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LIFELONG PURSUITS: ALLURE

by Joan L. Cannon

You've seen paintings that draw you into the scene of fractured sunlight reflecting from a rippling stream, flashes of silver from the fishing line that snakes from the hands of the fisherman across the stream; colors are so subtle and woodsy you can almost smell the scent of pines and wet mud. If you fish with flies, there's wonderful literature that has sprung from that interest. 

From childhood I realized there was something special about a fly rod, about the lure at the end of the leader, the intended catch, and perhaps most important of all was what was never stated:  about the fisherman. I've been around a long time and have known quite a few fishermen in my life who fished exclusively with flies both wet and dry. They seem to be a breed apart from other anglers defined as those who fish with a hook. There's more involved enticing them to the sport than the mere desire to catch a fish.

My father was one who belonged to that separate breed. He was a man who gave his full attention to anything in which he was intensely interested and made the effort to become as close to an expert as time and finances would permit. He became, if not an specialist, at least a true devotee, always learning. Sometimes he would try making a convert, and if he succeeded, he would add another name to the short list of his fishing companions that was headed by my mother.

I remember autumn days before school opened when my parents took me with them to fish the Roeliff Jansen Kill in the Harlem Valley of New York.  My parents would suggest I hunt crickets in the meadow through which the ox-bows wound while they took places on either side of where I crept through the grass. I would watch my mother cast over one riffle and my father cast over another. As a city child, I was thrilled to be paid a nickel for every black cricket I could drop into a Mason jar with some grass, to be released later in our back yard. It was great to hear those crickets chirping in downtown Manhattan, where we lived on the ground floor of an old brownstone. If it hadn't been for fishing, those insects would never have made their way into such alien territory, and if it weren't for fly-fishing, they might have been used as bait.

I'd watch the arcs of monofilament lines swirling as if with lives of their own, glistening in the sunlight. Even before the age of ten I could appreciate the tranquility of silence, which in nature, of course, is seldom absolute. In the meadows where the water ran soundlessly, I could hear only the faint purr of the reels, distant crows calling, the cry of a red-tail almost invisible above me. Several eight-week stints in the Green Mountains had taught me how soothing quiet can be.

Some fishing days were spent in the dappled shade of mountain streams, where I played on the shoreline with shiny stones sprinkled with the glitter of mica and watched those two people in waders up to the tops of their thighs, gracefully drawing their lines out and flicking their wrists to send tiny lures over the surface of brown, glistening water as oddly transparent and dense as tinted glass.  

 At last, my father deemed me old enough to be taught how to do that too. I had already learned the nasty part of fishing at camp:  how to kill and clean the catch. Since my first experiences were with blue gills, perch, and bass, I was happy to discover that trout did not require clubbing them against the gunwale of a rowboat to put them out of their obvious misery. I never caught salmon, so was spared having to use the billy or watch a guide do it for me. Even at twelve I appreciated being able to kill with a single wrench of my right hand. Before too long, I discovered the best part of fishing was catch-and-release.  

Good places for fly fishing are so rare today, I realize that I can't expect to see many again, except perhaps as pictures in the pages of magazines like AudubonThe Conservationist, or similar publications, unless I take to the road. Not just any stream or body of still water is the haunt of the fly fisherman. Distance from the madding crowd seems as much of the lure as the catch. I have a friend who now travels to Patagonia each February to fish for trout. Clean water, clear air, enormous expanses of untouched scenery make for the perfect getaway, besides the special challenge of hooking a healthy trout, bringing it to the net, and releasing it.

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