My angle to enter the water and get a good drift is impinged by some deep water and a large overhanging tree branch. I look around and try to strategize how I can possibly sneak in a good cast. My confidence is low, so I switch to an indicator. I think with a sideways cast I can get the rig in a good position to have a great drift over my target area. A short steep riffle directs a portion of the stream flow into a lane that is intersected by a large boulder. The boulder deflects flow and creates a “pillow” of soft slow water adjacent to a deep, faster plunging jet of water with a darker green tint. A color gradient in the water typically indicates changing depth, with darker water being deeper than a lighter hue in the water. My cast propels my indicator and nymph rig (two flies and a split shot) about two feet above the water in a flat ark that drops the rig six to seven feet above my target area. I feel a smile and the sense of pride that exactly what I wanted to happen, I made happen. I take a deep breath and watch the indicator intently. A quick pause was all I needed to see. I quickly raised my right arm to 90 degrees, and I felt the headshake. “Fish on!” I exclaim, and I can hear Mark repeat the saying just downstream of me.
He moves up and gets his camera ready to take a photo or short video. I can hear his play by play describing the stream, the fish, and my fishing ability with glowing adjectives and clear descriptions. His descriptions make me laugh, and my smile grows even more. Time on the stream fishing provides all the benefits I described in previous blogs: solitude, serenity, head clearing concentration, appreciation of the outdoors, and many others. Fishing with a friend or several friends provides another benefit: the ability to experience comradery and have a fulfilling conversation.
Male culture has developed with a sense of bravado, where being vulnerable or opening up is discouraged. Studies show that males are taught to appear strong and not show weakness, particularly in family and relationship dynamics. This can create the “I don’t want to talk about it scenario” described by Terrance Real in his book of the same title. Other settings, where groups are formed around commonalities of interest or mindsets, different spaces can be created that allow different levels of communication to occur without familial roles, history or behavioral expectations from squashing openness.
My group of friends would gather in our twenties to go to basketball games, football games, and fantasy baseball and football drafts. These large gatherings were very fun and consisted of having a few beers, giving each other a hard time, being competitive, and talking about sports, relationships, and life. The ability to give each other a hard time or “break balls” was a critical way to have a good time but also get difficult items of conversation out in the open without making a big deal of any particular issue. Levels of compassion and acceptance were woven into the insults, and sometimes things went too far, but they almost always ended in laughs or getting past the issue.
Lots of other groups and activities can create comradery including golf, barbeques, camping, hunting, chess, and many others. Also locations such as barbershops, gyms, and social clubs can form these spaces. During COVID, being indoors in large groups has been discouraged. and opportunities men have become accustomed to for comradery have been limited. Outdoor activities have expanded due to the ease of social distancing.
As I arrived at a parking lot near a stream in Pennsylvania to meet up with Mark last week, there was a group of men older than myself gathered getting ready to fish together. They talked about what flies they were going to use and their strategies for fishing, but they also talked about their families and their health. In the five minutes I needed to get my rod together and lined up and get my waders on, I had overheard one or two personal items for each of the men. They were all wearing camo, they all had a “rugged outdoors” appearance, and they all shared things with empathy and the edge of giving each other a hard time. It was clear to me that they were close, and they were having a good time before they even got started fishing.
Landing the brown trout while Mark was shooting a video brought me back to the men talking as I was getting ready to fish. I’ve appreciated being able to talk about the stress of work and the uncertainty of workload during COVID with Mark and my other friends. To have a place to contemplate life, enjoy a great hobby, and have a safe place to share a thought or ask a question is something I value tremendously. Fly fishing gives the opportunity to learn something new each time you fish. It also is great to learn from those who are willing to share their knowledge, time, and attention. I hope those three men have many more fishing excursions together and I am looking forward to having many more trips with my friends as well.