaginable topic, and in spite of our having opposing views on almost everything but fishing, the conversation is always civil. That’s possible for one very simple reason. We respect each other.

That respect runs deep and, while it’s in each of our natures, I believe that respect stems from fly fishing.

Because Joel and I have spent so many days together on the water, each seen the other’s dedication and work ethic, each witnessed the other’s growth, seen our commitment to our community and to our fellow anglers, we have each seen the other’s character. We have seen each other at our best and worst, sharing success and failure. That commonality and that empathy has developed a deep respect, which supersedes our differences.

Personally, I believe that the greatest component of respect is empathy. Respect without empathy is always conditional. You might respect a celebrity or sports figure for their accomplishments, even make a hero of them, but that respect will disappear like southern snow when that person lets you down. Respect built on empathy endures because it is not contingent on performance. It is a very basic respect which embraces shortcomings. You might have amazing skill and great knowledge, you might have money and friends, a great job and wonderful family, none of that makes you a better person. The only thing that makes you a better person is empathy. The ability to embrace the shortfalls of your fellow man as you are forced to embrace your own.

Fly fishing is unforgiving in its nature. It forces us to confront our inadequacies and to acknowledge when we are lucky. It teaches us that skill must be worked for and that the bad days outnumber the good. It teaches us that, whoever you are, you earn your reward. I don’t think it’s possible to spend time fly fishing with a person and not find some empathy.

No matter which side of the political argument you find yourself on, I think we can agree that our behavior as a nation has been pretty poor of late.

If we would like to continue to govern ourselves, it’s going to be on us to clean up our act and learn to work together. As long as we are divided, we are working for those who oppose us. I truly think that fly fishing can help. Try taking some time to fish with people you disagree with and see if you don’t agree. Maybe if enough of us see the light we can at least clean up our little corner of the world.

I would be remiss to write this and not include this. To my friend Joel: Thank you for being my fishing buddy, in spite of my politics.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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9 thoughts on “How Fly-Fishing Could Actually Make America Great Again

  1. Great article and I completely agree. The one thing that has been lacking of late is caring about our fellow man and empathy. If you disagree with someone politically it is does not give you the right to personally attack them, in writing, verbally or physically. America seems to have forgotten this.

  2. Thank-you first of all for keeping politics out of the blog. I get enough of that on facebook and it is why I mostly just scan facebook stopping when I find a post from my kids or about fishing. Also thank you for a great post that has putt into words something I’ve always felt. I have a lot of empathy because I have been hearing impaired since birth. I rely on body language and facial expressions as much as what I hear when communicating with others. This allows me to evaluate the source as well as the content of the message. It is my opinion that most people being disrespectful to others are frightened of what they don’t understand and insecure about what they believe. Again great post keep up the good work.

  3. Good words. That empathy you mentioned? Needs to be extended to as much of the world around us as possible. All of us are humans, none of us deserve to be thought of as less.

  4. Louis,Very good and well written article. Fly fishing has a way of putting into perspective the important issues of the day,Size18 or16. Dry or wet,,5X or 6X. The only problem with getting more people fishing is the battle twixt the Keep and Eat fisher people and the Catch and Release gang will widen and intensify Wouldn’t that be a relief from all the other BS that is happening Nationally and Internationally. Tite Lines and Happy New Year

  5. This election cycle has brought out the very worst in people. Never seen anything like this in my lifetime. I hesitate to mention it publicly because nowadays you can actually lose friends as a result. Outcomes on those “friendly” debates are unfortunately are predictable. Thanks for this inspiring article as it is important but we must tread lightly as not to risk damaging friendships.

  6. Sharing a common purpose and love be it fly fishing or anything else helps us to live in our shared common humanity and overcome our differences or at least make them less important. Natural disasters can sometimes bring out the worst in us but mostly bring out the best because when we go through the same experience it forces empathy on us. Now if we could be like that without a disaster we would be in good shape. We may be in a disaster going so slow we don’t realize it if so hopefully we will realize soon enough.

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