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Fly fishing delivers a lot more patience than pride

Doug Clark goes fishing.
Doug Clark goes fishing.

A river of emotions ran through me on Sunday.

Foolishness. Humiliation.


That about covers them.

My return to fly fishing after a 30-year absence wasn’t what anyone would describe as triumphant.

“It looks like bait,” exclaimed my lovely wife, Sherry, between gasps of laughter at my catch of the day.

I can’t understand it. The movie in my head had me hauling a monster trout out of Black Lake after a prolonged, Hemmingwayesque battle.

Reality, as you can see from the photograph, turned out to be a sardine that, judging by its stunted growth, was probably a smoker.

True, it probably didn’t help for me to yell “Fish ON!!” like an excited little girl.

But I’m beginning to think that there was a good reason why I let my Fenwick rod gather dust for several decades.

Quite frankly, I’ve had bad luck with fly fishing ever since I paid this crazy old fisherman 20 bucks to teach me the craft.

I didn’t know he was crazy at the time, of course.

All I knew is that he was some sort of self-proclaimed fly-fishing genius who gave lessons by the hour.

And being young and impressionable, I, of course, wanted to learn the art of fly fishing.

Fly fishing is not just fishing, after all. It’s a mystical endeavor steeped in romanticism and intelligence.

Ask any fly-fishing enthusiast.

They’ll talk about their sport in hushed, reverential tones. You know, the same way public radio announcers talk about opera or Armenian clog dancing.

So one early morning, I met my teacher at a small North Idaho lake.

Each of us got into a rowboat and rowed to the middle of the lake. The old man claimed that being in separate boats gave him a better vantage to critique what I was doing.

The first part of the lesson went well enough.

He demonstrated how to flip the rod back and forth from the “10 o’clock to 2 o’clock” position, finally hurling his line out in one smooth-and-powerful cast.

Then he told me to do it.

That’s when all the swearing began.

“(BLEEP) (BLEEP)-it!!” he roared like the drill sergeant in “Full Metal Jacket.”

“I said 10 o’clock, 2 o’clock,” he continued. “Not 9 (BLEEPING) o’clock. Not 1 (BLEEPING) o’clock!!”

I looked at my watch.

Five minutes had expired.

Oh, (bleep).

As the harassment continued, people all over the lake emerged from their cabins to see what sucker the old coot had landed this time.

The man’s uncouth abuse, as I would later learn, was quite legendary.

The hour mercifully up, we rowed back in. The old man asked me if I wanted to book another lesson.

I told him I’d, um, get back to him.

So you can see I’ve paid my fly-fishing dues. Catching Minnow-Me Sunday is nothing compared to what I’ve been through.

Besides, I did hook another fish Sunday.

It happened right after I let the first minnow go. I cast my fly again and another minnow grabbed on.

Frustrated, I pulled the line slowly by hand toward the dock where I was standing. But as the fish neared, I began to feel some serious resistance.

I looked down through the clear water.

A real trout – maybe 12 to 14 inches – was trying to gobble my new guppy.

Ohmygosh! Ohmygosh!

With panic setting in, I devised a plan based on the fact that I had stupidly forgotten to bring a net.

Slowly, I pulled the line and fishes up to the surface of the water.

Maybe – just maybe – I could quickly flip them up onto the dock where I might wrestle them into submission.

I know. It was a lousy plan. But it was all I had.

And so I yanked, which broke the leader with a pop.

The fat trout, still eating the minnow, swam slowly into the dark depths.

I’m going back to worms.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at

Tags: fishing