Beyond the Catch

Any time we set out with a fly rod in hand (or as a piece of luggage, for that matter), few of us think of anything other than catching. Why? Because you and I like and want to catch fish. However, sometimes I think that we fly-anglers get tunnel vision and focus a little too much on catching. Doing so leaves us subject to missing out on other great things that come with fly-fishing, things that, in the end, are more special than setting the hook on a fish or listening to the scream of a drag.

One of the most rewarding aspects of fly-fishing is that it affords us opportunities to encounter new people, places and cultures. When I was in college, I was required to spend a semester abroad to receive my degree in international business. When the time came, I sat down and looked at all the locations offered — I remember seeing countries like Spain, Germany, England and Ireland on the list. As I mulled over the decision, a roommate said to me, “It’s too bad you aren’t getting a degree in environmental studies, since Belize counts as an international credit for that.” This comment had me contemplating changing majors. Instead of taking drastic measures, I decided to try to schmooze my counselor. It took some convincing, but finally I was able to persuade him that a certain level of “business knowledge” could be gained by studying sea-grass beds in Belize. Since my study-abroad semester was somewhat customized, I failed to read the fine print of the whole course. I waited until my group landed in Belize City to view the itinerary.

I’ll never forget my disappointment when I realized that 95 percent of the trip would be spent inland. For the first few days, I was angry with myself and thought I’d made a huge mistake. However, when at last it was time to make our way to Glover’s Reef, where I’d finally be able to fish for bonefish and permit (and study sea-grass beds, of course), I realized that I hadn’t made a mistake at all. The first 95 percent of trip had been a huge bonus. I had been able to immerse myself and experience a completely new place and culture that most anglers who visit this small country miss out on.

A couple of months ago, I found myself in a similar situation. I was invited to host a Sport Fishing Television episode on fly-fishing for giant tarpon in the Rio San Juan, in Nicaragua. As soon as I saw my plane ticket, I was overwhelmed with excitement and immediately converted my house into a fly-manufacturing facility. The first two days on the water, I cast a 450-grain sinking line on a 12-weight from 4:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and jumped only one small fish. Each morning, the production crew and I felt the stress of completing the episode. Every second that ticked by, that stress increased. Interestingly enough, after fishing, we came back to the lodge and were all laughs and smiles each evening. The fish were there — we saw them rolling from sunup to sundown — but they simply were not eating. The people, the crew, the location and the caiman hunting at night made us forget about the lockjawed tarpon. In situations like these, you’ve got to look beyond the catch. Pay attention to your surroundings, enjoy and learn about the culture, and don’t be shy — strike up a conversation with locals. Take my word for it: If you focus only on the fish, you will never know what you might be missing out on.