Fly Fishing Jazz: Play Through the Glitches

Matt Guymon Trout

Hard work pays off. Photo by Matt Guymon

THE MUSICIAN OFTEN finds himself (or herself) fending off demons on two fronts.

On the one hand, there’s the solitary challenge. Truth be told, this is (as it should be) the ultimate test. No musician, and no angler, can really aspire to true greatness until they find themselves in a place where they become their own greatest critic.

When you can recognize your own mistakes, and can endeavor to teach yourself to correct those mistakes, you have arrived on a plane where greatness is truly possible. Failing that, you’re just a wannabe… a student. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s a difference between adequate and great, mere player and virtuoso. And to the extent that you want to climb the ladder to its highest rungs—in music, and in fly fishing—those final, hardest steps, are always, inevitably coached from within.

As such, we practice, and practice, and practice… we endeavor for perfection. That, in and of itself, is an absolutely wonderful and important thing. But it can also drive you mad.

The great concert pianist, Vladimir Horowitz, reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown because he once found himself unable to make his fingers do what his mind told him to play.

All of us have found ourselves frustrated, if not broken, as we try to put the cast in just the right spot, at just the right time (and that’s never made easier with a guide barking orders, good intentions aside, over your shoulder).

But the other front where musicians and anglers face the demons revolves around the “live performance.” Playing with the band. And in those cases, when you slip, the most important thing to remember is to keep time, and play on.

Fly fishing, on a river for trout, or on the ocean flats for tarpon, or anything in-between, is always a “live” performance. The “concert” involves many players—you, the fish, the environment, and rarely, if ever, does it always line up, just perfectly, according to the sheet music.

You need to accept that, and play on. You’re going to squeak a note here and there. We all do. Even the greatest players do. But no matter what happens, you need to keep pressing, keep improvising and make your own music.

When it’s all over, you go back and practice some more. You face the first demon, and the whole process starts again.

The more you do it, the better you play, and the more comfortable you get.

But in the end, you realize that you’re still battling, and the demons only get bigger, the more you challenge yourself.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The real players wouldn’t have it any other way.