Are You Willing To Listen?
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Are You Willing To Listen?

Contributed by Matt Sutton

Spring 2016 hit me like no other, there was no reason for it. The fishing bug had got me too, maybe it was the Saturday morning fishing shows or maybe it was the chatter at work from those who had landed a big fish out of one of the local lakes. I like to think I just needed my space, and I found a way to do it.

I had spent a large amount of the first month of that spring casting my spinning rod which had laid dormant since purchasing it the year before. Getting back into fishing again was a slow moving process for myself, as you can probably tell. Living on the outskirts of Prince George, BC, there are a half dozen lakes within a matter of 30 minutes. However, my favorite is an easy 15-minute drive from my home.

Eena Lake hasn’t always been good to me. I had caught two or three fish in a half dozen trips to the lake that spring. Every trip to the Eena I watched the fly anglers next to me catching fish after fish. On one trip to the lake, after noticing my frustration, a fly angler asked if I would like to give his rod a try. Regretfully I declined because I had never cast a fly rod. The thought of wrapping myself in a tangle of fly line would only add to my frustrations, although deep down I knew that I should have taken his offer. My life changing moment came when the kindly fly fishermen handed me a leech pattern and a split shot as he was heading out. On my third cast with the fly, I hooked a fish.  My new friend had already made his way from the shoreline up to his car when he noticed my bent rod. With a big grin, he yelled  “Fish will eat fish, but they love bugs” as his sub-woofer thumped in the background.

The next day after work I found myself at the surplus hunting and fishing store. I figured this was the best place to start acquiring gear without spending too much money. My almost miraculous success the previous evening with the leech pattern had instantly propelled me to the next step.It was time for me to get a fly rod and to learn to cast it properly.  I have accomplished half that goal to date because I am still working on casting properly.

That evening I found myself wandering the store’s aisles not really knowing what I was looking for. After several minutes I ended up standing in front of a sale rack looking at a fully outfitted 5wt Shakespeare junior combo. Keep in mind I’m 27 at this point, but the price was right and it didn’t have a picture from the latest Marvel movie on the side of it.  After purchasing my new rod and a couple more trusty leeches I was on my way to Eena again.

I pulled up to the lake extremely confident and hurriedly threw on my waders. My waders were just as cheap as they were heavy but they kept me dry as I made my way into the water. When I was waist deep I started whipping my rod back and forth, the line making a loud crack with every stroke. The speed of every cast was getting nearer and nearer to the sound barrier. And then it happened, the loud; “POW!” My donated leech snapped from my line, launching 30 feet out from me.  It was a good thing I had bought a couple extra.

Taking my time tying my knots tightly, I finished my cigarette. As I went back into the water a little frustration began setting in. Once again I began my ribbon twirling routine(I hadn’t even bothered to watch a Youtube tutorial before this first attempt at fly fishing).  Almost as soon as I had started, I broke off another fly with a sharp; “CRACK!”

This particular evening my friend from the night before had not come out. In his stead was an elderly gentleman who was standing just down from me.  When I had popped off my last fly he reeled up and waded into shore without a word to me. He walked down to where I was standing after I had made my forlorn slog of disappointment back to dry land. All he said was that I was doing it all wrong. He did this after taking my rod from my hand. Then he deftly began to pull my line from the guides of my rod. After he had cleared the line from the guides he moved towards his raft to sit on one of the pontoons.

Up until this point he wasn’t letting me know what I did wrong.  Then he looked over and asked ” Are you willing to listen?” to which I did

Two fly fishermen talking on the edge of an Alaskan stream
We all started somewhere

not respond, only nodded. The older man told me that my reel had been spooled without backing. I didn’t even know what backing was until this conversation! I watched and listened intently as he re-threaded the line.

When he had the fly line threaded he stood up and stripped some fluorescent blue line off of the reel. There, right next to his pontoon boat he began a back cast which looked like art compared to my short-lived fly losing mess. He explained to make things easy on myself at first, never let the rod tip break past my shoulder. He then handed me the rod.

I was amazed when I cast, that little hint let me shoot the line a good thirty feet out, tangling in my left hand as it shot out causing it to snap to a stop. After a few more little pointers, the old man loaded his boat and left. The next fifteen minutes I found myself intent on getting my casts out as far as possible. I saw myself improving. Then I got a tug. I was so intent on practicing my casts that it startled me to have a fish on.  It was small, maybe a pound and a half, but it bent the cheap rod over like I was fighting a monster on the end of my line.

It turned out to be a good, healthy sized fish that I gently let go. My new fly rod had been good to me, getting even better as I fished through the dusk.  After landing a few more fish, I packed up, pleased with the evening. I was hooked on the fly, the same as the fish, over the course of the summer I picked up the spinning rod only a handful of times. As I drove home that evening though, I realized, I need to get out on the water more. It doesn’t matter what line you run on your reel or how much that fly reel costs. It only matters that the line is tight and the rod is bent.

Follow Sean Johnson:

Sean was raised in Northeastern Oregon in the Wallowa Valley. It was there that he learned to hunt and fly fish. After receiving his history degree from the University of Oregon, Sean guided fly fishermen from Alaska to Chile. There were a few interludes where he sailed as a crew member on a ship and even worked in the craft brewing industry. Eventually he found his love in writing about the outdoors. His articles and fiction stories have a unique style and voice that conveys his love for the natural world. Currently he is the main writer for Always A Good Day, freelances and is working on a book of fiction.