The Fly Fishing Philosophy

Thoughts on my grandpa, his love for fly fishing, admiration of the outdoors, and lessons it’s taught me over the years.

Henry Thoreau reminds us of these patterns in his book Walden by saying that, “it is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves.”

In Pennsylvania, the beginning of June marks a very important date for the adventurous. This is the time of year when all you can think about is the crispness in the air, the sparkling and pure water, and the rolling green Pennsylvanian mountains. It is a time of year when all you think about is what fly you are going to use to try and catch the most beautiful trout. The beginning of June marks a time when you get a chance to see relatives you haven’t seen in years, and enjoy each other’s company fishing in the woods of the Allegheny National Forest.

Growing up I always looked forward to this time of year because I could challenge myself in trying to catch the most fish, with the help of my grandpa. Year after year, I gain more knowledge about fishing from my grandpa. He teaches me basic concepts and lets me figure out the rest to be a successful fisherman. Since I was young I tried to simply apply what I had been taught, and just fished to fish. It was a goal to catch the prize fish by the end of the day. It would be an honor to catch the biggest trout and be able to tell all my cousins. One year was definitely the time I learned the most but was also disgusted by an unappetizing scene.

After a long day of fishing, all the fishermen gathered their catches of the day. There was a total of about six fish that we all decided to keep, and I was quickly delegated the task of cleaning our catches. I never used to like touching the fish and now I had to cut all of them open and clean out their insides. After my brother, cousin, and grandpa taught me how to do the first one, I had to clean all the rest, and was getting more frustrated with every fish. I could not stand the mucous-like texture of the fish and the horrid smell of the guts I had to rip out. Although I had to endure the smells of the fish for some time, at the end of the week fishing with my relatives was a memorable experience, and I learned a lot about fly fishing. This knowledge I was hoping to apply in the up and coming years.

My present vacations were very exciting because I was able to better apply what I had learned to enjoy fishing even more. After arriving at our cabin, we gathered our gear and drove around to several different spots to try to see where the fish were biting. I realized that I wasn’t just wading in the water just to fish. All day I was moving up and down river to test different spots, holes, and flies. It was frustrating not catching anything, especially when you had a bite. With infrequent action on the end of my rod, I began to slip into a more introspective state of mind, pondering thoughts from wonderful fly fishing literature.

“If fly fishermen have an edge in this elaboration of soul that we resent hearing called a sport but are too timid to call an art, it is in our willingness to deepen the experience at nearly any personal cost,” says Thomas McGuane in his novel The Longest Silence.

I immediately came to realization that this is exactly what my grandpa has taught me over the years. Even though it has taken me a while to interpret and have a deeper understand of fly fishing and what he has personally done for me, I feel I now have a better understanding. I now have a better understanding of the prize in fly fishing. I understand of how much of an art it is and there’s more into it than just having caught the best fish. The prize to me is spending time with people you don’t get to see very often, and learning and enjoying from the time spent at the river. Although everything was great, the cherry on top was a huge rainbow trout I caught underneath a fallen tree, which was caught with the help of my grandpa and all he has taught me.

My grandpa has definitely taught me many things, both directly and indirectly. He has obviously taught me to live with a passion. My grandpa is certainly passionate about fishing and whenever he has the time to, he finds himself in the water or on a boat. He also was passionate working the Pittsburgh steel mills. He led a group of engineers and actively taught them many things and loved his job. He wanted to strive to be more, not only to make a living but to make a difference in the world. This is evident in the amazing stories he tells, through the times spent wading in the water, and through the generous things he always does. The other idea I recognized is that the reason my grandpa fishes is because he simply loves to do it. He appreciated each moment for what it is and finds happiness in everyday life. He has passed this along to one of my brothers who is also an avid fisherman. I may become deeply passionate about fly fishing someday, but regardless, I know I can apply this feeling to any aspect in life.

The passion my grandpa has for fishing is apparent, and he is clearly the “king” of fishing in our extended family. He has made all of his grandchildren more aware of an amazing art. He also brings the family together in a way that is more enjoyable that one would think. The importance of my family is so meaningful, because they have shaped me into who I am today. Many people become acclaimed to living their lives in patterns and doing the same thing everyday. This hasn’t allowed us to examine our lives, surroundings, and skills. After fly fishing with my grandpa and family, I noticed that we must enjoy life, and be ambitious enough to lead a meaningful life.

The winding rivers of Pennsylvania have a lot of meaning to me and allow me to not get caught up in daily life. My grandpa taught me to be charming and compassionate and passionate in my life. A day spent outside on the banks of a beautiful stream, is a way to enjoy the simple things in life. Something so basic can be appreciated, like standing under the tunneling trees and curious to where the brown trout are hiding under the fallen brush. I noticed the majestic green hills and the blazing sun reflecting off the gin-clear spring water, and the music the ripples in the water made. As I live my life there are many ups and downs and situations to sort out, but to journey through these times I must appreciate each situation for what it is and the simplicity it has to offer. I now try to not take little things for granted, and live with no regrets. Mark Twain illustrates this perfectly by saying, “twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

My grandpa has raised my sails, and it is my job to explore and discover what will allow me to sail away into a wonderful future. I come to wonder what kid’s everyday dreams and visions for the future are nowadays. With game systems and technology on the up rise, it would be surprising that a kid would take a rod and reel over a game controller. I just hope that they find someone or something that they can engage themselves in which allows them to be in a free state of mind and appreciate the little things in life. This state of mind is comparable to athletes when they are “in the zone,” or where time flies in every action or thought. It is when people are entrenched in such a state they stop being aware of themselves as separate from the actions they are performing, time and space vanish, self vanishes and the now swallows them whole. For me, fly fishing is a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend time with family and friends. I also realize the importance of family in my life and what they have taught me, especially my grandpa.

Thomas McGuane says that, “humans have suspected for thousands of years that angling and religion are connected. But if you can find no higher ideal than out fishing your buddies, catching something big enough to stuff or winning a trophy, you have a lot of work to do before you are what Izaak Walton would call an angler.”

The ideal that I found was the idea of living passionately, simply, and achieving a state of mind that is free from the outside world. I hope people can find something that they appreciate and allows them to grown as a person, just as my grandpa has done to me in the streams of the Allegheny Forest. In all future fishing adventures, I always hope to bring his inspiring spirits with me and remember everything he has done for me, even beyond a rod and reel.



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Zak Suhar

New York based explorer, freelance photographer, and product lead at @Google by way of the Midwest.