Brightly wrapped presents in red, green, silver, and sparkling patterns of many different colors of wrapping paper and gift bags are piled around a decorated fir tree with decades of collected ornaments. Antsy children sit in matching pajamas staring at their parents with a rare, focused intent meant to will them to say the words, “Go ahead and open them.”
The moment as a child when you see the gifts under the tree and get to open the first gift was magical. As I got older, the pressure of gift receiving and giving took away some of the excitement and joy of the holiday, but the childhood wonder of Christmas stays with me today. I look to the youngest members of my family to connect me to that feeling each year. The pure joy on their faces, no matter how brief, is worth the stress of the holiday. Connecting with those moments in life is connecting to happiness. That’s part of the reason that traditions and rituals are so important. Repeating an event, whether it’s making Christmas cookies, gift exchanges, or having a special toast with dinner reminds us of all the times we have completed that event previously.
As a sport or life activity, fly fishing has unique elements that maintain traditions and produce enjoyment and childlike excitement in different ways. This may generate some eye rolls from the non-anglers reading the blog, but if there are twelve days of Christmas, there are 365 days of fly fishing. While regulations, weather, employment, high flows, or common sense may keep anglers off the water on some days during the year, there are always activities that connect an angler to fishing.
One of the biggest gifts I have discovered with fly fishing is fly tying. Lashing fur, feathers, and synthetic materials on a hook can be completed regardless of the weather, opens the creative parts of your mind, focuses your hand-eye coordination and stirs your imagination as you visualize a fish rising to take your fly. As a fly tyer and angler, your loved ones always have a broad choice in items to buy you for birthdays and Christmas. You can never have enough fly tying materials! Just don’t ask spouses of fly tiers if they think that is true. If your eyes can see and hands can tie the thread, you can continue to tie flies. So, tying flies can be a part of fly fishing throughout your life. Fly tying has traditions of different styles and types of flies that are passed on between generations of tiers, with memories of time together at the vise and on the water.
Time on the water is where I find some of the greatest joy in my life. The river helps me recharge, spending time in beautiful, peaceful places. Concentration on the drift of the flies clears my mind and provides the opportunity for the satisfying stimulus-response that verifies that my actions led to a fish taking my fly. Overcoming a challenge and as humanely as possible invoking the hunter and provider mindset is incredibly rewarding. Each drift gives the opportunity to learn, grow, and experiment. A thinking angler is a soul seeking wonder.
Fly fishing also provides anglers a community. Approximately seven million people fly fish in the United States, roughly two percent of the population. Within that seven million, a much smaller subset become invested to a point where they spend time (and money) in fly shops, volunteer for fishing or conservation organizations, or share fly fishing with buddies or family members. Often, areas of common interest and values bring people together. Finding a tribe of like minded and dedicated souls has expanded my world and keeps me from staying too self absorbed and stuck in my own head.
We each have biases and blind spots, stresses and strains that keep us from growing and chip away at our capacity for joy. The season of gift giving helps to show us that we have many people who we care about and care about us. Holiday traditions connect us to our past and continue our culture and values into the future. I can often feel overwhelmed or pressured during holidays, which elevates my stresses and increases my blind spots. The gifts of fly tying, time on the water, and a thoughtful community are wonderful presents given to me through fly fishing. Time with family and holiday traditions are the gifts of the Christmas season.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!