fly fishing techniques
Return to all Techniques Articles

“The Naming”

by Erin Block
photos by Erin Block

Fly Fishing TipsA name is power. Of family, history, place. And the right to name is one of the great firsts of life, of endowed gravity.  Find the good things, you’re told, the virtues, and pull them out—never-ending like ribbon through a magic-man’s mouth. You don’t name a boy Beelzebub and you don’t name a gelding Stormy. Like peas to a trellis, we live up to our names, to expectations. So thread those eyelets high.

Sometimes though, things come to us already named: adopted dogs, a sister’s car, a mother’s disease. Towns, roads, rivers and ponds. Things inherited through time, genes, an old farmer’s first love or early explorers’ maps.

A name is control. To say You’re Mine. Or not. Not anymore. We change ours and take another’s—historically, a way to own property, to join households—cleaving lineage in hopes its forked lines won’t have too many dead ends. Sometime our names are used to belittle and insult—slurring, separating into silos of ignorance.

They are remembrance of place. Gothenburg, Nebraska, for example, where your grandparents grew tall like corn in fields aside the South Platte, named for its older cosmopolitan Swedish sister sitting on the Göta älv. New Worlds and Old, we’re reminded from where we’ve come, even having never been there before.

A name is also, selfishly, used to mislead. As a fly fisher, you’re guilty. Like the Old Testament’s G-d, your lakes and streams have many names, rarely uttered and never spelled fully. It’s protection. And like other forms, some folks don’t approve. Like other forms, it’s not fool proof—there are lapses in judgment and also, sometimes regret. It’s reaction, from seeing ripped lips on native cutthroats and buckets of bass and bluegill headed for a grill or freezer. Guts left for magpies. Heads carried away in the mouths of dogs.

Perhaps this is your maternal instinct kicking in, wings hovering protection of something you see as smaller, more vulnerable than yourself. You don’t know. But you’ve noticed heavily pressured fisheries are often not healthy ones. Thus you vet your friends well. And with pacts akin to gradeschool blood-brother handshakes, make promises to keep and hold secrets close. Cross your heart and hope to die.

On public land and busy trails, the lake sits relatively near vehicle parking. Yet even then, tourists barely make it up and back the few short miles in their flip-flopped feet, with their waterless hands. Liabilities, search and rescue folks would say. Beautiful, it nestles into a low cirque and spills over an outcrop into a lazy small stream you hear for miles through the canyon. Someone long ago called this place “Lost.” Perhaps they were in such a state themselves, or maybe they just didn’t want anyone else ever finding it again. The fishing was that good; the mines that rich. You wonder how many Losts there are in this world. And where they are. And if anyone finds themselves wandering anymore.

A heavily used path runs across the dam, along the pond’s eastside, where midday workweek Stepford Wives, trustafarians and retirees—in other words, Those With Time—walk dogs and exercise mouths. Sometimes their legs move faster than their gossip. You’ve never seen anyone else fishing here, although there’s evidence they do. A bobber here. Lure there. Line you pick off the ground and put in your pack. You name it “Blue Sunshine,” although now you can’t remember why—you were hot and tired and a few drinks in at christening time. It sounds like code and isn’t on a map. And that’s the main thing.

Fly Fishing TipsA fork in a creek, falling down a mountain valley like so many hairs on your head. Backward braiding to split ends, roots lie under a glacier. You only spend a few months here each year, after runoff and before snows begin again like a familiar chorus, an annual affair of wet feet.  You can predict her moods, finish her sentences, trace her bends and curves. She gives up brookies and cutthroats in pockets carved from ice and fallen Engelmann spruce. This one, she has no name. Or rather, she has too many to count.

It should hold pike, this pond. That’s the rumor. And should have bass bunked in the tumbleweeds, too. That’s the theory. But theories are debunked and Pluto isn’t a planet. And this water just holds carp (which suits your fancy just fine). This water, rimmed with cattails and scattered with spent shotgun shells (pressed to your ear, you can still hear the bang). Here, they take you into backing, every time. You call it “The Zoo”; there is no admission fee.

There are Hells Canyons and Deadman’s Runs; Dismal and Snake Rivers; Bitch and Old Woman Creeks. You wonder how many beautiful places are hidden by word associations, by assumptions, by places we’re led to believe we’d rather not go. Is it intentional, you wonder? This naming away the crowds.

You don’t bother for large, recognizable waters. But for small, public waters, yes… a little something special at dinnertime for the runt. This is not the lake you’re looking for, you convince with widening, desperate eyes. You look to the power of persuasion; the power of names to take care.

Sometimes you feel silly and over-protective, the miserly-mouthed opposite of stereotypical angler aggrandizements. Slow fishing; Might be some winter-kill; Only a few bluegill at best. These answers you have stocked like the ponds down your road, the ones for which no one bothers to change names.

Just like sweet spots for wild chanterelles and porcini, you may tell the elevation but never, ever, the trail. Selfishly, you need these secrets, these places. Craving the illusion that you’re special, that you’re the only one. And so as humans always have, you name domains to rule, even for a kingdom in your head.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Raised on an Iowa farm and then educated as a classical guitarist, Erin Block now works as librarian by day, writer by night, and a fly fisher and fly tier on her days off. Living in the mountains of Colorado, she and her dog Banjo roam the high country exploring alpine lakes and small streams as well as slog through mudflats and warm water ponds in pursuit of carp and bass along the Front Range. More of Erin's writing can be found at:
Bookmark the permalink.
  • Tom Hazelton

    Deep in upper Michigan is a Federally-protected tract of almost 12,000 acres called the “Delirium Wilderness.” The Feds categorize it as “a thickly forested swamp with standing water and biting insects.” No roads, no trails, theoretically no prospect of fish. Now I’m wondering what might actually be hidden in there.

    • Erin Block

      Yes… you definitely need to check that out.

    • Tom – The Delirium Wilderness, just west of Kinross, in the UP, is a most interesting tract of land. It is an absolute bear to manuever, because it is so swampy and over grown. Precisely why – if you make the effort – it has its rewards. I will say, my venture into the DW was in the winter – the best time to get around: frozen ground. Yet, even in a January UP winter – some 47 years ago – it was mightly impressive. It was easy to see why entering at any time when the swamp is liquid would be not only trecherous – but downright dangerous. And it would NOT be hard to see the clouds of mosquitoes and black flies waiting to drain you dry! But it is virtually untouched because of this. It has a very good population of deer and bear. And the waters there – mostly tamarac swamp – do have a number of underground streams that provide very good water – harboring some very nice brookie surprises. My hat is off to anyone with the brass to tackle it in the summer – but I am without doubt it would be nothing shy of a named Adventure! Do tell, if you venture forth. 🙂

  • Mike Krall

    Lots of smiles, both named and unnamed, in this one, Erin… thank you.


    • Erin Block

      Thanks for reading, Mike.

  • Ian W Bancroft

    This is such an awesome piece of writing and so so true! Thank you for sharing!

    • Erin Block

      Thanks, Ian. Thanks for reading.

  • Kendall Zimmerman

    This is so beautiful and as you so often do, Erin, taps into feelings often gone unsaid. Words, particularly names, are so powerful and essential.

    • Erin Block

      Thanks as always, Kendall.

  • Doug K

    Naming calls..

    Every fishing spot I write about publicly is either Lost Creek, or Lost Lake. Sometimes Little Lost Creek.. there are plenty of them all over the west, I might even be telling the truth.

    The Zoo used to have pike, then someone mentioned it online, and the catch-and-kill crowd showed up.. luckily I like carp.

  • Pingback: Saturday Shoutout / The Naming | Fly Fishing | Gink and Gasoline | How to Fly Fish | Trout Fishing | Fly Tying | Fly Fishing Blog()

  • jaym

    Awesome read. As a kid I can remember long bike rides and hikes to find secret water on farms here in Florida. Now I aspire to find secret flats with Tarpon. My current favorites are hidden in the wide open, by a highway or close to civilization and nobody thinks there could be fish there. Jumped one there yesterday.

  • Erin … well stated. clear eyed. pensive. invoking. reminiscent. endearing. cajoling. open ended. hidden. masked. … to name a few. Nice work. Also .. a joy to read. 🙂

  • This reminds me of the “Driftless” in Wisconsin. Great stuff as usual.

  • Pingback: The Naming | Erin Block, writer()