The zen of fly-fishing

July 25, 2016

fly-fishingIt would be a few laughs, that’s what Famous Girlfriend and I envisioned for our fly-fishing adventure in Montana. We’d be Ethel and Lucy, we thought, ineptly casting, laughing hysterically, hooking each other and getting our lines tangled in our hair.


Me b4 fishing. The first mirror selfie I’ve ever taken. And the last, I hope.

We would be amused, we girly-girls of a certain age. We would have stories to tell that would make people laugh. After all, fly-fishing wasn’t just not in our wheel-house, we couldn’t imagine taking it up, ourselves. We were too uncoordinated.

Or so we thought.

fly-fishingRiver’s Edge Fly Shop was busy at 8am on this blazing hot July day, teeming with fishermen and women getting equipment, buying their fishing licenses and meeting their guides.  Our guide, Wes, hadn’t arrived yet when we got there, so we did a little shopping.


My stylish Buff.

We each bought a Buff for sun protection, hers in a camo-ey style and mine not so much. It’s kind of like a multi-functional scarf that can be fashioned into anything from a face mask to a hijab. Just about. It had been a torrid, sunny week and we knew we’d be on the water most of the day, with sun reflecting on us. Not even my 50 SPF sunblock and white, long-sleeved MIT t-shirt could stand up to it.The Buffs looked like good protection for our necks and chins. And, as my husband pointed out, perfect for holding up a convenience store.

My official fishing license.

My official fishing license.

Wes and his boat appeared shortly thereafter and we loaded up his truck for our 45 minute drive to the beautiful Yellowstone River.  We liked Wes right away. He’s a skinny, 26 year old who’s had an interesting young life and knew a whole lot about fly-fishing and Montana. We talked about everything from hunting and conservation to gun control and politics, which made him the perfect guide for us. Not to mention he is an EMT. Just in case. And hella-patient.

fly-fishingOnce we got to the river, Wes showed us his tackle box and flies, then affixed some flies to our lines, all the while explaining how fly fishing worked. We began with dry flies but he told us that at some point we’d switch to nymphs. We listened. We’re very good listeners.


Wes showing us how to tie a fly on.

The boat was a 20-year old, banged up fiberglass float boat with oars and no motor. He got it in the water, we got in and we were on our way. I’ve always loved to be on the water, especially in a small fishing boat in which I always feel closer to the water and get into the groove of the current.  I took the front seat.

My Go Pro was at the ready, but it didn’t work out exactly as I’d envisioned. The sun searing and I didn’t want to go without a broadbrimmed hat. Plus, I was very into the absolutely awesome views of the northern Rockies all around us, as the current carried us downstream, Wes rowing every so often.

Shortly, Wes handed us our rods and began explaining how to cast with dry flies. The idea is to imitate the natural behavior of flies on the river. There’s a little bit of finesse involved in casting with dry flies. Initially, I tried to slam the fly into the water, but soon learned that I didn’t need to pull back quite as far or cast with as much power. Once cast, we learned to mend, which is to lay the line down in a curve upstream so the fly would go with the current and not our wake–to avoid drag and keep the fly looking natural.

To our surprise, we caught on fairly quickly. I wouldn’t call us skilled, but we got the idea and could successfully cast and mend at a basic level.  It was a surprise to find that fly-fishing is an active sport that requires casting every 10 seconds or so all day. (Thank you, Hot Trainer, for all that arm work!!) Soon, nothing existed for me but the water gently carrying us downstream, casting and mending. Again. Again. And again.  It was the perfect zen activity.



Nothing was biting. But to be honest? I didn’t care.  Pull back, cast, mend. Pull back, cast, mend. I didn’t think about anything or anyone else. Just that. We floated gently down the river, every so often hitting some class 1 rapids. Nothing fazed me. Cast, mend, watch. Cast, mend, watch.

Before too long, Wes decided we needed to catch fish, so he switched us to nymphs. Nymphs have a little weight attached to them so they sink below the water. Wes also attached indicators–bobbers– so we could see where the line hit. Mine was orange. Some say indicators aren’t “pure.” That they’re “cheating” or for newbies. I didn’t much care–it gave me one more focus for the zen of flyfishing.

The water carrying us along. Casting. Mending. Watching the bobber. And doing it all again. And again. And again.


More ommmm on the beautiful Yellowstone River.

Casting nymphs required us to do a little more of a slam onto the water. So that’s what I did. After a while, I didn’t really want to talk. I just wanted to drift and cast.

“You getting bored up there, Carol?” Wes asked, noticing my silence.

“Not hardly,” I replied. I was relaxed, happy and into the repetition of the sport. I didn’t care if I caught a thing. I did, however, notice a dark cloud that had been following us for a while. I was pretty sure the skies would open up soon.


Robin and Wes.

And then, Robin landed a whitefish. It was pretty fun and she was pretty excited about it. Wes scooped it up in a basket, we looked at it and then he let it go.


Robin’s whitefish.

“Time for you to catch one, Carol,” Wes commented.

“I don’t care if I do,” I tried to explain. But of course, he’s a professional guide. His regular clients aren’t happy if they don’t catch fish. Me? I was happy just being there, leaving the fish alone, just casting, mending, watching the water.


Clouds looming.

About then, I hooked one, pulled it up, couldn’t stand the fact that he was out of the water (even though the hooks are special and barely hurt the fish, we’re told)  and then I said “Let’s let it go! Let it go!” I didn’t want to scoop him up so we let him go before he got super close to the boat.

“We call that a long-distance release,” Wes said with a laugh. Fine with me. I looked up. We were directly under a black cloud.


The rain didn’t bother us at all.

Fat rain drops plopped on us and Wes recommended pulling in our lines and setting the poles down.  A dramatic dark cloud dumped rain on us as the boat navigated through tiny little areas of rapids. Time passed in a dream-like state:  the motion of the boat, the rain, the river, the mountains. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to take photographs. I just wanted to drift in that zen state forever, mesmerized.

All too soon, we reached the boat ramp. Our four-hour, five-mile float was over.

Reflecting later, we realized that we’d learned something important about ourselves: that our image of ourselves as hapless and uncoordinated in the face of the sport didn’t match reality at all. Oh, sure, we’re still neophytes and only began learning a few of the basics. But we realized that yes, we could learn to fly-fish and yes, we liked it. We liked it just fine.

In fact, I liked it a lot.

We tell ourselves stories about ourselves all the time: who we are, what we like, how we respond to things. Sometimes we’re dead on. Other times, we haven’t a clue. This was one of those latter times.

I hope to return with my husband next year. We’ll stay in the park, see some critters, take some hikes and of course, meet up with Wes for some fly-fishing. We’ll be in Santa Fe for six weeks this fall. If it works out, we might do some fishing there. And of course, we have some great rivers in the San Francisco Bay area and if we can squeeze some time out, might explore a bit of that.

Me in the zen of fly-fishing. Who’d have thunk it?




76 comments on “The zen of fly-fishing
  1. Leanne says:

    I love that you found out you are a fisherwoman – it’s a bit like me finding my inner craftswoman when I did my stained glass. We certainly tell ourselves stories about who we are and don’t realize how easily we can make a new chapter. I look forward to more fly fishing stories to come 🙂

  2. I love your writing, Carol. I was right in that boat with you, casting & mending. You make me want to try fly fishing some time!

  3. AJ Sefton says:

    Great post! Fishing is not my thing but I really enjoyed reading about your adventure!

  4. T.O. Weller says:

    “We tell ourselves stories about ourselves all the time: who we are, what we like, how we respond to things. Sometimes we’re dead on. Other times, we haven’t a clue. This was one of those latter times.”

    Love that Carol! We live our stories, until we see through them or unless we choose not to.

    Maybe you’ll make it up here one day to fish? I can see you have many gorgeous options, but if you feel particularly adventurous, who knows? Have you seen the shot of Kip with his 6lb bass? 🙂

    Great to hear how much you enjoyed it.

  5. Been pace says:

    You go girl! I used to love fresh water fishing and being competitive with the boys! Your adventure eeminded me of my younger days. Thanks for sharing!


  6. GiGi Eats says:

    Fly FIshing can definitely result in ZEN time -because a lot of waiting is involved! 😉

  7. Terri says:

    Zen indeed! My parents took us trout fishing as a kid, and I fished a little, eventually preferring to read. There was a lot of hiking involved, and we got bored. Loved this post and your wonderful descriptions of the art of fishing. Hope it becomes a lifestyle 😉 and loved the fashion.

  8. Laurie Oien says:

    How great that you gals got out there and did that! Such a memorable learning experience. Even better that Wes was a patient guide.

  9. Cori says:

    To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know you could do fly fishing from a boat. I thought the chest high waders were a requirement.

  10. What a great story!Who knew that you were such a fisherwoman? And I love that you threw back that fish 🙂

  11. Haralee says:

    Beautiful scenery and quite water, I can certainly see why you loved it. The images of Lucy and Ethel will have to occur with another activity.

  12. That’s exactly why my canoe is my most prized possession. Whenever I’m feeling stressed we just head to the lake, river, creek anywhere and just relax. It does amazing things for my stress levels. I haven’t tried fly fishing yet, but I’ve always wanted to. Yellowstone is an amazing place, isn’t it?

  13. Sounds like fly-fishing in that gorgeous setting is the perfect way to be in the moment. I was getting mesmerized by your description of the gentle repetition, the flow of the water. Great post, Carol!

  14. Linda Hobden says:

    I relaxed just reading your post – the vibes were that strong! Never tried proper fishing – only guppy fishing in streams with nets and jamjars (yes we tipped them back in the streams) when I was a youngster. Mmmm… might give it a whirl! ????

  15. Michelle says:

    If I could just get into fishing in general, my husband would be thrilled. I think our zen could be anywhere really. It is all in our attitude and our willingness to enjoy the moment, learn something new and take a little bit of “zen” away from it. This was so fun to read.

  16. Welcome to the zen of Fly Fishing my friend. I’ve been doing it for years with my husband. Now you must try bone fishing- same thing but on salt water. ENJOY!

  17. Jennifer says:

    I haven’t tried fly fishing, but it sounds like you really found your zone out there.

  18. Barbara says:

    I relaxed as I read this, Carol. You took something I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, (pun intended), and made it seem like meditation. Beautifully written.

  19. Wow. Who knew. What you sold me on is trying new things!!! And I have at least a half dozen Ethels to my Lucy! So glad you had a good time!

  20. I love fishing. I haven’t been in many years because my kids were too young. I have been wanting to try fly fishing. I might just give it a try now 🙂

  21. Great!! Seems like you had a great time. I want to do that some day.

  22. That makes perfect sense to me. For me it’s archery and knife-throwing where I find my zen. It’s lovely.

  23. Liz Mays says:

    I tried flyfishing once from the shore, and it was only for a few minutes so I don’t know that I ever really caught on to the technique properly. I can see how it would be totally relaxing though.

  24. tara pittman says:

    Fishing is a great time for quiet. I would use this time to reconnect with my husband.

  25. Amy Jones says:

    That is such a relaxing activity! Nice to know you guys had a great time

  26. I did some ocean fishing when I was much younger but never fly. My sister and my cousin do it. Personally, I like to eat them.

  27. This is something I never experienced as a child, much more as an adult. I would love to learn how to do fly-fishing. I guess growing up in the city has its drawbacks. Happy to hear you had a great time.

  28. says:

    I grew up with friends who liked to fish and I never really saw the appeal. However, the older I get, the more I like the sound of a peaceful getaway hobby!

  29. Nicole Escat says:

    I like to go fishing but I am not sure if there is a nearby fishing facility here. This sounds like a nice activity for the family!

  30. I loved reading about your adventure into fly fishing. Fishing of any kind is not my thing partly because I am allergic to them. I love your writing.

  31. Azlin Bloor says:

    Fantastic read, I can just picture myself doing that – for about 5 minutes! Unless I had a book to read of course! Definitely a very relaxing thing to do!

  32. Elizabeth O. says:

    I think it’s a relaxing sport, that’s probably you didn’t care if you caught a fish or not. I’m glad you had a great time though. It’s definitely an experience you can’t forget!

  33. My husband has been interested in trying out Fly Fishing. He loves to go deep sea fishing. This is the only type of fishing he hasn’t tried out. I’m going to share this with him.

  34. ka says:

    Fishing is fun and a great bonding too! I love to spend fishing time with my son when I’m free.

  35. Kathy Kenny Ngo says:

    Fishing is fun and a great bonding too! I love to spend fishing time with my son when I’m free.

  36. SuE says:

    You are such a good writer Carol. I was there with you. I’m not into fishing but fly fishing has always seemed a relaxing past time. Who wouldn’t love the views that you had they are gorgeous. No fly fishing in Queensland but we do have lakes in Tasmania and Victoria so you’ve inspired me to give it a try.

  37. I’ve never tired fly fishing and it does seem incredibly peaceful. The Yellowstone River also looks beautiful, I’m sure that’s help with the zen!

  38. Ashley says:

    My friend’s husband loves fly fishing. I’ve never tried it but regular fishing is relaxing

  39. Christina says:

    Tony has always wanted to try fly fishing. You have inspired me to maybe surprise him with a trip (you know, when we hit the lottery) lol!

  40. Fly Fishing sounds fun! I can’t say that I have ever been fishing in my life. I’d love to, one day!

  41. Shanna Uptergrove says:

    50spf hardly works for me- I gotta get a sunburn before I don’t burn again. But it looks so amazing out there. I LOVE lakes and grew up fishing with my dad.

  42. I felt Zen-like just reading your rendition of your first fly fishing trip. It made me want to try it and I’m not even an outdoorsy type person. At least that’s what I tell myself. I could be wrong, apparently, if I just open my mind to new experiences. Lovely post, Carol.

  43. I have never been fly fishing before I think it is more popular where you are but I can see why it would make you feel zen-like xx

  44. Berlin says:

    Havent tried fishing but looking at your experience, it seems like a fun way to bond with family or friends and also relax at the same time. Happy fishing!

  45. Milena says:

    I love that you tried it and that you liked it! IT sounds fun and peaceful at the same time. Good for you!

  46. Jessica Kirk says:

    Wow!! Just reading about this and imagining me doing it was enough to start to get me in that zen spot you were talking about! I’ve always thought that fly-fishing was beyond me, but you make me want to find someone to teach me!

  47. I think fishing is a fun sport for males and females. In fact, I bought a rod and reel this morning that I can’t wait to try out. I’ve never baited my own hook but I want to learn to do it all. Love the selfie, don’t let it be your last.

  48. Silly Mummy says:

    Interesting! I’ve never been fly fishing. I used to do other fishing with my dad when I was little sometimes & loved it but not sure I would now!

  49. Melissa Bernardo says:

    I have never been fly fishing. Sounds like something that I’d love to do!

  50. Glenda Kruse says:

    My husband and kids love fishing. I tried it a few times and it grosses me out. But I have to say it sure does look relaxing on that boat 🙂

  51. Beverly says:

    What a beautiful place to relax. I tried fly fishing once but must admit, I was not very successful. My son tried to teach me, but I prefer to just fish the regular way.
    Thanks for sharing at Over The Moon party,

  52. Sarah Bailey says:

    I have never really been much into fishing but fly fishing does look awesome. Finding my zen would be great.

  53. Robin Rue says:

    This looks like it would be so much fun honestly I love to go to the beach and to fish. It is somewhat relaxing.

  54. aziel morte says:

    Such a great post and awesome experience. I would love to try these memorable thing.

  55. Loved your post!Hubby and so love fishing but I rarely go with them. Fishing is not my thing. When I go, bring a book or a magazine and a large drink!

  56. Jenjen says:

    Haven’t tried fishing and it is still on my bucket-list. Seeing your post made me think of having it done within the year 🙂

  57. Christina says:

    Your description of wanting to feel like Ethel and Lucy on an adventure is a pleasant one. It’s nice that you enjoyed your experience.

  58. ochelli says:

    Great to know your success. Normally catching fishes isn’t as difficult as people think. Following instructions will really help get the best fishing experience.

  59. I think people can be surprised at how simple fly fishing can be: cast, mend, drift. My first fly-fishing was for bluegill in farm ponds: cast, twitch, wait. Of course. fly fishing can be as complicated as you make it, but I’m a minimalist.

  60. Aaron C says:

    I feel like fly-fishing is more exciting than normal fishing. Especially since you have to actively participate in the fishing part. Thanks for the write up!

  61. Kids Fishing says:

    Hi Ethel and Lucy, great post and great story. Fishing really is a great activity that anyone can do. Cheers to you.

  62. joecarrow says:

    Obviously, it is enjoyable if you can overcome risks following some instructions. So, you have to follow some basic instructions. Even you have to be dressed in an exceptional way!

  63. Owen says:

    I cherish angling. I haven’t been in numerous years in light of the fact that my children were excessively youthful. I have been needing to attempt fly angling. I may very well try it out at this point.

  64. Hayden says:

    Fly-fishing has got to be the most relaxing angling outlet that there is. It can be a little difficult to pick up at first, but once you do it’s extremely relaxing and exciting when you do catch something. Glad y’all caught something on your first trip, hope y’all keep it up!

  65. Tim says:

    Ahh, you got to experience my favorite type of fly fishing – fishing from a drift boat. One of my best friends bought a boat about 15 years ago now, and we try to do a trip almost every year. We’ve had multiple “bachelor” trips between our group of friends, birthday trips, etc. I usually bring my dirt bike to run shuttle for us. Just a beautiful way to see a river, and spend the day. Nice write up about your experience.

  66. sarene says:

    They should call this zen fly fishing instead of fly fishing because it really helps me feel good and appreciate nature especially the fishes. Your adventure on fly fishing is really beautiful, love to see more of your post about fly fishing adventures next time.

  67. Matt says:

    Great article as always!
    Just started to teach my nephew to fish…he’s loving it!
    Keep those great blogs coming….

  68. Alexallen says:

    Fly fishing is a great experience. Thanks for your article and story. You make me want to pick up the fishing rod and run into the water

  69. sarene says:

    I love how you showed yourself to your readers without reservations. i think many women can relate with you. from laughing about the idea of fly fishing to just being contented to being their on the river. while reading, i really can say that fly fishing is not easy and you need an arm training just to be able to lift the rod. i also love how patient and how into it you are. i just love everything about. i learned something and i even laughed from this article.

  70. Brianna says:

    Fishing is the one and only holiday activity which can fulfill my holiday nicely. Going for fishing with family is more enjoyable.

  71. Wes says:

    What a great story. i am always thrilled to see people trying a new recreational activity such as fishing. Fly fishing can be very frustrating at times but it sounds like you all made the best of a great trip. To catch fish your first time out is an added bonus to the awesome scenery of Montana. Thanks for the great read.

  72. Drift boat fishing is my favorite! I always catch more fish from a boat, and feel like I’m on a good adventure at the same time. Plus, the beer cooler is easier to access!

  73. Dan Marshall says:

    Fishing is like freedom from all that stress. Nothing more stress relieving than enjoying time outdoors catching fish on your boat fitted with best trolling motor. Spending your time casting for a trout on a wonderful stream or on a pond bobber fishing releases stress like no other….. and this article is very helpful to who likes fishing.

  74. Ashraf says:

    Very much informative post!
    Fishing is the one and only holiday activity which can fulfill my holiday nicely. Going for fishing with family is more enjoyable.

  75. Harvey says:

    Really good read on Fly Fishing, im getting ready for winter here and looking forward to getting back out fishing, thanks for taking the time to post this!

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