Learning Something New, By Doing Something Old

photo by Flaxe

I drove right over a rod tube recently. It contained my new fly rod.

I’ll spare you the gory and embarrassing details. This happened 90 minutes from my home, where I was preparing to start an afternoon of fly fishing.  But no worries, a spare rod was in the trunk. I verified the trunk: no spare, for the first time ever. Cursing took place.

What to do?

I decided to walk around and just observe the water (something I don’t do nearly enough of). After a few minutes of observing, I ran into an angler who had just wrapped up his day and was exiting the site. I told him about my brand new, and newly wrecked, rod.  He was staying an additional hour and graciously offered to lend me his rod during that time. I accepted without hesitation.

He had a vest on and I assumed, quite wrongly, that he was going to lend me a fly rod. We walked to his vehicle and he took out a spin-casting rig (what the…?), along with a tackle box loaded with spoons, impressive looking Rapala-type artificial minnows and dozens of colourful rubber lures—“bass magnets” according to my new friend.

I hadn’t handled a spin-casting rig in 18 years, but my options were limited, so, what the heck, off to the water….

I tied on a spoon and cast.  Instant bass: a rebellious two-pounder.  I moved around the area and had similar success with floating Rapalas (beautifully crafted items, by the way).  I stayed away from the bass magnet rubber lures because I was doing just fine with the non-magnetic variety. My hour was up. I brought the gear back, said thanks, got in my vehicle and drove home.

Some things that went through my mind during the drive back: (1) check to be 100% certain that I am carrying a spare fly rod, (2) I loved my hour of spin casting and (3) I’d definitely do it again, at least once a year. There are several good reasons why.

The very first cast brought me right back to my youth. I started to fish by spin-casting—fly fishing came much later—and there’s no question that the rod arm develops muscle memory. Casting that relatively heavy spoon brought back those memories in a very physical way. Beyond that, handling a different implement, even for just an hour, gives you both an appreciation and a better understanding of what you are accomplishing with a fly rod.

I walked away from this experience realizing that I didn’t focus enough on that subtle wrist action that’s required of a fly cast if you’re to get your fly to really sail. That wrist movement is something that comes instinctively when you’re propelling a half-ounce spoon or Rapala lure. This particular facet of casting knowledge comes to you instantly—and acutely—because the wrist snap used in a spin cast is not only far from subtle but indeed essential (it also it doesn’t have the inherent consequences of an overdone snap when using a fly rod).

Finally, this one hour exercise renewed my appreciation for the skills required in fly fishing: casting (proficiently), minding the line, tracking the fly, minding drift, limiting slack and so on. This is not a dig at spin casting, which has its own unique subtleties. The experience did, however, make me realize that fly fishing is more demanding of the angler because it’s a more participatory and connective type of fishing.

Spinning gear? It will widen your horizons—and perhaps even bring back memories of why you fell in love with fly fishing to begin with.