The Fly-fishing Writer

Last weekend, I went to a camp called “Becoming an Outdoorswoman” to gather material for a pair of stories for Arizona Wildlife Views magazine. I hope to write one about the BOW experience generally, plus another about learning an outdoor skill.

This required me to select an outdoor skill to learn. I had plenty to choose from, including rappelling, Dutch oven cooking, backpacking, birdwatching, and using firearms … about 40 classes in all.

I wanted to try something I’d never done, and learn a skill related to wildlife. Like every other American woman of a certain age, I have an indelible memory of watching Brad Pitt fly-fish the Big Blackfoot River in the movie based on Norman MacLean’s classic book “A River Runs Through It.” So, fly-fishing it was.

That’s how Friday afternoon found me meadow-fishing with seven other women and as many instructors, learning the basics and practicing the back cast. For hours, I tried to move my right arm (but not my wrist!) in a very specific way that would make the line form a loop in the air behind and then in front of me.

You don’t catch a lot of fish in a meadow, even when you’re back-casting correctly, which I mostly was not. But on a couple of casts, things went right. I knew because of a feeling in the body and a sound in the air, and once I experienced it, I wanted to make it happen again. So the next morning, we went to a nearby lake, learned a roll cast, then practiced it along the shoreline.

There are bass in that lake, but none deigned to rise to our flies. Still, it was satisfying to stand along the shore as my patient instructor offered a pearl of wisdom every now and then, usually related to my elbow (too stiff) or my wrist (too relaxed).

I enjoyed the work of trying to loop that line and set that fly on the water where I wanted it. Part of me was thinking about how to capture the experience for magazine readers. One of the pitfalls of being a writer is that it’s hard to just do something, without at the same time also making mental notes for your opus. But another part of me was simply enjoying the warm morning, the scenic lake, the repetitions of casting, and the potential for catching a fish.

I went looking for a story, but I may have found a new hobby, too.

Here’s Brad Pitt:


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