The expression goes something like this: With motorboaters, what matters most is getting there, while sailors take joy from the voyage itself.
As someone who enjoys both types of boating, I think there’s some substance to that saying. What’s more, it pretty much parallels the way I feel about fishing and fly-fishing.
I do enjoy watching a bobber plunge to the pull of a perch playing tug-of-war with a worm at the end of my line. But there are times when merely landing a fly where I intend it to go offers me as much satisfaction – if not sustenance – as catching a stringer-full of walleye or netting a noteworthy pike.
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Much of that contentment comes from the places that fly-fishing leads me in an attempt to fool fish with feather, cork and fur – but there’s more to it than that.
When I arrive at my cabin after a lengthy drive from the suburbs, a flurry of ritual activity takes place before my family can sit back and enjoy our streamside getaway. Gates and doors must be unlocked, security alarms disarmed and circuit breakers flipped to get water and power circulating. Once the windows are thrown open to allow the breeze to chase the stagnant air from the place and leave a scent of hemlock, the groceries are stashed and organized. Then I give our cabin a once-over, both inside and out, to see that all is well – taking special care to ensure no critters have breached the walls and set up shop in the bedding. Finally, I sneak away.
If I’ve timed it right, my time comes during the last hour or two of daylight. I grab my cabin fishing gear from the wall, a modest 3-weight fly rod and reel rigged with a tiny cork popping bug that may go unchanged all season. And I head for the small river that our rustic retreat overlooks.
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With the distance depending on how much time I have before darkness will chase me back, I walk downstream along an abandoned railroad right-of-way that threads through the woods along the water. I often startle deer and turkey – and they me! – along the shaded route. I find a place to step quietly into the stream, wade out to the middle where I can reach either bank with a 30-foot cast, and begin my slow trek into the current and the direction of the cabin.
My rod acts as a metronome, as I false cast and methodically drop the counterfeit bug into the stream wherever I see a surface dimple or wherever I determine a spot where I would be if I were a hungry smallmouth bass. I gradually make my way home while casting.
I feel more relaxed with each shuffled step and more content with each on-target cast. And soon, attention from fish becomes an afterthought as I slip into what I call cabin time.
Before I know it, I’m reeling in and wading toward the flicker of the small campfire my wife and son have built on the waterfront rock where we will roast hot dogs and marshmallows and talk about our day and the weekend ahead.
Sure, I would sometimes have a great story to tell from the stream. And why not? There is nothing half so much fun as watching a fat bronzeback suck in a cork bug!
But my family realizes, as I do, that it’s not about the catching, but the doing that matters.
When Dan isn’t fishing or enjoying cabin time with his wife and son, he conducts fishing and outdoor photography seminars, works as an outdoors writer and serves as a radio show host.