Magic words for any angler to hear.
“Scott! Got ‘em!” Mark’s voice shakes as he raises his voice to get my attention
I quickly reel in my line and look upstream. Mark’s rod is bent over by the force of a large fish. He shuffles his feet, moving downstream to gain leverage on the surging fish. I follow the taut line into the water, trying to catch a glimpse of the trout below the surface. Beneath the surface of dark green water, a dark brown shadow emerges, highlighted by a golden glow of the trout’s underside.
“Mark, this is a big fish! Woohoo!”
“It hit like a freight train!” Mark has a way to make even mundane things sound exciting, but when he is fired up almost every word sounds like the announcer at a heavyweight boxing championship.
The fish heads downstream and Mark turns to pull the fish sideways, keeping it from making a straight downstream run. It’s heading toward me.
“Want me to net it?” I ask, knowing if I mess up and accidentally lose the fish, I’m going to feel awful.
“Yes, I didn’t want it below me.” Mark’s voice is still shaking.
I pull the net from the magnet latch behind my head and move into the water, just downstream of the fish.
“Just tell me when you’re ready to lift it and I’ll get it.”
I follow the fish as it darts back and forth. It settles down and moves toward the surface. “I think I’m ready.”
“Ok, lift it and I’ll get him.”
The fish came to the surface, thrashing and rolling with an open mouth. I knew I had to get it with the first attempt. I lowered the net into the water and scooped upward, netting the fish and exhaling. “Woohoo! What a beauty MC!”
Mark took a deep breath. “I’m shaking, man. I’m shaking.”
I quickly took a few pictures of Mark with his trophy, and he released the fish.
For the remainder of the morning as we fished together, we helped and encouraged each other. Beyond the high fives and trading flies, fishing with Mark made for a wonderful day and fantastic trip. Sitting and talking by the campfire at night and dissecting the water during the day, Mark and I spent over 24 hours immersed in fishing and friendship.
Solitude while fly fishing is often soothing and gives me time to reset my mood and my mind, but fishing with a friend expands the experience and gives you another set of eyes and expertise to help you grow as an angler. A fishing buddy can be there to net your fish when it gets below you or tell a joke to alleviate the disappointment of losing a fish. The shared memories created carry your friendship forward and give you more than a fishing story or lesson learned. They give you a bond with someone with shared interest and appreciation.
There are obvious elements of safety in fishing with companions, by watching each other’s back when around the water and wild places, with the dangers they present. Safety encourages exploration, to try new techniques or go to new places that may be more remote. Fishing for longer periods of time can introduce fatigue, discouragement, and risk of injury. It is helpful to have someone with you to aid you with the physical and mental health risks you may encounter.
Sharing experiences with friends also doubles the opportunities to learn and grow. Watching Mark hook the fish, helping him land it, and sharing the moment with him was just as much fun as catching a fish myself. He also was able to try different methods and techniques and share the success with me, so we could double our efforts to get dialed into where fish were holding and what they were feeding on.
An amazing element of fishing is it can be completed by nearly anyone of any age and athletic ability. Fishing companions can be far more diverse than friends from sports teams or school classes. It can bring together generations of families and people from entirely different walks of life. I’ve been lucky to fish with people of variable life experiences and backgrounds. The many things I have learned from them has improved my fishing and impacted my life.
I’m especially grateful for the time I have fished with Brian and Mark. They have taught me a tremendous amount and have been great friends and mentors to me. Our ongoing text chats about the places we are fishing and flies we are using, keeps our lives and our fishing experiences connected. I share fishing photos and flies with my friend’s son in Michigan, staying connected to his adventures hundreds of miles away. Luckily, I have also spent time on the water with impressive scientists, like Dr. Stephen Wright and Andy Becker. All these contacts have helped me grow as an angler and most importantly, as a person.
I’d like to encourage everyone to reach out to someone and share an activity with them they enjoy, even if it is not fishing. You may find companionship, exploration, security, amusement and learning. You may find more than all those things, you may find a fishing buddy.