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18 November 2005
Why I love to fly fish...

Part 1 of a series, I suspect.

Speytrout's steelhead 11/14/05My friend Speytrout sent me this gorgeous fish picture earlier this week. I'm grateful that he helps sustain my fishing requirements by sending pictures of some of his beauties. He fishes a lot and he's an accomplished fisherman. He caught this fall run steelhead earlier this week in his home stream... on a spey fly of his invention. For scale, the rod in the picture is a spey rod with probably 22-24" of cork+reel seat. I saw the picture, drank in the silvery-pink pearlescent colors that exist nowhere else on the planet and thought it would help convey my attraction to fly fishing for salmonids and a few other species. These fish come in colors that knock my socks off sometimes. The picture is beautiful, but it still doesn't do justice to the colors, texture and iridescence of the fish. That deep orangey-yellow of a brown trout underside or the lusty deep apricot-peach of brook trout fins are not colors that are found in a Crayola box or in a wallpaper sampler. They exist nowhere but on the exterior of a trout. And only sometimes. On some strains. And only for parts of the year.

I think these attractions are similar to those serious birders would list. Birds are another category of wildlife that offers spectacular and elegant colors, adaptations, designs, habits, all with unique time and spatial distributions. Most birds must be pursued, they don't just appear on your doorstep. Well, a few do, but the other 99% must be vigilantly traveled toward or waited for. There's one important difference between observing and appreciating these features of avian and of piscine wildlife, however. You really can't see fish unless you catch them. You can't sit on a river bank with binoculars or even an underwater camera and see them. Observation requires a more invasive approach. Hence the invention of catch-and-release fishing.

Speytrout's orangebutt spey flyCatch-and-release fly fishing, and all the subtle techniques associated and implied, is not a perfect solution to the conscientious fisherman. Use of barbless hooks, quickly landing fish, a quick photo, and gentle resuscitation of a tired fish are helpful practices, but occasionally a fish can still be injured. B felt so guilty about this possibility that she fished with hookless lures for a couple years. That's dedicated fishing. Try to explain that one to your friends who think catching fish only to let them go is illogical. Many of us C&R fisherpeople still struggle with the ethics of our habit at least some of the time. The rest of the time we're busy smiling.

The shapes, textures and colors that are found in the riverine fish world are very unique and beautiful. And I like to appreciate them up close and in person. A muscley, slippery, shiny fish in your hand is a heavenly thing. Speytrout landed a medium-small silvery steelhead for B last winter and briefly held it up for us to admire. He remarked that he could stare at these beautiful creatures way too long if he wasn't careful. He still has to remind himself in these situations to limit his gawking and return the fish to the water before it freezes in the cold air.

Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) are essentially a large and anadromous (migratory) subspecies of rainbow trout.

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